Everyone has great advice when it comes to organic gardening and dealing with pests or diseases. Some of them work. Some of them are a waste of time.
I thought I'd shed some light on a few of the battles I've fought and won in the garden arena.
Here's 5 of My Most Common Garden Problems & Solutions
Garden Problem One: Powdery Mildew
If your cucumber plants look like mine and are already showing all the signs of powdery mildew (thanks to all the rain) it may be too late.
The key to keeping powdery mildew under control is to spray every 7 days from when the plants are babies.
It is much easier to keep the mildew at bay with regular organic applications than to let a fungus flare up happen and try to kill it. Ugh.
What do I spray?
Neem oil. It's organic. It's an insect repellent and it keeps things like mildew under control. I add a tablespoon of Dawn dish soap to my neem oil mixture to help it stick to the plants ... the Dawn also repels and kills some bugs.
I know there are more powerful mildew prevention methods out there, but I'm gonna feed these cucumbers to my babies, so I don't want any chemicals on them.
I have the most problem with mildew on my cucumbers. Always have.
The fabulous thing about cucumbers is that they germinate and produce so quickly that you can usually get 3 separate plantings in each season.
If your cucumbers look terrible and are on the brink of death — just stick some more seeds in the ground — you'll have another crop of cukes in a few weeks.
NOTE: Be sure to sow the next crop of cucumbers far away from your current plants. If they are too close, the mildew infected plants will happily share the mold.
Garden Problem Two: Squash Bugs
Oh how I hate you, squash bug.
I will tell you that squash bugs no longer take over and kill my entire garden. They are pretty easy to manage as long as you know what to do.
You don't need to spray. You don't need chemicals. You don't need powders. You don't need anything but some Dawn dishwashing soap.
Dawn dish soap is all you need to get rid of squash bugs. Not kidding. The squash bugs will laugh at the harshest, strongest, most toxic chemical on the planet — but douse them in a little soap and they roll over and die.
Just fill a spray bottle with some water and add 1/4 cup Dawn to it and mix. Now, go to the squash, zucchini, pumpkin, gourd, cucumber patches and spray the little critters. There are few things as satisfying as watching squash bugs roll over and die.
If you are having some trouble locating the little monsters, just water the plants. Focus on the roots — this is where they like to hide. When everything gets a nice watering the squash bugs will all climb up the stems onto the leaves to get away from all the moisture — when you see them come running — annihilate them.
Squirt! Squirt! Squirt!
Squash bug death courtesy of Dawn dish soap.
Now that mommy and daddy squash bugs are dead — it's time to kill their offspring.
Check the undersides of leaves for orange eggs. These are the squash bug spawn. They must go. I know people who just rub them with their fingers and squish all the eggs ... but ... eeew. I'm still a girl and that's gross. I rip off the leaves that have squash bug eggs on them and toss them far, far, far away from my garden. I don't want any baby squash bugs finding their way back to the gourds.
I do my squash bug seek-and-destroy mission a couple times a week. This really seems to keep them under control and I get to eat zucchini bread.
Garden Problem Three: Japanese Beetles
I have taken a "if you can't beat 'em, leave 'em" approach this year. I have some horrible beans growing in my garden that I hate, so I am letting the beetles have them.
Everything else is getting a regular coat of neem oil to deter the little beasts.
Garden Problem Four: Cabbage Worms
By far, my worst enemy. Oh good golly those stinking yellow butterflies need to all die. Arrg. I haven't yet discovered how to get the butterflies to move off my farm, but I have managed to murder all their children.
Two words: diatomaceous earth.
This, people, is a miracle. It does all sorts of amazing things including removal of disgusting, wormy poop off my cabbage goods.
This stuff is astonishing. This stuff works. This stuff won't hurt you.
What is diatomaceous earth (DE)?
It's actually a fine powder made from diatoms — which are fossilized phytoplankton.
DE has a negative ionic charge — which makes it great at reducing parasites in chickens. It's rich in silica (good for your hair skin, bones, teeth and nails). It's crazy hard (which makes it great for facial scrubs and tooth pastes).
Some places people use (food grade) diatomaceous earth:
• In their homes to get rid of bed bugs & fleas
• In chicken coops to keep bugs out
• In homemade toothpastes & facial scrubs
• In the garbage or refrigerator to remove odors
In short, DE is amazing. There are two types of DE available. The food grade is safe for pretty much everything. The "filter grade" you do not want to smear on your skin or breath into your lungs.
In the garden, the filter grade will eliminate all your cabbage worm issues — just don't inhale it.
Like I said, I have not yet been successful in getting the yellow butterflies (yes, they are the enemy pooping out cabbage worm eggs all over your broccoli) to leave my farm. If you figure that one out, please let me know.
What I have successfully done is kill their slimy green offspring.
• I focus my DE application at the base, stems and arms of the plants (where the eggs typically are laid)
• I focus my DE sprinkling on the arms and base of my plants. When the little, cabbage-worm boogers hatch from the egg-slime and meta-morph into green worms the white powder gives them the business.
I'm not sure where they went — I just know that I'm not eating green worms anymore.
Garden Problem Five: Tomato Fungus (Blight, spots)
My life has been filled with an off and on battle with tomato blight. There are two varieties of blight: Early blight and late blight.
They both stink. They both kill your tomato plants if not treated. They both ruin my life. I'm pretty sure I have both flavors living on my farm somewhere.
The good news is that I have the answer.
Tomato blight or fungus has an easy solution that works 99% of the time (for me).
Move the tomatoes. Problem solved.
If you can't move them, or it's too late to move them, or it's too late to plant a new crop, or they're already established and dripping with green tomatoes, but the blight is showing its ugly head on the bottom of your plants — here's what I do,
To Stop Blight:
• If it's just one infected plant — rip it out of the garden and toss it far far far far away (preferably bag it & send it out with the trash). You don't want to mess around with blight or let it take up roots in your soil. This disease will produce great-great-grandchildren to infect your future tomato plants for the next 45 years. Trust me, you don't want tomato blight on your farm.
• If it's not just one plant, but your entire crop has spots on the bottom branches — get all the infected branches off the plant and out of the garden and gone for good (burn, bag or remove completely). You want to remove this funk from your farm and garden.
• Do not touch infected plants and then touch a healthy plant — you can spread the disease.
• Don't work with or harvest tomatoes when the plants are wet or damp — this can spread mold spores more easily.
• If over-crowding is an issue, move some of the plants or remove them to get more air flow going.
• Do not add top soil to your garden and think you alleviated the blight — it's probably still in there underground somewhere.
• Once the infected branches are gone — you must spray the plant to stop the disease from coming back. I spray with a baking soda spray. To make it just add 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon dish soap to 1 quart of water. Shake well and pour into a spray bottle. Be careful, baking soda will kill the blight, but too much can harm your plants.
• Respray every 7 days.
To Prevent Blight in the Future:
• Water early in the day so the plant is not wet during the evening. Cool air and moisture is a perfect environment for late blight.
• Give them plenty of room. Space tomato plants so that air can circulate around them.
• Buy seedlings from a trusted source or start your own seeds (how I start seeds here). I have brought blight home from the nursery in the past.
• Keep your tomato plants off the ground by using cages or other system.
• Remove all the branches near the ground at the bottom of the plant. Branches near or touching the ground are most likely to remain damp and encourage mold (just what the blight spores want).
• At the end of the year remove all your tomato plants, branches, tomatoes, leaves, stems and roots from the garden. Put in a bag and dispose of immediately.
• If any volunteer tomato plants come up (and you have a history of blight) remove them.
• Mulch your tomato plants with straw. This will keep your tomato plants from coming in contact with the soil (where the mold spores live).
The great thing about tomatoes is that they are constantly producing new growth off the top of the plant. Even if the bottom half of my tomatoes are dead, brown and pathetic, the tops are always green, lush and making more tomatoes.
Common Garden Problems & Solutions — Quick Reference Guide:
• Powdery Mildew — Neem oil and dish soap
• Squash Bugs — Dawn dish soap and water
• Japanese Beetles — More neem oil
• Cabbage Worms — Diatomaceous earth
• Tomato Blight — Baking soda and dish soap
• Feel free to share your best practices for fighting garden battles in the comments below.
Don't give up! Keep fighting the good fight! You can do it! Rah! Rah! Rah!