Grow, Baby, Grow!

I have a tiny little balcony garden filled with useful plants: one huge pot with a bird’s eye chili planted in the middle, surrounded by chives, basil, rosemary, and thyme.

I started with the chilies and the basil, and then sowed some chive, thyme, and marjoram seeds. Yeah, that didn’t really work out. The chives have grown and survived, but the marjoram only sprouted about two seedlings and the thyme sprouted into a tiny bushy line. But then it was hot and windy and I didn’t feel like going outside, and forgot that the wind would dry out my little seedlings faster than usual. So the marjoram and thyme died. The chives are doing something. They’re like hair, and so far they’re not very useful, but I tolerate them for the sake of future herb butters. My little chili is doing great, although I somehow ended up with an intruder in my pot that I thought was part of my chili plant, but wasn’t. I watched it grow and felt so proud, not realising it was a weed. I’ve since destroyed it. I also added thyme and rosemary to the garden a few days ago.

In general, I’m pretty good at gardening and know the basics of pruning and harvesting. I think about plant energy and efforts needed for leaves and flowers. I know soil needs nutrients, but not which ones, and I also don’t know how to feed it. I’d like to know a lot more about companion gardening, and I tend to panic when I see plant pests and diseases. I’ve never liked using pesticides (they stink and give me a headache, and also no thank you to the toxins), but I’ve also never known what the alternatives were. My approach was simply to use the plant until it was overcome and died, to then shrug my shoulders at bygone seasons, and move on.

So far, I haven’t really struggled with pests in my little balcony garden, but I drastically pruned back my chili and harvested all of its fruit, and I couldn’t see any new flowers budding. My basil’s leaves, although delicious, were all wrinkly. I figured the alien had depleted the nutrients in the soil, and after the wind attack that killed the seedlings, I decided to help my plant babies regain some strength.

20170427_133552
The uses of Epsom Salts as listed on the Robertson brand box. It suggests strongly that it shouldn’t be ingested.

I don’t remember how I came across it, but about a month ago I somehow found out that Epsom salts can be used as a fertilizer and as a pest control. Epsom salt is the household name for magnesium sulphate, and is named after the area in England where the mineral was discovered. Apparently, when used as a fertilizer, it has several benefits, which include warding off pests, improving seed germination by preventing rot, preventing leaf curling, aiding in nutrient absorption, and helping plants produce more flowers and fruits, especially in pepper varieties. I decided to try it out.

I got a small pack of medicinal grade Epsom salts from Clicks. Epsom salts has a variety of health benefits, so I figured the pharmacy was the place to find it. I sprinkled it at the roots of my chili and basil, and then watered it according to the normal, non-windy schedule. Then I waited.

I definitely feel like the Epsom salt had the intended effect. My chili started producing buds like crazy, and about two weeks after having given it the salt, my basil’s leaves are looking rounder and smoother. My chili might just have needed some time after the pruning, so I can’t say for sure that the Epsom salt was the thing that made a difference, but I feel happy enough about using it that I’ll try it again. I haven’t tasted the basil leaves since, and I’ll have to wait until the chilies ripen before I can try them, so the effect on the taste is yet to be determined.

basiltransformation.jpg
Top: Basil leaves all wrinkly. Bottom: About two weeks after feeding it Epsom salts, the basil leaves are looking round and happy!

Today I bought a big 500g box of Robertson Epsom Salts from Checkers. It cost R19.99, which is only a fraction more than I paid for a 50g box from Clicks. It’s next to the bicarbonate of soda in the baking section, but it gives you a warning to seek medical attention if consumed by mouth. Huh? I also don’t know whether these are naturally mined or produced in a lab. I’m guessing the latter, so the far-reaching environmental impact in terms of production method is unknown.

I have no desire to ingest Epsom salt, and I can’t really benefit from many of the other health miracles such as a relaxing muscle soak for magnesium absorption, since I don’t have a bath (and also because we’re saving water!). It can be used as a hair volumiser, so I’ll definitely try that and be sure to tell you all about it!

keep it REAL (1)

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