Healthy garden, healthy life | Daily News

Healthy garden, healthy life

Understand your best buddies the oxygen providers, says Founder/President Eco Friendly Volunteers, Kanchana Weerakoon. Many do not know that trees/plants communicate among each other like human beings. And if some disease attacks one side of a forest, then those trees communicate that message to the other side of the forest via root systems or sometimes via canopies. This is an amazing fact that we all should understand as gardeners because you maybe be the owner of a little rainforest in the middle of a city. The world of flora and fauna and human beings have more in common than we could have ever imagined. It is remarkable and beautiful but we must always be aware of the presence of disease and its consequences. Green Thumbs speaks to Weerakoon on Natural Alternatives for Prevention of Diseases on plants and recipes for home made manure.

Of course in the home gardens, when you maintain the right balance, diseases are very minimum. But what we have to understand is that plants are living beings too. Therefore, they too need nutrients to grow and they get sick sometimes and eventually die.

‘Sick’ plants

“Actually, they are like babies to me. Therefore, we have to look after them properly. When they are sick, they can’t speak in words, but they can show us that they are sick. One symptom is the plant becomes droopy. This is one main feature that they show when they feel thirsty but once you know that the plant is not thirsty then you understand that it is sick. Or they may look yellow or get patches. However, only a well experienced gardener would be able to identify these separately. We have universal solutions that we can use in organic gardening and they are super natural remedies which are effective most of the time. When plants are thirsty, they get droopy but we also know that if it is a case of too much water then they get droopy too. It’s matter of understanding the situation. One more symptom is yellowing of leaves when nitrogen is less. But again according to the pattern of yellowing it could also be any other nutrient deficiency. Plants get yellow leaves for less water or too much water. It’s a matter of understanding which yellow color is for which condition. We get headaches, fever or dizziness which are symptoms common to any sickness. But you need a doctor to tell you what is wrong exactly. Similarly, in plants you must learn and gather experience after seeing these symptoms. You should be a doctor to your plants,” said Weerakoon.

She went on to explain that everythingin our home garden is bio-diversity. And there are many ways of damaging that biodiversity. Plant diseases could be caused by nutrient deficiency, fungus, virus, bacteria or nematodes. Also, diseases can be caused by some insects which are part of the garden biodiversity. Great damage could happen due to pests too.

These diseases create an imbalance of the whole biological system in the garden. In the example of Leaf Mosaic Virus, we will be losing one wild flower which is useful to our friends namely Psyche or Red Pierrot or White Four Ring as they are the butterflies that commonly suck nectar out of that wild flower. If this virus is strongly present in our garden soil then we may need to dig the soil a bit and expose it to the sun light for at least two weeks to get rid of this virus or control its presence in the soil. This will affect our other unseen friendly microbes in the soil as they too get exposed to sun light. Also digging can kill some of our Earth worms.

Origin of diseases

Most of the time these diseases originate within the garden. Insects too act as carriers of diseases or contributing to spread such microbes. One simple example is when there are no spiders in the garden, many flying insects will increase, because when there are no cobwebs these insects can fly freely without getting caught. So, they may be carrying microbes. Sometimes we get diseases or pests coming from outside. It could be from adjacent lands or somewhere else in the country or a total foreign source through wind or rain. Climate change may also trigger these diseases or pests.

“Some pathogens could be less harmful and manageable when identified at early stages. Some could be uncontrollable and difficult to manage even with natural alternatives, so the end result will be the death of the plants. Leaf Curl Disease, Leaf Blight, Bacterial Wilt are some common diseases. If you recognize them at an early stage practicing one method or a mix of methods with close monitoring, you could get rid of them over a period of time. But you have to act fast without delay as the plants can become infested really fast within even a few hours,” added Weerakoon.

Monitoring, essential

Close monitoring is essential. This is why we should spend some time daily in our home garden. Weerakoon pointed out that she has the habit of walking around her garden looking at the plants, touching them and talking to them. This is one way we develop a relationship with our plants which will also help us to relax (we call it Horticulture Therapy, which is a recognized therapy in society). This will definitely help us see if there is anything wrong with our plants.

“One common disease that affects vegetable plants is the ‘Leaf Mosaic Virus’. This disease is characterized by leaves that are mottled with yellow, white, and light or dark green spots and streaks. It creates a ‘mosaic’ of these colors. This virus can be present in our garden soil for a long period. Some diseases can be recognized before they attack the plants. We call it bio indicators. One example is the Leaf Mosaic Virus I mentioned. Billy goat weed/Chick weed/ Goat weed is the English name for ‘Hulanthala’ plant. It’s a medicinal wild plant which is a good nectarine plant for some butterflies. This virus can be seen on those leaves before it usually attacks our pumpkin, ladies fingers or beans. The best action would be removing that wild plant which is part of the garden bio diversity enabling us to save other vegetable plants. It’s sad but the good news is since it’s a wild plant they will reappear automatically with next rain,” explained Weerakoon.

If one plant species in the garden gets affected by a particular disease, then the service rendered by that species will be disturbed. For example, let’s say Monara Kudumbiya (Ash-colored fleabane) plant gets ‘Powdery Mildew Disease’ which is caused by a fungus. If we ignore it, it will spread among all Monara Kudumbiya plants in the garden. Then the Psyche or Red Pierrot butterflies would lose some plants to suck nectar. They will then lose their food. They will go away or die. Then the green garden lizards will lose some of their prey. If the fungus attacks other plants more species will get affected. We will lose plants and insects too.

Preventive measures

Weerakoon advises that you must take action as soon as you see it. If you see some chili plants that have the Leaf Curl Virus which is transmitted by whiteflies, you must take action immediately. It is a serious threat to the chili plants. The infected leaves can’t be cured as there are no treatments for viruses. Therefore, the focus should be on prevention. The best way is to trim the infected plant leaves and spray Neem solution more frequently. Then the new leaves will be ok.

“There are three methods when it comes to preventing or fighting these diseases. The first is we take precautions when we start planting in our garden. The first method is very traditional and one that I always follow. I follow the moon cycle (moon calendar) when planting certain seeds of saplings. This is part of biodynamic farming. Every year the planting calendar is prepared by the expertise and I buy it and follow it as much as possible. This is very practical as many pathogen’s or insects’ life cycle is based on the moon cycle. By following this, we automatically avoid the conflict between the pathogen and host. This way we can prevent harm in our garden. Then the next method is growing natural disease controlling/repelling plants among other plants in the garden. This is also a very traditional method. For example, growing Das Pethiya (Marigold), garlic, onions, tulsi, basil or even Lemmon grass among other plants will help to reduce pathogen attacks or some insects.

Then the third method comes. That is not prevention but taking actions to cure the disease or reduce the attack. Then you have to use solutions made of natural ingredients. These are mostly 100 percent natural (or 99 percent natural when we mix with soap water). In organic disease control methods we don’t use the word ‘pesticide’, it is called ‘pest repellent’. So what commonly happens is we repel them. Then with that we can bring back the balance easily. Because the pest repellent is not a threat to other biodiversity. So may be the predator of that disease causing insect can come back soon and can reclaim control.

Natural alternatives

There are many natural alternatives traditionally used and the ingredients are mostly plant based as well. Depending on the disease or type of insect we mix these ingredients and spray them on plants when we see the problem. The main ingredients are, neem leaves and oil (also called margosa or kohomba in Sinhalese), castor oil, garlic, ginger, green chilies or kochchi, lemmon grass, citronella grass or oil, das pethiya leaves, cow urine and wood ash. There are some other methods like setting up hormone traps or light traps. Both these methods are killing insects including trouble- less insects. Therefore, we are not using those methods in our Metta Garden concept,” explained Weerakoon.

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RECIPES FOR HOME MADE MANURE

* Egg shells as calcium source - Don’t throw away the egg shells. Dry and crush them and add as small flakes or as powder to your plants every three weeks.

* Fish Tonic as nitrogen source – When you get fish specially like salaya, there is some waste material like fins, scale or gut parts. Collect them all and add brown sugar or Jaggery. Add both into a bucket with a lid and mix well and keep the lid closed tight. Every morning and evening, mix using a stick or shake thoroughly. Keep for 15-20 days and your fish tonic is ready with a great wine smell. You can keep them in a plastic bottle and use 1:5 ratio water and add to your leafy vegetables.

* Fruit Tonic for flowering and fruiting – This is another basic manure we make and keep at our garden. Take 1 kg each of ripen papaya, pumpkin, banana. Blend all of these using some water and make a pulp. Add three liters of water into a bucket with a lid and add the pulp into that. Add 1 kg of brown sugar or Jaggery and add two brown eggs crushed with shell. Mix well and keep the lid closed tightly. Keep this in place without shaking for 15 days. Open the lid after 15 days and you will see a beautiful layer of fungus on top. Mix well and use 1:10 water and add to your vegetable plants.

* Leafy manure – Add Gliricidia leaves into water (1:1) and keep closed for 10 -15 days mixing every day. You will get a strong smelly solution where all the leaves are fermented and dissolved. This is very good to add into your plants and they will grow like magic.

* Dry fruit peels and vegetable peels powder – When you have more seasonal fruits, sun dry all peels, crush and keep. Add this mixture into your plants. Adding these natural manures could be done every three weeks or as you want. In dry spells you can blend all uncooked left over vegetable and fruit peels and add that watery mixture into your plants instead of watering.

* Onion Peels - Onion peels are best for your plants. Collect daily onion peels into a container and add some water and leave it aside for overnight. Spray this water into your plants once in two weeks. If you keep this solution for few more days, I better warn you about the very strong smell but that’s the best insect repellent you can have free of cost. They are full of phosphorous, potassium and other nutrients too. Also you can put onion peels on your vegetable beds as mulch. Eventually they will decay absorbing all useful elements into soil. Or you can grind them along with your dried vegetable and fruit peels and use as a manure. This way you are getting an automatic solution for your waste too. You don’t have to put all your kitchen waste in to a garbage bag and give to the municipal council which emits methane eventually. You can do a greater service to this planet via your garden.

* Banana peels – Don’t throw away your banana peels. Cut them into small pieces and add them around your vegetable plants. They are so great in giving you flowers in vegetable plants like brinjals, tomatoes and chilies. The main ingredients in banana are potassium and magnesium.