Eco Strategies For Soil Building and Pest Control

Some earth friendly ideas for your spring garden, including an alternative to peat moss and a rhubarb aphid-spray recipe

Credit: Terry Guscott

Gardening Woman with Wheelbarrow

Soil building and pest control are two major parts of gardening

Cuckoo for coco peat, an eco friendly alternative to peat moss

Every spring, most gardeners amend and mulch their gardens to improve texture, add nutrients, reduce weed germination and decrease summer watering. Common additives are manures, worm castings, compost, sand, mulch and peat moss. 

Coco peat, derived from recycled coconut husks, provides an environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss. Peat bogs are as important as rainforests, and removing the peat irreparably damages these fragile and valuable ecosystems. Like peat, coco peat adds volume and organic matter, absorbs and retains moisture, and improves aeration and drainage. It is pH neutral, so will not alter your soil’s pH. 

Coco peat is also useful as a growing medium in hydroponics, can be easily blended with soil for seed starting and is sterile enough to use for potting indoors.

Coco peat is available in 5.4-kg (12-lb.) blocks. When allowed to soak up water in a wheelbarrow or large bucket, each equals 1 cubic metre (27 cu ft.) of fibre. This is an easy-to-handle option for gardeners who have struggled to manage those awkward and heavy bales of peat moss.

When you’re mulching, making a new garden bed and need volume, or simply looking to improve your soil’s texture, blend in some coco peat. It’s easy to handle, economical, environmentally friendly and a great way to recycle. 

Rhubarb Aphid-spray Recipe

This is the time of year that has me receiving requests for a repeat of my rhubarb aphid-spray recipe, which many gardeners have found to be very effective against aphids on their ornamental plants. 

When harvesting rhubarb, the poisonous leaves are often discarded in the compost. While this is a great place for them, they can also be recycled in another way – into a spray that repels soft-bodied insects, such as aphids, and helps reduce fungus in the garden. The spray can also be used to lower the pH of the soil – go ahead and pour the blend anywhere you require a little more soil acidity. 

Simply add three fresh chopped leaves to a 4-L (16-cup) pot of water, bring to a rolling boil and turn off heat. Let sit overnight, then strain. Discard leftover bits into the compost pile. Pour the liquid into a spray bottle and label. Spray plants thoroughly at the first sign of aphid or fungus infestation. Make a new batch and repeat in 10 days. Important: Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so do not use this spray on edible plants. And be sure to wash all kitchen equipment thoroughly after making the spray.