02.Tips and pest control
Composting is a way of recycling your organic waste – such as vegetable scraps and leaves – by mixing them in a compost bin and leaving them to break down naturally. The end product is a brown-black substance that looks like soil and is rich in nitrogen. Compost helps build soil structure, retain moisture and provides nutrients for all types of soils.
You don’t need a huge yard to have a compost bin; some apartment-dwellers keep one under the sink. If your compost bin smells, just add more dry material such as newspapers or leaf litter. Avoid meat scraps as they attract vermin. To prevent rats from raiding a compost heap, place wire mesh over it and weigh it down with bricks. To accelerate the composting process, add air by turning it over with a fork.
Worm farms contain worms that decompose organic matter into worm castings, or vermicast, that gives soil a nutrient surge. You can make a farm by using polystyrene boxes (instructions are on the internet or check with your local council) or buy one from your local council or hardware store along with the worms. Keep the farm in a cool, dry space. You can add everything, from banana peel to eggshells, but not citrus and onions as they’re too acidic for the worms, and do not add meat or twigs.
Pesticides You can buy pesticides in hardware stores or at your local nursery. Pyrethrum is commonly used to kill aphids. Be careful if you’re making your own pyrethrum pesticide: it can cause allergic reactions until it breaks down under sunlight. Use beer traps or sawdust to repel snails, and ground chilli, garlic or espresso mixed with soapy water for other pests. You can also make your own white oil – for getting rid of scale and aphids – by mixing sunflower oil in diluted dishwashing liquid.
Chickens Keeping chickens is a way of getting fresh eggs every morning. You can even rent chickens; see www.rentachook.com.au in NSW or www.bookachook.com in Victoria. You will get the whole package – a coop, two hens, organic feed, waterer, food and straw – but will be given a deadline to decide if it’s right for you. Rent-A-Chook, for example, has a six-week deadline. It costs $360 upfront, which includes a $260 deposit that will be returned if you decide not to keep the chooks.
If you keep chickens, leave their manure out to dry or put it into a compost bin along with kitchen scraps and leaf litter, so it breaks down into organic, nutrient-rich matter.
Companion or complementary planting groups certain plants close together so their natural properties help promote growth and control pests, such as growing climbing beans at the base of a sweet corn stalk. The stalk will support the climbing beans while the beans’ roots will transfer nitrogen from the air into the soil where it’s needed by the sweet corn’s roots. Likewise, onions and carrots boost the productivity of the soil beds as the roots of both plants use the nutrients at different soil levels. The pungent smell of onions is said to confuse pests drawn to carrots.
Companion planting acts as a natural pest control strategy. Planting tomatoes and basil together is said to help protect the tomatoes as the basil’s powerful scent repels sap-sucking insects called aphids. Crop rotation, or rotating what you grow in your garden bed, also helps break the breeding cycles of pests and soil diseases. Persistent garden pests can be controlled with homemade organic pesticides, such as chilli or coffee soap solutions.