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Just Batty For Gardens

How does my garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells…

And fertilizer, you idiot!

Well now, this weather is more like it. After weeks and months of getting the garden ready, starting the seeds and planing, planning, planning it is finally time to get it planted. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time to plant all those fun sun loving veggie and flowers so if your garden isn’t in yet it is time to get moving. I had a friend who would spend the entire three-day weekend putting in his garden. He planted the entire thing in one fell swoop, BAM it’s done. I envy that ability to singularly focus on one thing and get it done, but it just isn’t how I do things, so don’t worry if you don’t have time this weekend or you only have time to get part of it in. There is still plenty of time, last year I waited until the last week of June to get everything in and I still got plenty of corn and tomatoes.

Gardens are a work in progress, at least mine is. There is no end to what needs to be done, what could have been done better etc. etc. The point is to get outside and spend a little time with your hands in the earth, if the seeds you plant sprout and the flowers grow and bloom great! If not so what? Have fun, listen to the birds sing and the bee’s buzz, watch the spiders weaving their webs and the ants marching along and feel the sun on your back . Let yourself drift off into a reverie, it will be good for your soul.

Several years ago in Organic Gardening I read about this new organic herbicide that was being tested and got very excited. The stuff being tested was corn gluten. Yup, plain old corn gluten, a by-product of corn processing. Turns out it has something in it that inhibits seed germination. So if you till up a piece of ground and spread this stuff around it prevents weed seeds, actually it prevents any old seeds from germinating. So you can’t use it on ground where you will be sowing seeds but you can use in the garden where you are transplanting starts. Weeding has got to be the worst of garden chores so anything that can save me time and backache is good news so I kept my ears open and my eyes peeled for any information about this new miracle.

A couple of years ago it became available at the nurseries and this year I decided to give it a try on my newly planted bareroot raspberry beds. Well I learned a couple of things they don’t bother to tell you in the advertisements! Like: it’s corn, stupid, and critters that like corn are really going to like this stuff. As I was walking down the row scattering the pellets (it comes pelleted or in meal form) my dog was trailing right behind licking them up as fast as I could put them down. She did leave enough to be effective. That is until the ravens got wind of the free meal. All of a sudden there were 15 or 20 ravens out in the field. At first I couldn’t figure out what the heck they were doing, I can be slow on the uptake sometimes. When I went out to check on my newly planted bareroot babies I discovered half a dozen or so had been torn out of the ground. This stumped me for a few days until I realized that the ravens, attracted by the corn smell, were scratching around the plants in an effort to find the corn. The corn gluten did work to keep most of the weed seeds from germinating so it did live up to the hype, only beware the stuff they don’t tell you. The other thing you have to be wary of if you decide to give this stuff a try is that unless the corn the gluten comes from is organic there is a very high likely hood that you will be getting gluten from GMO corn.

It’s time to prune all those lovely camellias, azaleas, lilacs and any other early spring blooming shrubs. The idea is to prune for shape and health before the plant starts forming next year’s flower buds. They do it fairly quickly after blooming so if you delay you could end up pruning out next year’s flowers. Take out damaged and dead branches and shape the plant "into a pleasing form", as Martha would say. Then throw a little fertilizer at it and your done except making sure it has water once in a while.

Don’t forget your houseplants. By now they are putting on new growth but it isn’t too late to repot and start your summer fertilizer program. Make it easy on yourself, set a table up outside and gather all the stuff you need, new pots, fresh potting soil, soil amendments etc. Then get your leafy house companions and bring them outside where you wont have to worry about getting dirt and dead leaves all over the place. Now take a good look at them, prune them if they look straggly, check for bugs, remove dead leaves and branches. Replant into a pot one size larger using fresh new potting soil. If they don’t need to be repotted I usually scrape about an inch or so of soil off the top and add some fresh new stuff. The nutrients in potting soil are used up pretty fast by the plants and they will appreciate the fresh soil and nutrients. If you really want to thrill them you can add a little bat guano to each plant.

Bat and seabird guano is really cool stuff. The word guano is Quichua, an Incan language, which means "droppings of seabirds". For centuries the Inca gathered the stuff on Islands and rocks off the coast of Peru. It was so highly valued as a fertilizer that the gathering areas were protected and only especially chosen people could do the gathering. Violation of these laws was punished by death!

American agriculture during the 1800’s became so addicted to the stuff that a law was passed in congress on August 8, 1856. This bill set up protection to be given to any US citizen who may discover guano. Any US citizen was allowed to take possession and occupy any Island, rock or key where guano was found. The only stipulation was that the guano could only be sold in the US to US citizens.

Today the gathering of guano, especially that of bats, is highly regulated to provide protection for the bats. There is a cave in Texas, the Bracken Cave, where the largest known colony of bats in the world live. Scientists estimate that 20 million Mexican free tail bats use the cave as their summer home. Bat Conservation International holds the rights to harvesting the gold from the cave. In November when the bats have headed south for the winter they go in with huge vacuum trucks and tidy the cave for the returning bats. On average they suck up 50 tons of guano each year. Let’s see 20 million bats, 50 tons of droppings…well you do the math!

Bat guano is a highly touted organic fertilizer containing billions of live bacteria that help fight fungus. There are also millions of microbes that can help in bioremediation, which means they eat up toxic chemicals in the soil and 13 trace elements. The actual chemical make up varies depending on the type of guano and whom it comes from, and you thought guano was guano. So check labels for specific N-P-k info.

You can contact Bat Conservation International at 1-800-538-BATS or online at

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