Neem/Karanja

No need to start salivating, neem cake won’t be on the dinner table anytime soon. Though you might be disappointed to learn that neem and karanja cake aren’t actually tasty pastries. Although, there are plenty of other benefits of these plant-based substances that make them worth using in your garden.

Though neem and karanja oil are well known for being a useful natural pest management alternative for gardening, few people seem to appreciate the benefits that the cake or meal version of these same substances contain. That’s unfortunate, because this under-appreciated garden amendment is one of the top natural fertilizers around. Plus, just a little bit crumbled into your soil is sure to make a big difference for your plants.

What is Neem/ Karanja Cake?

Though there are more similarities than differences between neem and karanja cake, a few key details set these two garden amendments apart.

Neem

Though native to India, neem trees have long been celebrated as a natural soil enhancer. Thus, causing them to be planted throughout southeast Asia and into tropical regions around the world. In fact, Indian agriculture has historically been so dependent on the benefits of the neem tree that it is referred to as ‘the curer of all ailments’ in ancient scripts.

Much of the neem tree, from the leaves to the bark and seeds, can be used as both an organic fertilizer and pesticide to increase gardening yields.

Karanja

Karanja trees also grow in India and their legacy as a useful agricultural crop is similar to neem trees. In that, they have been used as a natural way to improve soil for hundreds of years. Karanja trees are also often used as a bio-diesel source in parts of India.

Like neem oil, karanja oil has an excellent macronutrient profile and is a smart way to enrich the soil of your garden. With a milder aroma than neem oil, karanja plants are often described as smelling and tasting nutty. Additionally, karanja oil tends to be used more in products like soaps and shampoos than neem oil.

More Similarities Than Differences

In most ways, neem and karanja provide the exact same benefits when used agriculturally.

Because the two substances are so similar, they are often used interchangeably in farms and gardens. In fact, much of the neem or karanja cake are actually sold as a blend of the two substances.

For clarity in the rest of this article, just the term ‘neem’ will be used to refer to cake that might contain one or both substances.

Where is Neem Sourced From?

Neem cake comes from the seed pods of tropical evergreen neem trees that are native to India. Although, the trees have taken off in popularity internationally. Almost every part of the neem tree is useful to humans. As the seeds, leaves and bark can all be put to use as treatments that are anti-fungal, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and more.

Coming from the natural oils found in the seeds, neem oil has been a popular gardening substance for hundreds of years. The oil is extracted out of seeds and leaves in order to use it as a foliar spray for trouble areas in gardens. The oil is traditionally extracted through a cold press extraction process, much like olive oil.

However, not all the oil is removed in this process. Just another reason why the remnants or neem cake have so many garden benefits. Within these dried kernels is some of the beneficial oils and garden-healthy nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK), as well as plenty of micronutrients.

How Does Neem Cake Benefit the Soil and Crops?

In many ways, neem cake is an almost perfect form of fertilizer. They have high enough levels of NPK nutrients to make them a huge help in organic gardens. Also, they contain enough azadirachtin to keep soil pests away.

When used with other fertilizers, neem cake can enhance their efficiency and slowly release their own nutrients. This means that your plants benefit from constant access to the nutrients and experience little risk of getting burned by too much nitrogen exposure. Studies show that garden yields can be 15-25% higher when neem cakes are used.

Neem cake is also cost effective compared to other types of fertilizer. This is because it is slow release and serves more than one purpose.

Another benefit of neem cake is that it helps to impede the growth of harmful plant pathogens and nematodes that want nothing more than to suck the life out of your plants. Finally, neem cake helps to improve your garden soil structure. Thus, the water holding capabilities of your bed will increase and make your plants more resilient during times of drought.

General Application Rates

When it comes to applying neem cakes into your garden soil, less is definitely more.

The best time to apply neem cakes is right after the first plowing of the season before anything has been planted. You can start by applying a few small handfuls into each raised bed. Then, a week later, adding three handfuls or fewer. For larger beds, sprinkle just enough to give the entire area a light dusting, or about 2 pounds per 25-30 square feet.

Additional Tips For Using Neem Cake

Though neem cake is fairly easy to understand and use, you might still have some confusion about best practices for this valuable garden substance. Below are answers to some of the common questions or concerns that beginning gardeners have about using neem cakes.

  • When not being used, neem cake should be stored in cool, dry places. This will  keep it fresh for as long as possible.
  • Only a small amount of neem cake is needed for soils that seeds will be started in. Soil with an abundance of neem can negatively impact growth of young starts and seeds.
  • For the best benefits use between ¼-½ cup per cubic foot of soil added as a top dress.
  • When you buy neem cake, make sure to source them from an organic grower. Non-organic cake will leave chemical residues in your garden that might harm your plants in unexpected ways.