Tea and bananas: Saving water, feeding plants

I love a good gardening tip that saves time and effort and–big bonus–helps the environment. One of my favourites is to use gone-past-sell-by fruits and dinner leftovers cleanly and efficiently in your garden without having to compost.

Sure, there are good reasons to start composting, top of the list being you reduce food waste and create your own, healthy, organic fertilizer. But don’t you want, sometimes, to sidestep the whole long drawn out composting process and just get straight to the planting and fertilizing stage?

Here are 4 of my favourite straight-into-the-garden foods that I find work wonders.

1. Whole bananas

I don’t know where I first read about a gardener whose secret to beds of lush roses was to give each plant a whole banana. I vaguely remember the gardener being a part of the team that planted the thousands of roses in New York City’s Central Park but I can’t find any written proof to back up that notion. No matter. I’ve been using potassium-rich bananas as fertilizer for the longest time with great results. Next time you have some over-ripe bananas, resist the urge to make banana muffins and start chopping.

Lots of gardening guides advise that you use the peel exclusively. I don’t. I use the whole unpeeled banana. I just chop it up, peel and all, and sprinkle the pieces into the bottom of my plant hole before adding the plant. I never plant a rose without giving it a great head start with a whole banana.

Caveat: I only use a whole banana as fertilizer for large plants requiring deep planting holes. This is because if you put chunks of whole banana in a shallow hole or simply scatter them on the ground, you’re bound to attract all kinds of banana-loving critters such as racoons or rats.

You can make banana peel tea if you want to spread all that banana goodness to smaller plants and plants in pots or raised beds. The Farmer’s Almanac has a good recipe. Keep in mind though, that the resulting tea is strong. You’ll need to dilute it quite a bit. Follow the link above to know how much. If you don’t, you can run the risk of the sweet smelling brew attracting nasty bugs.

Bananas are great for: Roses and any large, shrubby flowering perennial as well as tomatoes and peppers.

Bananas and potatoes

Whole bananas and potato peels are the raw materials for great, easy plant fertilizer.

2. Eggshells

Eggshells are wonderful packages of calcium carbonate. They can also go straight into the ground like bananas but I like to crumble them up a bit first. The only problem with shells, crushed or left whole, is that they take a long time to break down in soil so when you want to send all that calcium goodness to your plant in the fastest and most efficient way, try eggshell tea. It’s easy to make and doesn’t take a long time.

Wash your eggshells thoroughly. Once they’re thoroughly dry, crush them as finely as you can and put them in a heat-proof bowl with a lid and pour boiling water over them. Cover and let the shells steep for up to a week.

A faster hack: If you’re making hard-boiled eggs, save the water. Let it cool. Water your plants with abandon (taking note of the warning below).

Eggshells are great for: tomatoes, broccoli, pepper, eggplants, cauliflower, strawberries but do not apply to cabbage, beans and spinach. Eggshells and eggshell tea are also great for roses and chrysanthemums.

3. Orange peel

Whether you’ve got an over-ripe orange or not, either way you’re probably not going to eat the rind. But orange peel is surprisingly beneficial to acid-soil-loving plants. To make it easily consumable to them, though, you’ll have to put in a little effort, although it won’t take nearly as much time as waiting for the peels to break down in your composting bin.

Dry your peels, either in the sun or a fruit dryer or low and slow in the oven. Once they are completely dehydrated, grind the peel into a powder using a spice/coffee grinder or simply chop the peel pieces as finely as you can. Sprinkle on soil and mix to add nutrients and to adjust the soil to be more acidic.

Orange peel is great for: hydrangeas, rhododendrons, camellias

4. Potato peel

Nutrient-rich potato peels can also be steeped in water to make a plant-friendly tea. Just take a handful of peels, drop it in a container of water and let them steep about four days or up to a week. Give the brew a quick stir every day during this steeping period. Strain the mixture and start watering your plants.

An even faster method is to keep the water you just boiled the potatoes you’re making for dinner. Wait for the water to cool and store the water in the fridge until ready to use. Be sure to stir up the water before pouring.

Caveat: If you like to salt the water you’re using to boil your potatoes, don’t use it afterwards for your plants.

Potato peel tea is great for: Vegetables, herbs, flowering plants and indoor plants, even cacti.

How far can I take this ‘tea’ thing?

The water you’ve used to boil virtually any vegetable can be recycled as homemade fertilizer. I’ve heard that even pasta water is beneficial to plants although I can’t claim I’ve tried that on my plants.

So get into the habit of saving your cooking water. You’ll be giving both your garden and the environment a big flavour. (Sorry.)

If you have any specialty tea recipes you use for your garden, I’d love to hear about them. Please share!

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