I didn’t even know that such a thing as “leftover beer” existed or that it might be considered a dilemma. So I was surprised at a recent family gathering when the talk turned to the topic of excess brew and what to do with it. It was Peter who leaped in with an answer, “Pour it on your garden — it’s good for plants.”
Since Peter’s not much of a gardener and because I like to know whether gardening advice is true or not, I Googled “is beer good for the garden.” As you might already suspect, beer — despite the trace nutrients it carries for people — is not a miracle fertilizer, or any kind of fertilizer. Here’s what I learned.
According to Dave’s Garden website (http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3715), the myth about beer being good for the garden has been floating around for about one hundred years. Dave theorizes that the myth began in 1890 when Peter Henderson, a master market gardener who sold into the New York City market, recommended that used hops from the beer-brewing process be applied to gardens. From there, perhaps it was simply assumed that beer was somehow beneficial.
More recently, horticultural professionals, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott (Washington State University) and Dr. Jeff Gillam (University of Minnesota) put three beers to the test: Michelob Light, Guinness, and Sharps (an alcohol-free beer). The beers were added to hydroponically-growing butterfly bush plants, along with a low concentration of a liquid fertilizer. Six plants were grown in each type of beer.
As Dave describes, “the results were very clear — alcohol is bad for plant growth, beer with alcohol is bad for plant growth, and beer without alcohol is bad for plant growth. The plants that were grown without beer . . . did much better than all of the plants grown with beer.” His advice, “Pull up a chair, grab an icy mug and treat yourself to a cold beer if you like, but don’t waste your money pouring it on the garden.”
This begs the question: is beer good for humans? According to Marty Nachel and Steve Ettlinger in “The Nutritional Content of Beer” on the Dummies website (http://www.dummies.com/food-drink/drinks/beer/the-nutritional-content-of-beer/), there’s not a whole lot of nutrition in beer.
Beyond the obvious water, carbon dioxide, and alcohol, beer also contains carbohydrates and a small amount of proteins. Twelve ounces of the typical mega-brewed U.S. lager contains 151 calories, two-thirds of which are from alcohol. There are 13.7 grams of carbohydrate, 1.1 grams of protein, 25 mg. of sodium, and trace amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and some of the B vitamins. Possibly the best that can be said about beer’s nutritional value is what it doesn’t contain: cholesterol, additives, preservatives. Beer is also low in sodium.
This doesn’t mean that beer has no place in the garden; there is actually a beneficial use for it. A time-honored method of controlling slugs is to place a shallow container, such as a jar lid or shallow pan, into your garden soil and fill it with an inch or so of beer. The aroma of the beer apparently attracts both slugs and snails to a watery death.
And what about St. Patrick, whose name and day is burdened by people considering it an excuse to drink to excess? Was he a gardener? Did he enjoy a pint or two on occasion? There’s no mention of this that I could find; few details are actually known about this saint who died way back in 461. But on St. Patrick’s feast day, which often occurs during Lent, Catholics were allowed to refrain from their Lenten abstinence of alcohol. Over the years, this apparently became an excuse for Irish and non-Irish alike to over-indulge in brew.
Pam Baxter is an avid organic vegetable gardener who lives in Kimberton. Direct e-mail to email@example.com, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kimberton, PA 19442. Join the conversation at “Chester County Roots,” a Facebook page for gardeners in the Delaware Valley. Go to Facebook, search for Chester County Roots, and “like” the page. To receive notice of updates, click or hover on “Liked” to set your preferences.