Makeshift planters abound at home
Next time you need a new flower pot or container, look around the house and yard for creative, no-cost alternatives, suggests Tip Diva (www.tipdiva.com). Old cooking pots, bowls and crockery make great containers; just be sure to add drainage holes. Same goes for old toilets, sinks, bathtubs, wheelbarrows, watering cans, shoes and boots. Use mismatched dishes to catch water under pots. Old rakes, shovels and stakes can support climbing vines. Even cracks in the patio can be filled with plants.
If mildew or pests are posing a problem in your vegetable and herb garden, use this inexpensive homemade spray developed by horticulturists at Cornell University: Mix together 1 gallon of water, 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon cooking oil and 1 tablespoon mild dishwashing liquid (don't use harsh ones such as Dawn). Spray the mixture onto plants every week to treat problems, or every 10 days as a preventative. Apply at mid morning, when dew has evaporated from plant surfaces. You can also pinch off affected leaves and dispose of them in the trash.
Rotate your crops
Farmers have always known the benefits of companion planting and rotating crops. Put those same strategies to work in your edible garden to increase yield and reduce disease and pests. First, mix it up in your garden beds with a variety of plants. Don't grow the same plant in the same pot or in the same spot in the raised bed season after season. To boost variety and yield, try the "square-foot gardening" method. Divide raised beds into 1-square-foot sections; plant different types of plants in each square foot, using one, 4, 9 or 16 plants per square foot. After harvesting a square foot, add compost and replant with a new and different crop. For more details, visit the Square-Foot Gardening Foundation Web site (www.squarefootgardening.com).
Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent