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May 2005: Agricultural Notes

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This information comes from "Tithonia diversifolia as a termite repellent for protecting fruit trees in Central African Republic" by Timothy Watkins in the January 2005 issue of ECHO Development Notes:
Using information that came from a Kenyan farmer, ECHO tried out a recipe for controlling underground termites and found it effective against termites that were damaging Inga, Terminalia, Macadamia, Dacryodes edulis, and guava trees. The Kenyan had used Melia azedarach leaves along with the Tithonia, but since these were not available in Florida, ECHO's headquarters, only Tithonia was used.

This is a summary of ECHO's recipe:
1) "Fill to half a 50-gallon drum with fresh, chopped Tithonia leaves and stems (soft, new growth)
2) Fill to level with water
3) Cover, place weight to hold material in the water
4) Allow to ferment 4 days or until vile smelling
5) Pour liquid and black muck around bases of trees, or into termite mounds.
6) For trees, take care to keep muck from touching tree, as it may cause the bark to rot.

"Depending on the rains, the treatment may be effective for about 1 month. With heavy rains it is best to treat trees more frequently."

This comes from "Garden soil harbors its own little civilization" by Anne Raver, as printed in the March 5, 2005, issue of the Marin Independent Journal, originally from the New York Times.
"I'd been an organic gardener for years before I really looked at pictures of soil under a high-powered microscope.

"Mites were feeding on springtails. Fungi were swirling like strands of spaghetti around plant roots. Nematodes shaped like torpedoes were grazing on fungi. Everything was eating everything else.

"Fascinated, I began talking to soil scientists and compost experts, learning that plants are not just taking up nutrients. They are exuding carbohydrates through their roots, feeding the bacteria and fungi that, in turn, break down nitrogen, protein, phosphorus and many other elements into forms the plant can absorb. For the first time, I began to grasp what I was dealing with in the soil of my garden: an underground city more complex than the infrastructure that powers Manhattan."

The rest of the article gives tips for attaining and maintaining healthy soil: Get your soil tested, either through a public university or "a reputable private laboratory. Ask for a textural analysis, which will indicate the percentage of clay, silt and sand in your soil and how well it drains. And ask for a complete nutrient analysis as well." This can "also reveal problems with nutrients in soil, nutrients that, even if they are present, may be unavailable to plants for reasons that range from a lack of oxygen to an excess of nitrogen." It's possible for gardeners to make problems worse if they don't know the chemistry of their soil. Experts also advise gardeners to check out the ingredients in compost and mulch and to know where it comes from before they buy it to avoid pathogens that can "cause serious damage."



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