WAR ON WEEDS
Bidens pilosa or Blackjack is a weed that I am sure almost all know as the plant which is around all year, and when in a seed with its clusters of black spiky seeds sticks to all items of clothing that they come in contact with. What I am sure most don’t know is how nutritious and useful this plant can also be. So if you have them as a problematic weed in your garden, pull them out and instead of discarding them use them!!
Blackjack originated from South America and is common in all tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It is recorded as a weed in cultivated land and used as a vegetable or pot herb in many African countries such as Kenya, the Congo, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique. The plant is distributed throughout tropical Africa. It is a common, widespread and extremely troublesome weed, being found in moist disturbed areas.
Blackjack is a very medicinal plant and has been known to alleviate malaria and urinary tract infections. It has been proven that it can seriously reduce the risk of heart disease, cholesterol abnormalities, diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments. It is also good to plant to use in the fight against cancer as it has fibres, antioxidants, plant compounds known as sterols and different nutrients which are said to prevent, impede as well as kill cancer cells.
Blackjack leaves can be eaten and cooked like any other green vegetable but should be eaten with ‘Good oils’ and healthy fat-containing foods like peanuts or avocados, to aid full absorption of beneficial properties because of the high beta-carotene and vitamin E levels. A good way to do this is to lightly cook the leaves, throw the cooled cooking water into the garden and add sautéed onions and tomatoes to eat as a relish.
Blackjacks can also be used to deter pests on plants like aphids, ants, beetles, caterpillars, mites, termites and whitefly. Soak the mature seeds in hot water for 24 hours; add a teaspoon of soap and use as a spray. The whole plant can also be crushed or hand-rubbed to get all the juices out of the plant and then this can be used as a spray.
How to deal with cutworms naturally
Cutworm is a type of caterpillar, specifically the larvae of several species of adult moths. They have powerful jaws which eat and cut off young (seedlings most of the time) and sometimes older plants immediately below ground level. They eat the roots and young leaves of plants. One of the ways to recognise them is that when they are disturbed, they will curl upon themselves. Most people have never seen them and rather only see the massive damage they do as they are active at night and on cloudy days and hide in the soil during the day. So if you have a feeling that you are experiencing cutworms go outside in the evening with some torches to investigate your plants and the soil.
Below are some natural and organic ways of dealing with this pest:
- Toads and birds are natural predators, so consider introducing more of these two natural predators to your garden.
- Go out at night with torches and handpick dropping them in a bucket of soapy water.
- Please note that this pest is often introduced by the compost or soils that you are introducing to your garden, so if you all of a sudden have an infestation straight after introducing organics into your garden then rather do not use that range (specific company) again in case this was the problem.
- Products which contain Bacillus thurengiensis are very effective for controlling this insect but please keep in mind that these products will also affect butterflies.
- Sprinkle cornmeal or bran around your garden as they will eat this and perish.
- Another method using bran is to mix 50% sawdust with 50% bran and a little water. Drop globs of this mix around plants in the evening. This will immobilise these caterpillars and make them victims to predators to birds during the day.
- Sprinkling crushed eggshells directly around plants that are commonly attacked will also keep them away.
- Collars made of PVC pipe, cardboard tubes, soup cans, plastic bottles etc will also help to prevent damage to plants within the collars. Another method is to plant seedlings in the ground with toilet rolls or actually plant seedlings into the toilet roll pots and then when a bit more mature, plant these pots into the ground tube and all.
Below is how to make these:
- Cut the toilet paper roll in half.
- Cuts 4 slits in the roll, 1/3 of the way up.
- Fold the cut area on the bottom like you would closing a box.
- Fill your new seed pots with light potting soil, and pack the potting soil down with your thumbs.
The herb tansy is a good repellent so try planting these around to repel cutworm. Remember that they lay their eggs in leaf collections so make sure to rake up your old leaves if you have problems, to provide less of a habitable breeding area. Sink screws or nails in the soil next to the plant’s stems to prevent them from wrapping around and cutting.