Thursday, March 25, 2010

Collared Greens

No, that's not a misspelling. This blog isn't about that leafy green staple of southern cuisine. Not specifically anyway. Today, I'm talking about a simple – and biodegradable – means of defence for bedding plants.

As the growing season begins in our new neighbourhood, hubby and I are thinking of little else but this year's garden. We're both keen on natural gardening techniques, anything which helps us achieve a pest- and disease-resistant garden without the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. We've bought gardening magazines to supplement our book collection, and are researching these and online sources for new seed varieties and planting techniques.

While we make plans, impatiently waiting for warmer weather, some preparations begin. One, given our gardening zone, is to start certain plants indoors. Many long growing season plants (like most of the cabbage family) benefit from a head start. To save a little money, we grow our own bedding plants downstairs. Our other preparation is to save toilet paper rolls. They'll be the first line of defence for those bedding plants.

Seedlings face many dangers. Eventually they must be transitioned outdoors and, if the shock of the transplant isn't enough to wither them, they'll endure changes of temperature, humidity, sunlight and wind. Then there are pests, like cutworms, who are eager to nibble those succulent sprouts. Cutworms are responsible for the destruction of a variety of seedlings and are the bane of many gardeners (Ontario Govt factsheet on Cutworms).

Years ago, we found a simple and effective safeguard. Those aforementioned toilet paper rolls. For weeks now we've been saving those little tubes, much as I once saved newspapers for a larger garden. Toilet paper rolls make perfect little biodegradable protectors against cutworms and, conveniently, they blunt the effects of wind and cool over-night temperatures seedlings face when first transplanted.

Here's how to use the tubes. When it comes time to plant your seedlings into the garden:

  • Remove bedding plant from its germinating container
  • Carefully feed the sprout, top first, into a tube
  • GENTLY feed leaves out the top as you push the soil ball from the bottom until the top of the root mass is mid-way through the paper roll.
  • Plant tube upright, buried halfway at the soil line. The roots will have some protection from underground pests, and the sprouting vegetation is surrounded by a short wall that deters cutworms.

Or, if you've seeded the garden directly, you can also insert toilet paper rolls into the (loosely-packed) soil around small plants. Wait until the first thinning and then insert tubes around the remaining, heartier plants.

These collars may look a little funny for the first couple weeks, but soon foliage obscures them. Once the plants have grown robust, with strong stems and roots, the tubes are dissolving into the soil. By this time, the worst threats are diminishing.

So, you may just want to collar your collard greens, or any other vulnerable vegetables you plant. Start saving those paper tubes now. It's one way to defend your precious seedlings, give them a fighting chance to grow up and become the healthy crops you envision.

Do you have any home-spun, non-chemical gardening tips and ideas? Please share those suggestions with us!