Meleah Maynard
Master Gardener

If you’re reading this, I imagine you’re somebody whose mind is already open to trying things that others might find kind of, well, strange. But there’s a limit to such openness of mind. My limit is hair. Rest assured, I’m not going to suggest you sprinkle your garden with your hair or your pets’ hair. Because no matter how beneficial hair’s minerals may be for the soil, or how well the smell of it frightens off rabbits and raccoons, it’s just too impossibly gross to try.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move on to worm poo (or worm castings, as their feces are more commonly called). Worms play a key role in the garden. As they feast on nutrients in the soil, their poo does everything from adding a wide range of nutrients to the soil to helping balance pH levels. Worms need a good supply of organic matter to thrive. You can help by supplementing their diet with your table scraps.

Place bits of fruit, veggies and pasta (don’t use oil or animal products) inside a sealable plastic bag. Leave a tiny opening for steam and put it in the microwave until everything is pretty mushy. Once it cools, mash it up more with a fork and put a few spoonfuls around your garden. The worms will soon find it on top of the soil. The mushy food mixture on top of your soil will attract the worms, and help them to fertilize your garden.

Save your eggshells. They add nutrients to your soil, particularly calcium, which is important for plants’ cell growth. In addition to offering sustenance, eggshells can be used to repel pests like slugs and cutworms because they won’t want to crawl over the crunchy edges. Always wash off any residual egg before using their shells in the garden and crush them as small as possible. Large pieces will take a long time to break down. (You can also add eggshells to your compost bin.)

Because they contain several beneficial substances, coffee grounds also make great garden fertilizer. They are a good source of nitrogen, particularly for fast-growing plants and vegetables. You can sprinkle the grounds around plants or work them into the top few inches of soil. Always apply grounds in a thin layer. Otherwise, you might end up encouraging mold growth.

Cornmeal gets mixed reviews when used to prevent weeds. But you can rid your garden of cutworms by sprinkling a bit around the plants they like to go after. The cutworms will eat the meal, but they won’t be able to metabolize it, so it will swell up inside them and they’ll eventually die.

Meleah Maynard is a master gardener and author of the Everyday Gardener column in Minneapolis’ Southwest Journal.

Read Up

Slug Bread & Beheaded Thistles: Amusing and Useful Techniques for Nontoxic Housekeeping and Gardening, by Ellen Sandbeck, Broadway Books, 2000.

The Truth About Garden Remedies: What Works, What Doesn’t, and Why, by Jeff Gillman, Timber Press, 2006.

The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line, by Jeff Gillman, Timber Press, 2008.

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