Beer for Slimy Slugs, Vinegar for Weeds

A marriage best made in… the garden?

…so PLEASE something like use Bud or Miller, OK???- Prof. GA

Written by Carol Oneal for the Mail Tribune

Last week, I attended mini-college at Oregon State University in Corvallis, a statewide conference of Master Gardeners. It’s a great place to take garden-related classes and hear inspiring speakers.

One of the featured speakers was Jeff Gillman, author of several books and an associate professor in horticulture at the University of Minnesota. In this column, I’m referring to his book “The Truth About Garden Remedies.”

Gillman and his team subjected several traditional, organic, home garden remedies to scientific study to see whether they work. Some of the results surprised me.

For example, is using beer really a good way to deal with slugs? “Yes”, says Gillman. In fact, it was such an effective non-chemical remedy it is considered the “gold standard” of getting rid of those slimy pests. Dig a hole and insert a container, such as a small tin can. The top of the container should be even with the soil surface. Fill the container with beer so that it’s about an inch from the top. Be sure the container is deep enough to hold a few inches of beer.

The smell of the beer attracts the slugs, they reach for it, (that’s why the beer level is down an inch) fall into the beer and drown. This may remind you of some people you know, but never mind that. If the beer level is too high, or the container not deep enough, the slugs will just come for the beer — and your plants.

Have you tried spraying vinegar from your kitchen on weeds to kill them? That works, too, if the weeds are small. If they are getting too big, the vinegar will kill just the top and not the root. This is my favorite way to get rid of those weeds that come up in the cracks of a brick walkway, or the driveway. Garlic or clove oil are even more effective as weed killers.

Orange oil is a very good insecticide, as is limonene, Gillman found. One slight disappointment is that it is very difficult to make an effective concoction at home. He suggests that you look on the label of commercially made products for one of those ingredients.

A couple of other remedies discussed were compost tea and mycorrhizae, both of which supposedly stimulate plant growth. Mycorrhizae fungi have been extensively touted in recent years, as they are a critical part of the tie between the root hairs of your plant and soil nutrients. However, most of the mycorrhizae purchased from your garden center are dead. It has to be fresh from its forest-soil source in order to be effective.

Gillman feels that the jury is still out on compost tea. In case you’re not familiar with it, compost tea is a concoction using a bucket of water as the teapot and a burlap or other porous sack as a tea bag to hold the tea leaves (compost). It is left to brew for a period of time and then applied to plants by spraying. The theory is that the good bacteria in the compost will be transferred to the tea, often as a remedy for powdery mildew. Actually, plain water was as effective for powdery mildew as was the compost tea. It did not help black spot on roses at all in Gillman’s trials. Because the makeup of compost can vary greatly, Gillman does not recommend this home remedy until more research is done.

I would be remiss if I did not mention at least two remedies that are downright dangerous. One is the plant spikes that supposedly deliver nutrients to your plant. While that may be true, the spikes also contain high levels of chemicals that are readily absorbed through the skin and are toxic to humans.

The other is nicotine, suggested in some home remedies, using chewing tobacco. While we are all aware that smoking tobacco is not good for us, any concentrated form of nicotine is toxic, and it is readily absorbed through the skin.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at diggit1225@gmail.com.