Images by Francesca Carpinelli of Cocino Vegano
Illinois is constantly changing, just last year it was the top moved out of state in the whole country. Certainly not the best thing to be best at, but so be it. When I was growing up things were already winding down, factories downsizing, farms monopolizing and the pigs completely disappeared as we lost our hog titles to former coal states like North Carolina. We use to be known for boilers that lasted 100 years, the tallest building in North America and the home of superman. Luckily, we still have Metropolis and with it the expanding fields of farmland that Illinois is iconically covered with.
Nowhere have I seen dirt as black and rich as in Illinois.
Nowhere else have I been so lucky, the soils I’ve tended in the East and South have never been as giving as those from Illinois. One thing travel has taught me, is that the only good replacement for home is making it where you are.
Compost is an irreplaceable part of gardening, especially in an urban setting.
It’s the closest thing to rich black Illinois dirt I will ever get.
I’ve used worms, bins, tins and tumblers, each with varied results. Compost is tricky but essential part of any urban garden. I suggest you analyze your space and consider what you can fit.
I create a lot of organic material so I use a bin system (trash cans) that allows me to move the compost from one to the next each week. I use to have only 3 bins but as I produce and use more, I’ve moved up to 6.
The important thing about all compost is to keep it moving.
In the good old days this meant flipping it with a pitch or shovel.
These days, tumblers are great because it’s the easiest to turn, but I only suggest them if you live in a place with good top soil and you are only going to take the finished product out once every few months.
My turning system is to break it up with a shovel and then turn the whole bin out into another empty one.
I then break it up some more with the shovel before turning the next one.
Worms work in the smallest spaces and for when you can’t do much turning on your own but they come with a whole different set of pros and cons. If you can’t find a way to set up compost then look for it at your local nursery.
Another way I help boost the soil is with wood ash. Every few months, I have a fire for a good bbq, because nothing beats smoked food. I use untreated wood for my grill fire and this, of course, is where my ash comes from. Charcoal or treated ash is not suggested. Be aware, don’t over do it on this type of fertilizer because ash is very alkaline in most places a once yearly application is enough.
Ash is a huge source of calcium because I don’t have any egg shells to add to my soil or compost Ash is an easy way to be certain I am getting that nutrient into my soil.
To prepare: Add 1 cup of wood ash to a bucket of water
Let sit 5-8 hours or overnight
Water each of your plants with ½ cup or so of this solution
Works for indoor or outdoor plants.
(for trees you can use ¼-½ of the bucket every 4-5 months or at least once a year)
Plants and bugs go hand in hand, there is no good organic way to eliminate 100% of the bugs in your garden. Honestly, that’s a good thing your garden is part of the ecosystem and hopefully you will soon see bees, spiders, toads or lizards, birds, cats and other natural wanderers passing by.
If you see a mold or infection on a plant, remove any leaves that you possible can.
Likewise, you can move caterpillars into a jar and to a local park if you have a relatively small infestation.
Prevention is the best medicine though, you should spray your garden weekly.
I will share my favorite organic pesticides.
There are many other recipes and I highly suggests you continue to do research.
Every garden pest is different and it’s best to identify your exact problem to find the solution.
While making homemade remedies, It’s really important to not pass the concentration levels.
You can burn your plant or cause unexpected harm.
Also note I apply all my pesticides with a hand pumped 1 gallon sprayer.
You can do it by hand with squirt bottles for smaller areas.
Never apply when the sun is shining directly on your plants, best is during a cloudy day.
I usually do it in the afternoon once the sun has passed for the day.
I use one organic pesticide a week, and I rotate in the order of the following list.
Soap and water spray
The original and only thing I used before moving to the tropics.
Helps against: Most things that eat holes in your leaves or lay eggs on them.
Use on: Everything, make sure to get spray on all sides of the leaves and stems.
Concentration: Mix 1 T of liquid castile soap like Dr. Bronners in 1 gallon of water with ½ cup of oil.
Shake or stir well.
My second line of defense.
Helps against: soft bodies bugs like slugs, fungus gnats and even ants
Use on: Any plant, and good for boarders
Concentration: Peel and orange and keep the rind.
In a glass container pour 1-2 cups of boiling water over the peels
Let sit in a warm or sunny place for 24 hours.
Strain the mixture to discard the peels.
Mix with 1 T castile soap in 1 gallon of water
Neem oil spray or soak
A tropical lifesaver.
I am seriously beginning to believe if you have a problem neem is the solution.
Helps against: Spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, beetles, slugs, black spots. The list is endless.
Use on: Spray on any plant.
Soak large trees with ½ bucket
Soak small trees with ¼ bucket
Soak garden vegetables with 1 cup each
Concentration: mix 1 T in 1 gallon of water with 1 T pure castile soap soap.
Baking soda spray
Helps against: powdery mildew and some surface fungus.
Use on: any plant.
Make sure to fully cover the leaves.
Concentration: mix 1 T in 1 gallon of water with 1 T of liquid castile soap.
My final stand.
This is real hot pepper spray, so be careful my lovelies.
I use gloves and goggles.
Avoid spraying on a windy day.
Helps against: spider mites, white flies, caterpillars, and other pests that suck sap and nectar.
Due to the strong smell, it is a repellent for most other mid sized animals such as squirrels, rabbits and other mammals.
Use on: Any plant, especially good for borders.
Concentration: blend 3-5 fresh habaneros or other spicy peppers (100g) in 1-2 cups of water.
Cover and let sit in a glass jar overnight or up to 24 hours, could be in a sunny place.
Strain out the solids.
Use this concentration in 1 gallon of water with the juice of 1 lime and 1 T of liquid castile soap.
Happy gardening friends!
Let me know in the comments if you have any specific questions.
I would love to help if I can.