We eat mainly what we grow and there are very few vegetables that I buy from the grocery store — even in the winter. And when I do they’re organic and in season. I wouldn’t pay even a penny for a tasteless store bought tomato or cucumber. Nor do I buy onions or potatoes. (Yes, I know— I’m spoiled.) I consider myself blessed that my garden has produced the food we need.
Even though for many years I only had straw, weeds, kitchen scraps, leaves and plant residue to use as my organic material in the garden I still had what I considered to be a healthy garden.
Built in Disease and Pest Control
A little study into what great biodynamic and organic gardeners have done and you’ll find out in a hurry that pest control and disease is not something they worry about a lot — because there’s no need to. Soil life and the plants themselves — if supplied with the proper food (organic materials) can pretty much fend for themselves without our constant attention.
Although I’ve certainly lived the nightmare of hand killing hoards of squash bugs and potato beetles 3 times a day for a month or two in prior years — my pest problems have been minimum compared to what I hear about.
Best Year So Far
This year seems the most pest free of any I’ve experienced. Of course — it ain’t over ’till it’s over — and it’s still early summer AND we’ve had nice rains. No drought makes for less stress on plants — and less stress means less pest bugs.
In addition to all the things I’ve done to improve garden conditions and soil life, the weather has a lot of influence. And hot humid weather definitely puts stress on plants.
I’ve found only about 5 squash bugs on the squash in the picture above. (I check twice a day.) I’ve also seen indication of squash vine borer, but can’t find where it is. But overall the plant is doing ok and giving me squash.
No cucumber beetles thus far — even on the bigger plant shown close to the end of this post.
I had a bit of trouble with slugs back in March and put Escargo down in some spots. I see plenty of small slugs out there now, but I’ve had little or no damage from them even with my gazillion lettuce plants — which is usually one of their favorite foods.
I had potato beetle larvae on two volunteer potato plants that were in less than desirable soil. I killed the larvae and took up the plants because they looked poorly.
When we first moved here 15 years ago the potato beetles almost drove me crazy. Now I hardly get any. I still check everyday just in case.
This year I’ve found 3 potato beetles on my first and second planting of potatoes shown below. They looked almost dead and I couldn’t help but wonder if a predator had already gotten to them.
Last year for the first time ever I had lots of harlequin beetles in the garden. (I had more plants that they like.) I had to pull up a lot of Russian Kale, Hakurei turnips, and few other things because the bugs seemed to be taking over and ruining the plants.
This year I’ve seen a few (and killed them) but find that there is very little damage. Russian Kale is damaged but I’d have plenty for a meal if I wanted it. The Hakurei turnips are beautiful and the harlequin beetles have not bothered them at all. Even the still-eatable radishes are free from any damage.
I’ve not had more than a few bean beetles in many years. When we first moved here they ate my beans up before they were even 3 inches out of the ground. (See the beans in the picture below without a hole in them.)
Last but not least I wanted to mention that for the past 3 years I’ve had to watch my onions closely for sign of root rot which is caused by a soil borne fungus. (This is one important reason to rotate onions.)
Much to my amazement this year — there has not been one sign or indication of root rot.
Nature’s Wake Up Call
If you’re a regular reader you may recall that last year my tomatoes had Early Blight — the first time in many years. It certainly woke me up to the fact that I needed to further improve conditions for the soil life so that they and my plants could work hand in hand to take care of disease and pest control for me.
Immediately I went to work on a strategy to improve the soil life. In a nutshell here’s my 4 Phase/4 Season Strategy:
Phase 1 – Last summer I choose a variety of cover crops (buckwheat, winter rye, oats, field peas) to pull up and recyle nutrients, add the nitrogen I need for the coming spring, and all the other wonderful things cover crops do. (This year I’ll add forage radishes and clovers which I have not used for a while). (Remember — diversity, diversity, diversity.)
Here’s how I handled each cover crop:
- Just before the buckwheat set seed I cut it and left it on top of the bed and covered with straw. These beds were perfect for sowing seed in early spring
- I left the winter rye to over winter well into April in spots where I planned to plant tomatoes this year. Then I cut it and laid in on top of the bed. When my tomato seedlings were ready I dug a spot using a hand tool in the stubble to plant them. Also did this with my squash.
- Oats winter killed. I cut the biomass and laid it on top of the bed in which it grew. Roots decayed enough to transplant various seedlings into it in late spring.
- Field peas – I sowed with winter rye and oats. I cut when I cut the oats and rye and left on top of the bed.
Phase 2 – early winter last year
I put a layer of leaves on top of every bed except those with growing oats and rye.
Phase 3 – this season – early spring
I have always interplanted, but this year I did so to a much greater degree. My aim was to have the soil covered by a diversity of growing plants in almost every spot in the garden. Although I’ve not achieved that 100% — I’ve come close.
When the plants are finished I cut them off close to ground level and allow their roots to remain to feed the soil and provide protection for soil life.
Phase 4 – this season – early summer
I’ve already under-planted some of my peppers and tomatoes with buckwheat. Before it sets seed I’ll cut it back and leave it where it falls.
I think under-planting of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants can be very beneficial in preventing the fungus that causes Early blight from splashing up on the plant. Usually, I depend on straw to do that job, but my thinking is — the buckwheat is still alive and able to work in ways that the straw can’t. (I’m not a scientist — so I don’t know all the technical aspect — but if this helps— and I think it will — I’ll continue to use it.)
Clovers would be excellent for this purpose as well.
Early Blight usually hits when tomato plants are heavy with fruit. I have a while to go yet before that time comes, but I’ll be most anxious to see how the story plays out.
I’ve seen a couple of yellow leaves on a few plants but nothing that I would consider a danger signal. And of course, I took the precaution of taking the lower leaves off the plant when I transplanted the seedlings.
You can see how good the tomato foliage looks in the above picture.
The tomato below is so heavy I used 3 supports for it.
This Julia Child tomato is not as bushy as some other varieties. Am looking forward to seeing how it performs.
The brilliant green oak leave lettuce is still sweet and delicious. It’s been a nice addition to my lettuce collection.
My original plan was not to put any tomatoes in the garden this year, but I ran out of space and ended up with 10 in the garden. The biggest one is shown below (center).
This cucumber – the first planted — is still looking great.
Already have 1 1/2 gallons of blueberries in the freezer. Have used 2 quarts fresh already. Want at least another 1 1/2 gallon for winter use and that much more for fresh use too. Yummmmmmmm!
I’ve found this year to be one of the most exciting years of gardening. The less I have to deal with garden pests and disease — the more enjoyable and wonderful gardening becomes.
If you’re experiencing anything less — be patient. Keep on keeping on and working WITH nature. Before you know it the joy of gardening almost totally pest free and disease free will be yours!
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