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Milk and Molasses—Magic For Your Garden

Do you know about the magic of milk and molasses in improving your garden? Yes, plain old milk of any kind – whole, 2%, raw, dried, skim or nonfat – is a miracle in the garden for plants, soil and compost. Molasses only boosts the benefits! Let’s see how and why they work.

Milk

Milk as Soil Food

Using milk on your compost and in your garden will probably come as a surprise to most. Upon closer inspection, however, it starts to make sense. The amino acids, proteins, enzymes and natural sugars that make milk a food for humans and animals are the same ingredients in nurturing healthy communities of microbes, fungi and beneficial bacteria in your compost and garden soil. Raw milk is the best, as it hasn’t been exposed to heat that alters the components in milk that provide a perfect food for the soil and plants, but any milk will provide nutrition and benefits. Using milk on crops and soils is another ancient technique that has been lost to large scale modern industrial agriculture.

Milk is a research-proven fungicide and soft bodied insecticide – insects have no pancreas to digest the milk sugars. Dr. Wagner Bettiol, a Brazilian research scientist, found that milk was effective in the treatment of  powdery mildew on zucchini. See study here.  His research was subsequently replicated by New Zealand melon growers who tested it against the leading commercially available chemical fungicide and found that milk out performed everything else. To their surprise, they also found that the milk worked as a foliar fertilizer, producing larger and tastier melons than the control group.

Recently David Wetzel, a Nebraska farmer completed a 10 year study on applying milk at different rates to his pastures, and recorded the results with the help of the local Agricultural Extension agent Terry Gompert , a university soil specialist, a weed specialist and an insect researcher.

What they found was amazing- the grass production was drastically increased; the soil porosity or ability to absorb air and water doubled; microbe activity and populations increased; cows were healthier and produced more milk on treated pastures; the brix or sugar level in the pasture tripled, indicating more nutrients were stored in the grass than before. Grasshoppers abandoned the treated pastures- the sugars are a poison to destructive soft bodied insects as they do not have a pancreas to process the sugars. This also explains why damaging insects leave healthy, high brix level plants alone, as they contain more sugars than the stressed and sickly ones. Milk works as a fertilizer

For the home gardener, the ratio can range from 100% milk to a 20% mixture with water, with no loss of benefits. Use as a spray on the compost and garden soil prior to planting, and as needed when insects appear. Spray directly on the insects and around the areas they inhabit. When combined with molasses, it becomes a highly beneficial soil drench. A proven solution is 20% milk – 1 cup of milk to 4 cups of water, or 2 cups milk to 8 cups water for larger gardens. Whatever amount you need, the 20% ratio has been proven to give the most effective results with the least amount of milk used. David Wetzel’s experiments found that 3 gallons of milk per acre gave the most benefits, so the costs are minuscule compared to the benefits!

Molasses

Molasses Feeds Micro-Organisms

Molasses is a viscous by-product of the processing of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. Sulfured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulfur dioxide, which acts as a preservative, is added during the sugar extraction  process. Unsulfured molasses is made from mature sugar cane, which does not require such treatment. There are three grades of molasses: mild or Barbados, also known as first molasses; dark, or second molasses; and blackstrap. The third boiling of the sugar syrup makes blackstrap molasses. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has been crystallized and removed. The calorie content of blackstrap molasses is still mostly from the small remaining sugar content. However, unlike refined sugars, it contains trace amounts of vitamins and significant amounts of several minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the USDA daily value of each of those nutrients.

Molasses is a very valuable addition to the compost pile, as well as to the garden itself. Unsulfured blackstrap is the preferred variety, due to the mineral content, but any of the unsulfured ones will do fine. The benefits beyond the minerals are the natural sugar content that will feed the microorganisms in the compost or soil of the garden.

Use 1/4 to 1 cup of molasses to a gallon of water and spray onto the pile or garden, or add to the drip system for the garden. For soils that are poor, stressed or need help use 1 cup, while those that just need a little “snack” use 1/4 cup. The readily available sugar content will skyrocket the microbial activity.

Blackstrap molasses is also commonly used in horticulture as a flower blooming and fruiting enhancer, particularly in organic hydroponics. Use the before mentioned mixture in the drip system, or sprayed alongside the roots of fruiting vegetables as they start to flower to increase their flowering and fruiting. Add 3 Tablespoons of molasses to the milk spray solution mentioned above and use to feed plants during the height of growing season. Hungry, high production plants such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, etc. will really benefit from the consistent feedings, giving you more production that is more flavorful.

A fringe benefit of spraying the milk and molasses mixture on the garden is a biologically friendly weed population control. Many broadleaf weeds thrive on diets high in available nitrates and potassium diets, common with commercial fertilizers. Phosphorus is “tied up” or bound with calcium in the soil and needs biological activity to release it. The calcium in milk helps to compensate for what is unavailable in the soil, while the increased biological activity from both the milk and molasses releases unavailable phosphorus and create soil conditions that are unfavorable to germination of weed seeds.

The costs of applying the milk and molasses mixture is very minimal, but when compared to any other fertilizer and insecticide regimen – even those that are organic in nature – milk and molasses has no comparison. For instance, one acre has 43,560 square feet, and a gallon is 128 oz. Doing the math, we find that 3 gallons per acre works out to be 0.009 ounce per square foot! Assuming a gallon of organic milk costs $5.00, that works out to $0.0035 per square foot, or 0.035 cents per square foot! So if you had a large garden – say a 1,000 square feet – one application of the milk would cost $3.50, plus the expense of 2 – 3 tablespoons of molasses. What other biologically friendly soil fertility improvements would cost this amount?

Who knew that something as simple as milk and molasses had such powerfully positive, far-reaching effects?

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This post was written by Marjory Wildcraft

COMMENTS(52)

  • Deb Pero says:

    Great article! Who knew! I am going to try this.

    1. Stephen says:

      Thanks Deb! Please do, and let us know how it works for you. We’ve seen a number of different positive results, but some always surprise us.

  • Tina Smith says:

    This is SO interesting! I had NO clue! In all my years of gardening and my grandparents coming from a multi-generational line of farmers I just can’t believe I’ve never picked this up somewhere along the way. It makes total sense. Glad I came across your post!

    1. Stephen says:

      Using milk to improve soil has been used for thousands of years, all the way back to Mesopotamia and the Inkas – without each culture knowing anything about the other! It fell out of use with the advent of synthetic chemical fertilizers starting in the late 1800s in Germany.

      It is sort of like the old technique of picking up a 50 lb bag of powdered charcoal when buying seeds at the feed store. Everyone knew that adding a little of the charcoal dust with the seed would improve fertility for that year. Where are the charcoal dust bags now?

      Farmers have found that 3 gallons per acre have great, measurable benefits – let us know what you find!

  • Sandra H Jones says:

    I have used the milk treatment on my zucchini when it got powdery mildew but I hadn’t ever thought of using milk and/or molasses as a fertilizer. I’m going to try it!

    1. Stephen says:

      Glad to see you have found the fungicide use for milk!

  • Robin says:

    This was a very interesting article! I’m bookmarking it so I can refer back to it as the gardening season progresses. I do wonder though about the sugars attracting ants, especially my plague of fire ants. Sugar seems to make my ants happy rather than your statement “the sugars are a poison to destructive soft bodied insects as they do not have a pancreas to process the sugars.” Have you come across anything that addresses this?

    1. Hi Robin, I’ll see if I can get Scott to address this.

      1. Simone says:

        ok I have 2 for ya, first a line of baby powder confuses the feramones(sp seriously spelling is just not a strong atribute I possess). They won’t cross the line.
        and 2 corn meal, sprinkle it around the nest. They’ll take it in eat it and when it expands it expands to much you get the idea here. I have never tried the cornmeal but the baby powder works GREAT

    2. Stephen says:

      Robin, I will do some digging on the ants and sugar, as I know ants will sometimes “farm” aphids for the sugary sap that they secrete. My initial thoughts are for your situation, maybe leave out the molasses as it is pure sugar where the milk isn’t as readily available to ants. Improving the soil and brix level of the plants will kill off aphids, that I know from several studies. I will get back with more info!

      Thanks for this question, I don’t have fire ants here, but I know other places do!

      1. Stephen, fire ants are not as big of a problem with sugar as other ants. Fire ants generally like protein – meat, my feet… Ants, other than fire, are probably the issue.

      2. Robin says:

        Thank you so much! I have tried so many things that claim to get rid of fire ants, I’m practically an expert on what doesn’t work. At the same time, though, I don’t want to encourage the little buggers by feeding them when I’m really trying to just feed my soil! I appreciate anything you can find out for me.

  • Larry j Lamson says:

    Marjory, I am going to try this in my tomato containers. Every year, about the time my plants start to bear they suddenly wilt. I suspect a fungus because it is always the same containers with the problem. So I will get some milk, today, and…in place of blackstrap (which we don’t have in Mexican stores) I will use the raw sugar cones…

    I will let you know if it works.

    Btw, the best insecticide I have found are Tokay Geckos. They will clear out infestations, fast. My house is the oldest in the barrio. It was infested with cucarachas, scorpions, and mice. By “infested” I mean literally crawling. I brought in one gecko and it completely eliminated the cucarachas, the scorpions, and only dies after eating a clack widow. And they will breed their own replacements if you buy 3-4 and turn them loose outside.

    1. Hi Larry, Oh I do want to hear how it goes with the tomatoes.

      Back when I lived in Florida I had a gecko who ate the cockroaches. I am glad you have mice also, as I found out geckos can’t live on roaches alone (believe it or not I took my sickly gecko to a vet and got the advice to start feeding it ‘pinkies’ which are baby mice available in pet stores for snake owners). My gecko did really well for many years until the apartment owners started spraying all the other units with insecticides….. I was so sad.

      thanks for writing in and sharing. And definitely let me know how it goes with the tomatoes.

      1. Larry j Lamson says:

        So far so good. The plants that were looking steamed a couple weeks ago are looking normal, again. Now if I could just attract some bees. But they are few and far between out here in the Sonoran Desert. So I am pollinating with a toothpick. Pretty tedious.

        BTW, the mice we inherited with the house were so trap-wise and poison-wary that I took to hunting them with a bb gun. A Red Ryder will put a bb right through them. And, no matter how shrewd they are…mice can not resist an Oreo lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. We no longer have mice.

        1. Ah Larry, and you are a much better shot these days too?

          Hey, what about a cat? Or a pet snake.

  • Gabrielle Kosinski says:

    Use a Tbsp of blackstrap molasses a day in a glass of warm water plus lemon juice as a tonic and pretty much a cure for all kinds of ailments: growths, arthritis, heart trouble, digestion, etc…

  • keith says:

    great article! Is there a way to print?

    1. Hi Keith, oh you bring up a good point. Yes, to improve functionality of this site – and we are dedicated to being the most useful online resource for growing your own food and medicine – we should add pringing capability. I’ll put it on the list of things we need to improve.

      For now, you can cut and paste into a word processor…

  • Cindy says:

    Really amazing stuff I’ll give it a try. Thanks for sharing.

  • BReady says:

    Can this be used with a regular watering can or does it need to be administered in small ‘drip’ quantities?

    Thank you!

    1. I am guessing / going to be using a regular watering can. But I’ll get Scott to jump in here.

    2. Stephen Scott says:

      The application method doesn’t matter – drip system injection, watering can, add some water to the end of a gallon jug of milk and toss it on the compost or garden bed, it all works! Do whatever is easiest for you.

  • Joe S. says:

    Great article! Now I know what to do with the excess of milk we’ll have when we get goats next month. You can only make so much cheese, right?

    1. Stephen Scott says:

      The milk studies in Nebraska actually started with excess milk, as the farmer was processing cream! Whey and milk seem to do almost equally well in feeding the soil.

      From where I stand, there is never enough yummy aged goat cheese, but I’m also not milking them twice a day!

      1. Joe S. says:

        Even better! My wife ends up with lots of whey left over after making cheese, so now I can fertilize with it too. I’ve applied the milk/whey/water/molasses mixture to the garden twice now, and it’s looking great. We had a lot of insects last year, so I’m curious to see how well this mixture handles them, or if I’ll have to resort to regular Neem oil spraying.

        1. Hey Joe,

          Be sure to drop us a line with you4r results by harvest season. I would really love to hear how it went.

          TNX Marjroy

  • Joyce Trevorrow says:

    This is very interesting. I wonder if adding the milk and molasses to the worm bed, in your process to get worm juice. If that world work too, or would it upset the balance for the worms?

    1. Stephen says:

      I don’t know if there would be as much benefit to adding the mixture to a worm bed, as the worms are soil improvers by themselves. They might utilize the milk in the soil, but I’m not sure if worms will use molasses. If you want to experiment, use a small amount of milk – like 1 tablespoon of milk to 2 cups of water and add to one side of the worm bed soil. Then watch to see what they do. If they like it, they will move to the milk side – if they don’t they will move away from it. Then you’ll know without harming the worms!

  • Dana says:

    Will this work for aphids? I’ve tried looking if they have a pancreas, but not finding anything that gives me a direct answer.

    1. Simone says:

      You can order (unfortunatly 100 at a time) ladybugs and praying mantis’s they’ll take car of the problem (much like the gecko inabove mentioned pest problems)

    2. Stephen says:

      Yes, it improves the soil which improves the brix or sugar sap levels in the plants. This increased brix level is repellent to aphids. The sugar in the milk itself will also repel aphids.

  • Kathy says:

    I was wondering though about the indigestibility on this. Does that mean it will kill any beneficials to? I have wolf spiders, praying mantis and lady bugs and really don’t want to sacrifice their usefulness. Any suggestions on slugs and snails. The good guys can’t keep up with them and my strawberries and Melons suffer.

    1. Stephen says:

      The milk and molasses is best used as a soil drench if you have a lot of beneficials, so don’t spray as a foliar application to avoid harming them. The soil drench keeps the sugars away from the leaves and good bugs, feeds the health of the plants which increases the brix or plant sugar sap levels that becomes a deterrent to predatory, damaging insects. The beneficials don’t attack the plant and aren’t susceptible to increased brix levels.

  • Joy says:

    I bought bags of dried molasses at an organic place in
    Canton, Texas. I used it all over my garden except around the tomatoes. I did not want the molasses to change the acidity of them. Fire ants love okra and will suck the juice right out of them. Fire ants hate molasses and I had a bumper crop of okra. So, I can attest to the validity of molasses against fire ants. I don’t remember if I had any other ants.

  • Delia says:

    I will be mixing this stuff up today! I can not wait to try it. I wonder if it will affect cut worms or pill bugs? I use a lot of horse manure and my soil is awesome but the pill bugs breed like crazy. Horse manure is not hot so I use it quite fresh around my fruit trees and load it on my raised beds. I try to turn it so the old dirt is on top and the fresh manure is underneath. I have read fresh manure causes hairy roots on carrots but mine hasn’t, would hurt fruit trees, no again. This year I pulled buckets of fresh manure out of my stalls so fresh and put it in my beds and as an experiment I planted a spare broccoli in the fresh manure. The seedling was grown in a little dirt in the starting tray but everything around it was fresh manure, I have stall mats so I don’t use bedding of any sort. That broccoli plant is 4 times the size of his brothers in the bed I put the manure under and planted the plants in the dirt. I have read that planting potatoes in freshly manured fields causes scab, has anyone checked that? I am this year my husband went manure crazy and i was everywhere so no unfresh manure areas left and I grow a lot of potatoes. I think gardeners grow and writers write, often about things they have never done.

  • Lydia says:

    A recent article in “The Furrow”, the John Deere Magazine, said that conventional farmers are using plain white sugar or high fructose corn syrup to fertilize corn which strengthens corn stalks, and increases microbial activity in the soil. Apparently they used sugar and corn syrup because it was cheep and did not try molasses, which would have added more nutrients to the soil.
    Interestingly, entomologists in South Dakota found that ladybugs will eat the sugar-like nectar produced by soybean plants, so they noticed that applications of sugar (in water) increased the number of ladybugs on the plants. So it seems that sugar will not harm at least this beneficial insect.
    Thanks for this interesting article and the recipes.

  • davis says:

    Thanks for the article – very interesting! I’m having a hard time following the math though.

    $0.0035 per square foot @ 43,560 = $152 per acre. Was this a typo? I thought 3 gallons of milk per acre would be closer to $15.

    For instance, one acre has 43,560 square feet, and a gallon is 128 oz. Doing the math, we find that 3 gallons per acre works out to be 0.009 ounce per square foot! Assuming a gallon of organic milk costs $5.00, that works out to $0.0035 per square foot, or 0.035 cents per square foot! So if you had a large garden – say a 1,000 square feet – one application of the milk would cost $3.50.

    1. Stephen Scott says:

      Thanks for catching this Davis, I left out a zero in the cost! It should be $0.00035 not $0.0035/ square foot, so it does work out to be $15.28 worth of milk per acre. 0.035 cents is $0.00035.

  • C HALL says:

    I would be interested in the numbers also. In our area a gallon of raw milk is $10. But if this works it would be worth it. I have a lawn that is in really bad shape after having nothing but chemicals for many years. Would this still be a good idea for Bermuda? Have yet to get the garden going. Love the article.

    1. Stephen Scott says:

      For $10/ gallon, your cost would be $0.0007/square foot – still the most cost effective method of soil improvement around.

      I realized after looking at Davis’ reply that “losing” that zero skewed the math on the final cost. Here’s how the math works, using the 3 gallons per acre formula –

      1 gallon is 128 oz, 1 acre is 43,560 square feet.

      3 gallons/ acre = 384 oz/ 43,560 square feet = 0.00882 oz/sq ft, rounded to 0.009 oz/sq ft.

      $10/gal = $10 ÷ 128 oz to convert to $/oz = $0.078/oz x 0.009 oz/sq ft = $0.0007/sq ft cost. For a 1,000 square foot garden, multiply the cost/sq ft which is $0.007 x 1,000 = $0.70 to treat the garden. In misplacing that zero, I inadvertently made the true cost 10x more! Whoops, sorry about that folks… The real cost for one application of $5/gallon milk for a 1,000 square foot garden is a whopping $0.35.

  • Phyllis Lowe says:

    I have been spraying with the skim milk and water, to kill the black locusts (?) and it seems to be amazingly effective, more on that as the season develops the pests into gobbling yellow and red monsters! Thank you so much! My first question now: do you think that ordinary sugar-cane syrup would be a substitute for molasses as I have some of that?!! Second question, would it possibly be that the milk spray would kill black spot on roses and work as a repellant for bugs on the rose blossoms?

    1. Stephen Scott says:

      I’m glad to hear that milk is successful for you! Cane sugar syrup will work as a substitute for molasses, it just won’t have the mineral component to it. As for the roses, I would give it a try. It might or might not work, but it won’t harm anything! I would think that it would repel the bugs, not sure if it will treat the black spot.

      Please let us know how it works on the roses!

  • Lois Cotterly says:

    This is wonderful information. I’m wondering if powdered milk dissolved in water would work in place of fresh milk or milk purchased at the grocery store? Hope someone has an answer.lois

    1. Stephen Scott says:

      Lois, powdered milk was used in the initial studies of milk as a fungicide, so yes – it will work for improving the soil. While it won’t have as many nutritional benefits for the soil as fresh milk, it will still provide food for the microbial communities in the soil.

  • Judy says:

    I’m curious about the effect on pollinators like honey bees. It would seem that one would have to be very careful not to spray blossoms, right? I wonder how the Nebraska farmer managed not to kill off lots of bees if he was broadcast spraying.

    1. Stephen Scott says:

      The farmer used the milk solution as a soil drench with a watering truck in his pastures, but with the sprayer I’m sure that everything was sprayed – leaves, flowers, etc. I do know that he did the applications in the evening after processing the cream from the milk, so there would be fewer pollinators out at that time.

      Remember a couple of things here – first; that the milk is very, very dilute and works on the entire system, not just as an insecticide. Too many folks get all caught up and wound up in the insecticidal or fungicidal function, without ever really realizing that the milk improves the soil, improves the microbial populations, improves the plant brix or plant sap sugar levels while also acting as a fungicide and destructive insecticide. Second; the difference between beneficial and destructive insects is that the beneficials don’t attack the plant, so won’t be ingesting the plant sap or watery milk droplets – they are harvesting pollen and are not feeding as with aphids, grasshoppers, etc.

      1. Judy says:

        Thanks for the reply, Stephen. It was the improving the soil and microbe populations, along with the brix levels in the plants, that I was most interested in. I understand that beneficials don’t attack the plants, and I can hardly wait to see how the baby grasshoppers that are all over the place react. Now if I could just figure out a way to deal with the marmots (grrrrr!).

        1. Stephen Scott says:

          Whistle pigs! I haven’t heard them mentioned since I lived in the Colorado Rockies as a kid! I can only imagine what they do to a garden, seeing how and where they live with almost no vegetation.

          1. Judy says:

            It’s not pretty, Steve. 🙁

            What I didn’t know is that marmots are the same thing as groundhogs, and they are in the squirrel family. Since they are rodents, I was going to try planting a bunch of mint all around (creates another problem) to see if it repels them. I’ve also asked Mama Skunk, who has a nest under my garden shed, if she would take on the whistle pigs. She owes us a favor, but that’s a whole ‘nother story 🙂 I say, “power to the skunks!”

  • Jim says:

    How often would you have to apply this milk an molasses to the soil?

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