This post is a continuation from Part 1. Here are more details on three effective rescue remedies that I keep in my plant first aid kit.
I use a soluble seaweed powder consisting of three kelp varieties, Laminaria, Sargassum and Ascophyllum nodosum. I dilute just a tiny 1g into a litre of water, and use it as a foliar spray or soil drench.
Each variety offers something unique to plants. Laminaria has been shown to help plants recover from viral diseases. Sargassum boosts water retention during drought and increases photosynthesis. Ascophyllum nodosum extends post-harvest shelf life, and helps plants recover from nematode root infestation.
All three varieties contain the full spectrum of oceanic minerals (74 minerals), and plant growth stimulants – cytokinins, gibberellines, auxins and betaines. These growth stimulants activate the plant’s defense system, and enhance flowering, fruiting and rooting. In fact, these growth stimulants are responsible for the extraordinary growth of kelp of 30 cm per day!
Kelp is also food for the soil food web, which is why I always apply it with my next rescue remedy called Effective Microorganisms (EM).
Effective Microorganisms (EM)
I use a brand called EM-1 which is popular among gardeners and farmers in Malaysia for good reasons. It’s easy to use, effective and economical.
EM is a mixture of three groups of microbes – photosynthetic bacteria, lactic acid bacteria and yeast.
Like plants, photosynthetic bacteria can photosynthesise. They make food -amino acids, nucleic acids, sugars, enzymes and hormones – out of the sun’s energy. These substances feed both the plants and the soil food web. This means that photosynthetic bacteria in effect multiply the photosynthetic capacity of plants, and the population in the soil food web.
Lactic acid bacteria produce lactic acid that inhibits harmful microbes. These are the same bacteria that are used to make fermented food such as cheese, yoghurt and pickles.
Yeast produce hormones, enzymes, vitamins, and antimicrobial substances that feed plants and lactic acid bacteria.
While each microbial group has its own function, the magic of the brew lies in the synergistic co-existence of the three groups . The founder of EM-1, Dr. Teruo Higa calls it “co-prosperity”.
When applied regularly to plant and soil, EM-1 helps to control the population of harmful microbes, enhances plant growth and enriches the soil food web.
Here’s a good introductory video on EM-1.
Like olive oil, neem oil comes in different grades and prices. The most effective ones for plant predator and disease control are cold pressed from seeds of the neem tree, Azadirachta indica. Cold pressed pure neem oil has the highest content of active compounds – the most active and well-researched for pest control is azadirachtin.
I use a neem oil that contains 3785 ppm of azadirachtin, which is the highest that I can find. The oil has been emulsified so there is no need to mix it with soap water as is required for most other brands.
Neem has been found to control more than 500 species of insect pests, mites, ticks, parasitic protozoans and nematodes, some slugs and snails, and some fungal diseases. It is most useful for controlling leaf-eating insects and larvae.
Neem oil has three important ecological advantages over chemical pesticides:
- Less toxic to beneficial insects. I learnt from Phil of smilinggardener.com that neem seed oil mainly affects leaf-eating insects so beneficial insects including bees, butterflies and other pollinators that feed on nectar aren’t affected. Other beneficials such as ladybugs, earthworms and spiders aren’t affected at the recommended dose. Phil cautions that pure neem oil can kill soft-bodied insects and mites on contact so it’s best to spray it in the early morning or evening when the pollinators aren’t out as much. I prefer to spray in the evenings than mornings as UV from sunlight degrades the bioactive compounds of neem.
- No pesticide resistance. There are two reasons. Firstly, when insects feed on neem-coated leaves, azadirachtin interferes with the insect’s hormonal system and prevent their larvae from moulting and eggs from hatching. This stops future generations of insects from developing a resistance to neem. Secondly, neem contains over 100 active compounds besides azadirachtin. This diversity of neem compounds and their combined effects on pests seem to prevent them from developing a resistance to neem.
- Nutritious for plants. More than a safe “pesticide”, neem oil contains natural organic sulfur, proteins, vitamins, glycerides and trace elements which actually feed the plants. My plants green up and perk up a couple of hours after I spray neem oil – the same effect I get with liquid kelp and EM.
If I have a serious infestation, I usually combine the kelp power with neem oil to provide a double boost to the plants.
A note of caution
Before I end, it’s important for me to stress again that these rescue remedies are not magic bullets. I find that they work very well on temporarily stressed plants. If the plants are regularly stressed and are growing in poor soils, these remedies have limited efficacy especially in the long run. Healthy soils with a lively soil food web are the foundation of resilient plants. I will share how I grow healthy soils in future posts.
How to buy
You can buy EM-1 here.
The kelp powder and neem oil that I use are currently not available in any retail shops. At the moment, they are only available for self-collection from my garden in Petaling Jaya.
The price for the kelp powder will be RM30 for 100g. Dilute 1g per L of water to use as a foliar spray or soil drench.
The price for the cold pressed neem oil will be RM80 for 500ml. Dilute 1ml per 300ml of water to use as a foliar spray or soil drench. This is the most effective neem oil for serious pest infestation that I can find. While the other neem oils that I have tried worked for minor infestations, this one has proven very helpful in serious cases, and I don’t have to use as much due to the high level of azadirachtin. I guess we get what we pay for. You have to try it to see the difference.
Please contact me on my Facebook if you would like to purchase the kelp powder or neem oil.