Using Dried Molasses in the Garden
In a different thread, Jill mentioned hearing an "old-timer" who had converted from chemical methods of gardening to organic gardening talking about using dried molasses. And, it occurred to me, that I probably seldom if ever mention molasses, which is an important soil restorative often used by organic gardeners. So, I thought I'd discuss it a little here.
WHAT ORGANIC GARDENING REALLY IS:
A lot of people call themselves organic gardeners because they don't use pesticides or fertilizers of chemical origin, and only use those of organic origin. That is a good start, but organic gardening is so much more.
Organic gardeners understand that EVERYTHING starts with the soil. Thus, they do many, many things to maintain healthy soil. This includes adding organic materials like compost, rock and mineral powders (like soft rock phosphate, greensand and lava sand), etc. It also includes doing whatever you can to encourage healthy soil that is ALIVE. Soil is not a dead, inert material (well, it can be, if it has been heavily farmed chemically). Good soil is alive and teeming with many, many microorganisms that contribute greatly to soil health. These microorganisms include but are not limited to bacteria (there's good bacteria, you know), fungi, algae, nematodes (there's good nematodes too), protozoa, and actinomycetes If these microorganisms are missing from your soil, your soil is not healthy enough.
Organic gardeners also understand the importance of using green manures (crops you raise in order to till them into the soil where they decompose and add life to the soil) and cover crops.
HOW SOIL "DIES": The use of heavy chemical fertilizers and pesticides kill off many, and sometimes all, of the microorganisms in the soil, essentially leaving sterile soil. If organic material, green manure and cover crops are not used to restore these microorganisms to the soil, you essential have dead, inert soil. Obviously, dead and insert soil doesn't help plants grow. So, if you use chemicals on your soil and don't do anything to correct the damage they do, you find yourself in an escalting cycle of having to use more and more chemical fertilizers and pesticides to make up for what is lacking in the soil.
HOW TO BRING YOUR SOIL BACK TO LIFE: All those microorganisms have to eat. So, you have to put stuff into the soil that they can eat/digest, and that is where all those organic materials come in. When you add compost and other natural materials like the various mulch materials that break down, you are adding "food" to the soil that will benefit both your plants and the soil's microorganisms.
DRIED MOLASSES is an organic product that has quietly gained quite a following. You might remember seeing liquid molasses on the syrup aisle at the grocery store. You can use that form of molasses in different spray formulations (like Garrett Juice) for your garden.
You can use dried molasses to add carbohydrates to your soil to feed soil microorganisms. Molasses also contains sulphur, potash and a variety of micronutrients (trace elements) needed by plants. Technically, the N-P-K ratio of molasses is 1-0-5 One thing that dried molasses adds to the soil is carbon, which is essential for growth. You HAVE to have carbon in order to have healthy microorganisms in your soil, and carbon is the main energy source in soil.....but we seldom talk about adding carbon to our soil, do we? Dried molasses also adds potassium or potash to your soil. Why is this important? Potassium helps our plants maintain a good balance between root growth and top (leafy) growth. Potassium also is VERY important in ensuring plants have adequate hardiness (in both winter and summer). If your soil is low in potassium, you often have problems with disease, winter-kill of plants that are supposed to be winter-hardy and may find your perennials often are not perennial.
HOW TO ADD DRIED MOLASSES AND HOW MUCH TO ADD:
If you are building or renewing beds, you should add dry molasses at a rate of 1/2 lb. for every 100 square feet. If you can't find dry molasses locally, you can substitute ordinary sugar. Just sprinkle it evenly by hand over the area you want to cover.
If you like to brew your own compost tea, you can add 1 to 2 oz. of dry or liquid molasses to each bucket or batch of tea you brew. (Sherri and I use Garret Juice which is an enhanced form of compost tea that includes molasses as one of its' ingredients.)
Molasses is also an important tool in the battle against fire ants and other soil-borne pests. Why? Fire ants prefer sterile soil where there aren't any microorganisms to attack them in any stage of their life cycle. By adding molasses to your soil, you are encouraging microorganisms and discouraging fire ants. Now, adding molasses to your soil today WILL NOT mean that the fire ants are all gone tomorrow, but it does work long-term as healthier soil means less fire ants. IF you find fire ants or other ants in your compost pile, throw in a handful of molasses every now and then to increase microbial activity in the pile.
Because molasses increases microbial life, it is a great "compost starter" and you can just throw a handful of it on the compost now and then instead of purchasing those more expensive "compost starters" that you see in stores.
MOLASSES HELPS COMBAT THE BAD NEMATODES: If you garden in sandy soil or sandy loam that has a high percentage of sand and a low percentage of organic material, one way to help combat root-knot nematodes is to add molasses to your soil. The increased microbial activity will help reduce the population of root-knot nematodes as will the addition of more organic material. Again, this is a long-term strategy, not a quick fix.
MOLASSES HELPS COMBAT GRUB WORMS: When we moved here, we had a problem every single night with armadillos and skunks digging up our lawn, our garden beds, etc. looking for grub worms. The first spring, they absolutely dug up every single plant in my garden looking for grubs....and they did it on the night before Mother's Day. So, when I went outside to the garden that morning, I found every single plant lying on the ground. Every single plant. We still refer to that day as the Mother's Day Massacre. And, we spent the next two days building a fence so I could start over with new plants and seeds.
Of course, I needed a better long-term strategy and soil-building was the answer. After nine years of building and enriching the soil, I can honestly say that our armadillo problem is maybe 2% of what it used to be, and most of that damage is in a narrow band of sandy soil that runs bewteen the house and the garden. It is MUCH harder to improve sandy soil here because "heat eats compost", so no matter how much I add, it always needs more, more, more. Adding both molasses to the soil and milky spore powder have greatly helped with the grub problem, and fewer grubs means fewer beetles.
If you want to add dry molasses to your soil to help combat pests like grub worms or root-knot nematodes, simply spread it on the soil surface at the rate of about 5 to 10 lbs. per 1,000 s.f. of lawn or garden bed. You can water it in immediately, or let rain water it in for you.
USING MOLASSES TO KILL PROBLEM GRASSES AND WEEDS: There are some weeds that are almost impossible to dig by hand, especially in hard clay or rocky soil. Dallis grass is one of them. To help kill Dallis grass and other similar grasses, first spray it with a vinegar product (10% or 20% is best). Then, come back a few days later and scatter a handful of dried molasses all over the crown of the plant. The microbial action stirred up by the molasses will help rot the crown of the grass clump, and you can dig it and the roots out at your convenience. (Dead crowns/roots are a lot easier to dig out than living ones.)
GARDEN-VILLE is an organic product company, founded by Malcom Beck, that has several products that contain molasses. (Mr. Beck's gardening books, too, are incredibly wonderful, by the way.)
For example, Garden-ville's soil food has many wonderful organic ingredients, including molasses, blood meal, alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, etc.
The Gardenville Fire Ant product has molasses in it, as well as compost tea (or manure tea, I don't remember which), and citrus oil.
GARRETT JUICE can be purchased commercially as a concentrate you dilute before use, or you can mix up your own. It contains compost tea, apple cider vinegar, molasses and liquid seaweed. The very first time I bought dried molasses, it was so I could use it to make my own Garrett Juice.
USING MOLASSES AS PART OF HOWARD GARRETT'S "SICK TREE TREATMENT": Often when a tree that "ought to" grow well here is having problems, it is because the tree is growing in unhealthy soil that is lacking in both organic material and microbial life. Howard Garrett has developed a sick tree treatment that can be used to save sick trees. You can see it at his website....www.dirtdoctor.com. Once there, do a search for sick tree treatment and you'll find it. Dried molasses is just one part of the sick tree treatment.
HOW OFTEN TO ADD DRIED MOLASSES: In most cases, you only have to add dried molasses once a year. If you have really unhealthy soil that seems to be completely lacking in microbial material, you might want to add it twice the first year. I think it would be impossible to add too much, but remember that in healthy soil you want BALANCED soil, so adding too much molasses could add more carbon than your soil needs and could cause it to be out of balance.
So, there, that is everything I can think of to say about molasses and its' use in an organic gardening program.
Ooops. Wait, I have one more thing to add. Grasshoppers LOVE molasses. So, if you find yourself with an invasion of grasshoppers, take either jars or buckets and fill them halfway full with water. (I like to use old quart jars.) Add a teaspoon or two of liquid molasses to the jars and place them around your garden where the grasshopppers can find them. The grasshoppers go into the jars to "eat" the molasses and then drown. Once again, this is not an instant kill method of grasshopper control, but over a period of time, quite a few of them will die. You have to scoop out the dead ones periodically, though, or the living ones get smart and avoid the jars.
Molasses, dried or wet, can be a very useful gardening tool. And, if you can't find dried molasses, you can use ordinary sugar in the same amounts.