Organic gardening has long been a way for people to grow their own vegetables without worrying about pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The practice is becoming increasingly popular as people become more concerned about what they put in their bodies. Many people also believe that eating locally grown produce helps reduce pollution from transporting foods across great distances. Some farmers’ markets even exist solely to provide fresh fruits and veggies to customers who want to buy local.
Although organic gardeners have fewer pest and disease problems than conventional growers do, there are still plenty of potential threats. In this article we’ll take a closer look at five different types of garden-related challenges and offer tips on how to deal with them. First up is a problem that affects nearly all organic gardeners: pests. Read on to learn about the most common culprits.
You may not think much about insects when you’re planting seeds in dirt, watering plants and tending to flowers, but if you plant crops near trees and shrubs, you’ll need to keep an eye out for bugs. Insects like aphids and mealybugs love to feast on leaves and stems while the plant’s roots stay relatively untouched. They can even cause entire plants to wither and die off because they suck so much nutrients from the plant. If you don’t catch these pests before they spread throughout your yard, then you could be dealing with a lot of dead plants later on.
The best way to get rid of pests once they’ve taken root is by using sprays made specifically for controlling weeds and insect infestations. These sprays contain natural ingredients such as pyrethrum, which is derived from chrysanthemum flowers, and rotenone, a naturally occurring compound found in plants. Pyrethroids are another type of pesticide commonly used against pests, especially those that attack vegetable crops. They work well as bug repellents and killing agents, too. To use them safely, follow any application instructions exactly and wear gloves during the process. To find out more ways to combat garden-threatening diseases, read Tips Organic Garden Weed Control.
Early Detection Is Key
If you discover an infestation early enough, you can try trapping the pests by laying down thick sheets of newspaper around your garden beds. Cut small holes into the newspapers and place traps through the openings. Then you just fill the traps with soapy water where the bugs will drown. It works better than trying to spray the pests directly, since spraying exposes you and other members of your family to toxins.
Next up, we’ll talk about something far less likely to kill you: bacteria and fungi.
Fungi are microbes similar to bacteria, except that fungi reproduce via spores instead of cells. Fungi tend to invade our skin and nails, causing diseases like athlete’s foot, ringworm and jock itch. But they can also infect our homes, clothes and gardens. For example, mold is a fungus that grows on decaying matter and causes bad odors. Mold also produces allergens called mycotoxins, which irritate the lungs and respiratory system. Keeping moisture levels high in your home will help prevent fungal growth.
Plants that aren’t properly cared for often succumb to disease. This isn’t true only of organically grown food, though. Conventional farmers must use chemical fertilizers and pesticides to protect their crops from various diseases and insects. But organic gardeners usually avoid using chemicals because doing so would mean exposing themselves and their families to dangerous substances. Even worse, synthetic weed killers can harm pets and wildlife.
One specific disease that organic gardeners face more frequently than others is bacterial blight, caused by strains of Xanthomonas bacteria. Bacterial blight attacks tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and cucumbers, making infected areas turn dark green and fall off prematurely. Left untreated, it can quickly destroy an entire crop. Fortunately, bacterial blight doesn’t last very long after infection, so you can usually wait until symptoms show up before taking action. The best defense against bacterial blight is to make sure your plants receive consistent amounts of sunlight. Also, never pick any diseased fruit right away, and always wash your hands thoroughly after touching anything related to a sick plant.
It’s possible to damage your soil simply by adding too much compost or tilling it deeply. Compost contains lots of nitrogen, which is needed for healthy plants to thrive. However, too much nitrogen can actually hurt your plants. Nitrogen promotes the production of chlorophyll, which makes leafy plants lush and vibrant. On the other hand, excessive amounts of phosphorus in the soil can stress plants and lead to deformities. Phosphorus is necessary for the health of roots, stems and blossoms.
Tilling the soil releases the nutrients trapped within its particles. Doing so also loosens the soil structure, allowing air to reach deeper layers. Unfortunately, tilling also disrupts beneficial microorganisms living in the topsoil. Microbes play important roles in helping plants absorb nutrients and breaking down certain compounds into useful forms. By disrupting the microbial ecosystem, tilling allows harmful organisms to flourish and overtake healthier ones. Tilling should be done carefully, however, or you might end up destroying the soil’s ability to hold onto essential minerals.
Another reason why gardeners sometimes encounter soil problems is due to improper drainage. Water runs downhill, so poor drainage leads to puddles and standing pools of water that foster algae growth and attract mosquitoes. Poor drainage also encourages bacteria and fungi to multiply. Drainage issues are often corrected by installing raised beds or digging trenches along the perimeter of your garden. Adding gravel to the bottom of flowerbeds can also help increase the amount of oxygen available to plants.
In the next section we’ll discuss harvesting the hard work you’ve done.
Harvesting Your Food
Once your plants begin producing yields, you’ll probably wonder how to harvest everything without damaging the fragile vegetation. Most experts recommend tying or staking young plants together to ensure that they remain undamaged. After all, picking ripe bananas unripened won’t yield much. Another method involves tying individual branches together with string or twine. When this method doesn’t work, you can cut the vines yourself, but it’s safer to let someone else do it because you wouldn’t know where to start.
Strawberries are arguably the easiest fruits to harvest. All you have to do is pull the berries off the vine when they’re fully ripened. Other fruits, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, require more time and effort to pick. With blueberries, for instance, you have to shake the bushes vigorously when ripe berries fall to the ground. Raspberries are harvested by cutting long strips of the bush with shears while holding it firmly between your legs. Blackberry bushes are picked over a net, and strawberries are gathered by either pulling them off the vine or shaking them loose from the surrounding foliage.
When picking tomatoes and other organic vegetables, be careful to check for bruises and blemishes. Avoid picking tomatoes with brown spots, which indicate rotting underneath the surface. Don’t squeeze tomatoes until you bring them indoors, or you risk bruising and splitting them open. Peppers should be allowed to ripen completely before being plucked off the vine. Once they’re ready, remove the stem ends and slice off the tops. Cucumbers should be left on the vine until they’re mature. Only then should you pick the fruits off the vine. Asparagus shouldn’t be harvested until it reaches full maturity, otherwise the tender shoots will snap under slight pressure. And carrots should be allowed to develop fully before harvesting.
The final section deals with seasonal changes.
Seasonal Growing Conditions
Your garden needs to endure several seasons of fluctuating temperatures and changing weather conditions in order to survive. During the winter months, gardeners typically prepare their plots for the following season by covering them with protective mulch to insulate the soil and control weeds. Mulch materials include straw, hay, pine needles, bark chips and compost. Each material offers a unique benefit. Pine needles promote good drainage, whereas barks and compost improve nutrient availability. Leaves are ideal for preventing weeds from poking their heads aboveground.
Mulches are often composed entirely of organic materials, but some synthetic plastics can serve the same purpose. Plastic sheeting, for instance, is effective at protecting gardens from harsh winds and cold temperatures. It comes in rolls that can be cut to size and fitted together tightly. Plastic sheets also act as barriers against rainwater run-off and heat radiation.
During hot summers, gardeners may cover their plots with plastic tarps lined with burlap fabric to regulate airflow and retain moisture. Tarps also help block radiant heat from the sun.
No matter what kind of protection you choose, remember that it’s best to leave mulch exposed to light and air circulation rather than burying it deep underground. That way, it can continue to decompose and enrich the soil.
A variety of factors contribute to the success of your garden year after year. Among them are proper irrigation, adequate sunshine exposure and good drainage. Good hydration is vital for plants, because it ensures that they’re able to absorb the essential minerals they need to grow and flourish. Insufficient water can also cause root diseases and nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to plant death.
An irrigation system can keep your garden watered while also eliminating the need for manual labor. A drip or soaker hose or sprinkler system is a good choice because it provides consistent water over a long period of time. The only drawback is that these systems are typically limited in size.
One of the most rewarding things about gardening is the payoff, which can range from tasty fruits and vegetables to beneficial herbs and flowers. At the same time, you’re doing more than just putting plants in the ground; you’re also planting yourself a foundation for a healthier lifestyle. Research has shown that people who grow their own fruits and vegetables are less likely to be obese or suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Growing your own food can also reduce your carbon footprint. This guide should provide all the information you need to become a successful gardener.