The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center State Park graces the grounds with visual colors and textures, sweet and pungent aromas, and helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.


The abundance of rain occurring this spring is both a blessing and a challenge in the garden. Plants are growing without the help of irrigation. Some Mediterranean herbs, roses and other specimen plants have developed fungal diseases. One of the best organisms to help plants resist disease is called mycorrhizal fungi.


These fungi live in partnership with plant roots. As mycorrhizae multiply, they extend hyphae into the surrounding soil. As they travel, these hyphae contact soil nutrients and exude acids and enzymes that make the nutrients soluble so that plants can take them up. Plant roots are surrounded in a protective sheath of mycorrhizae that both encourage friendly organisms and discourage the growth of plant pathogens. This has been shown in field trials.


The best way to encourage mycorrhizal fungi is to make and use compost. Incorporate compost into the soil when planting, apply it on the soil surface under existing plants and spray compost tea on leaves. Compost tea helps to suppress foliar plant diseases.


To make compost tea, use a five-gallon plastic bucket with two gallons of water added. If you are using city water, stir and allow time for the chlorine to escape (at least overnight or 24 hours is best). Use an old gym sock for a tea bag. To the sock, add three cups of compost and one cup of alfalfa meal. Tie off the top of the sock. Add about a half-cup of sorghum syrup or molasses to the water. Stir to dissolve. Sink the sock in the water. Install an aquarium bubbler or stir the tea twice a day, without fail. Brew for three days. Filter the tea through old T-shirt material or other loose-weave cloth before filling your sprayer. Spray plants before sunrise or just after sunset; never foliar spray when the sun is shining.


If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture.