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Preparing for a Summer Herb Garden

Herbs are an organic gardener’s best resource, especially when it comes to preparing the garden for summer. Quite a number of herbs are a valuable source of nutrition for the soil, helping to improve its quality, others act as insect repellents or as trap crops.

When planning your summer garden it makes good sense to incorporate as many of these valuable garden helpers as possible.

Compost
Making compost is at the heart of all organic gardening, and comfrey, yarrow, borage and tansy make very good additions to compost heap because their leaves and stems are rich in vitamins and minerals. Comfrey, in particular, is an excellent natural compost activator. To speed up the decomposition rate simply add the comfrey leaves to the layers of the heap as it is being built.
Green manures
Growing plants for use as green manure is another way to improve the soil. Mustard, lupins, clover, buckwheat, and lucerne help to fix nitrogen in the soil as well as aerate the soil. Mustard is the quickest maturing of the green manure crops – it is ready to be dug into the soil two to three months after planting.
Green tea fertilizer
Another task for early summer is the making of the liquid fertiliser known as ‘green tea’. It is made with the leaves of herbs like comfrey, yarrow and borage, because of their high mineral content. This green tea is a cheap, nonsmelly, very effective way of putting nutrients back into the garden soil. These liquid fertilisers are further diluted before being applied, so they are unlikely to burn the roots and leaves of your crops. Once applied, the nutrients are absorbed quickly, either by the roots or by the roots and leaves if the liquid is applied as a foliar drench. The dilution rate is generally 1 part tea to 7 parts water. Green tea is used to best effect in spring when growing leafy vegetables such as spinach, lettuce and cabbage. Comfrey tea is a plant cell builder that can be applied once a week, early in the morning.

To make the tea, the ingredients are put in a bag and dunked in water, much like making tea with a giant teabag, but the only differences are that you don’t use boiling water, and the tea needs to ‘draw’ for one to two weeks to allow the nutrients to soak out into the water.

Pest control
From August onwards, pest control requires more attention. Companion planting is a method of planting aromatic plants alongside a food crop to deter the pests that the crop would normally attract. The fragrances released by the herbs appear to confuse and repel the pests. Lavender, rosemary, basil, southernwood (Artemesia  abrotanum), wormwood, rue, feverfew and sage seem to be most successful in repelling pests.

When pest activity escalates to the level of an infestation and begins to threaten the harvest, then non-toxic insect sprays may be your only chance of saving some of it. Most herbal sprays are not poisonous so they don’t kill the pests, or the beneficial predators, they simply repel them. Marigolds, feverfew, southernwood and cotton lavender are used to make non-toxic sprays. (But sprays made with pyrethrum, from plants in the genus Chrysanthemum, are toxic to insects.) For more ‘oomph’, chillies can be added, but you need to be very careful: apart from burning your eyes, chilli can also burn tender plants and it can affect beneficial insects as well.
To make a general insecticide, Margie Frayne, herbalist and organic practitioner, suggests using the crushed flower heads of feverfew to repel caterpillars, flies and soft-bodied insects. She mixes together two teaspoons of the crushed flower heads with two litres of boiling water and half a teaspoon of Sunlight dishwashing liquid. After standing for 30 minutes, the mixture is strained and then ready for use. The spray is used repeatedly until it takes effect on the pests.
The information in this article was supplied by Healthy Living Herbs