Garden Journal

Milk not only helps prevent disease, it is a good disinfectant

July 7, 2011

Milk has been used for food, for paint and even for luxury milk baths. Marco Polo tells of Mongolian Tatar troops carrying sun-dried skimmed milk.  Ever since 1884, when Dr. Hervey Thatcher of Potsdam, N.Y,. invented the first glass milk bottle (called Thatcher's Common Sense Milk Jar), Americans have had cold milk around the house.  And milk, like all kitchen items, often finds its way into the garden.

You may think twice before pouring whole milk on your plants, but some have used powdered nonfat milk to great success.  For tomatoes try mixing a a quarter cup Epsom salts with a quarter cup nonfat dry milk and pour this mix into the bottom of the planting hole.  Add some compost or soil and stir in.  Now set your tomato plants and firm the soil.

Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of nonfat dry milk directly on the soil surface and work it in to a depth of a few inches.  Scratch in a few more tablespoons of dry nonfat milk every two weeks through the rest of the growing season.

Along with hot, humid days comes the onset of powdery mildew.  Milk is also a very effective fungicide in the garden, indeed often better than many chemical fungicides at controlling powdery mildew. It is thought that the potassium phosphate in milk boosts a plant's immune system to fight the fungi.

Spray plants with powdery mildew with a mixture of nine parts water and one part nonfat dry milk.   Coat the leaves of any plants that are susceptible to powdery mildew such as squashes, melons, and cucumbers with the milk mixture early in the morning.  It is also effective on bergamot and phlox, which both often fall to mildew attacks in summer.  You may have to repeat the spraying every week or so or after each rain.

Milk not only helps prevent diseases, it is also a good disinfectant. Instead of using a toxic bleach solution to disinfect garden pruners, dip them in milk to disinfect them.

Milk even prevents the transmission of many tomato diseases such as tobacco mosaic virus.  As a bonus, tools don’t corrode or rust as much when cleaned with milk.  And since you’re not handing bleach or chemicals, it’s easier on the gardener and farmer.

Spraying roses with the 10 percent milk and water solution controls, but does not cure, black spot and rust.  It won’t keep these fungi from spreading to other rose bushes, but helps control it on roses already infected.

Because whole milk has higher fat milk content that can clog a sprayer, skim milk or reconstituted dry milk work better. For best results don’t increase the milk concentration to more than 30 percent (three parts milk to seven parts water), as anything above that just invites bad odors and may even cause fungus growth.

A diluted milk spray might keep the powdery mildew away and even sweeten your tomatoes and melons.  At least it won’t hurt your skin or ruin your lungs the way many chemicals can.  Try using it on your roses, tomatoes and if all else fails, use it the way gardeners have for centuries, as a milk bath for your weary bones.

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