An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. – Benjamin Franklin
If you are having a challenging time with pests, weeds, wildlife or other problems, there is a lot that you can do now to reduce the problem(s) you are experiencing this season, and prepare for a smoother next season.
The most important thing you can do now is not reach for a can of spray or search the internet for a cure-all-recipe.
Rather, grab an ice-cold beverage, a chair and a notebook and sit back and observe, truly look at the ecosystem that you are tending.
How do your plants look? All of your plants. Are they a rich green color or do they have a streaked or limey color? Are they blooming or setting fruit? How do the leaves and stems look? Are they intact or have parts been eaten away? Do they have little ‘holes’ in them, or is there any sort of dust on them. Does that dusting have any color to it?
These and other such questions will help you hone your skills of observation as well as provide information that you’ll need to find the solutions to what’s bugging your homestead.
Keeping an inventory of your garden and the problems you’ve been experiencing goes a long way towards preventing potential problems.
Sketch out a plan of your garden. Note what you have planted where and how long you’ve been planting it in that location. If it’s possible, know the type and variety of your plants.
Include in your notes what problems you are having, how the plants look, and if there are any signs, symptoms, and the severity of the problem you are having that can help you or a nurseryman identify what you are fighting.
Plan before you grow –
Use pest and disease resistant varieties. Oftentimes more modern than heritage varieties, these plants require less monitoring due to their characteristic resistance. Heritage varieties tend to lack these resistances and will need extra monitoring. I’ve found that ‘herd immunity’ can play a role; if planted amongst resistant varieties, often they’ll grow quite nicely.
Rotate your crops – not just by type but by entire families. This can be an issue if you primarily grow tomatoes and peppers. You’ll want to rotate between families of plants – follow tomatoes with another entirely different crop – onions, beans, carrots, etc. to avoid the migration and establishment of insects and disease.
If any plants do become infected with bacterial, viral, fungal or other pathogen – remove them and any debris immediately, bag and dispose of it. Do not compost or try to recycle it. Most home compost piles don’t generate a high enough internal temperature throughout the pile to kill these pathogens, and you don’t want to spread it throughout your environment. Stressed plants also send out chemical signals that pests can ‘read’ and follow the chemical map to your garden.
Maintain your war on weeds. Weeds are like most other plants, once they find a place to call their own, they set up shop and send out their progeny to compete with your crops. They are also hosts to the undesired pests that can spread to your tender plants.
Assess your soil. A rich, well balanced and rich soil results in vigorous healthy plants – which have the strength and resources to develop thick healthy stems and leaves are often able to put up a successful fight against insects and other diseases.
A healthy soil is also host to entire colonies of beneficial microbes that chemically modify nutrients into a form that is more easily used by the plant – and in the long run less of a need for fertilizers.
Having the information from the analysis tells you what you do and do not need to build up in your soil. As mentioned in the earlier post about the soil test comparison, had I not explored that topic, I would have added well rotted manure to my beds – increasing nutrients for phosphorous and potassium to near-toxic levels. As with many things, a little is good, a lot is not.
In wet seasons, our clay-based soils can develop an imbalance in chemistry where nutrients are not available to the plant. When this happens, the leaves take on a yellow color due to a deficiency in chlorophyl.
Water early in the day so that the plant leaves are able to dry before the rays of the high sun ‘burn’ the leaves. Watering at night – especially when temperatures are cool – provides the perfect conditions for mildews, rusts, and other fungal infections to develop.
Follow Nature’s Lead and Established Homesteading Practices
Ironically, one of the best things that you can do to improve the health of your farm or garden is to invite beneficial insects, bacteria and the like into your garden. Let nature do the hard work by using natural predators to keep pest populations in balance.
It is also key to remember that in spite of everything, there are going to be those seasons where it’s best to do nothing. Conditions and timing are such that the fight is more harmful than the cause. This spring was a tough one for roses – conditions were ideal for powdery mildew. Diseased material was removed and the surrounding areas cleared of debris so that when dry weather returns and new growth fills in, the plant has a chance to build up energy stores for next year.
As with many habits and rituals – our forefathers had to rely on non-chemical methods of treatment and prevention. Increasing chemical resistance has led to a renewed interest in ‘historic’ methods of farming.
I look forward to sharing some of those as time allows.
In the meantime here’s to a safe holiday weekend! May the only need you have for fire extinguishers be beer or milk needed to temper the heat of your chili.