You've planted your organic garden, cared for it, and anxiously await your first ripe tomato. Finally, the day arrives, but as you reach to pick it, you feel something?squishy. Yep, it's a big, fat tomato hornworm. So much for that BLT you were dreaming about.
But just because you're gardening organically doesn't mean you can't fight back. You've just got to be smart and strategic. Here are seven ways to wage war on pests and diseases in the garden.
1. Select a good site. To grow healthy plants that won't give in so easily to problems, you need plenty of sunlight, enough space that your plants won't be crowded together, and a nearby water source. Also, check out the competition. Are there shrubs that will compete with your garden for nutrients and water? Will the trees surrounding the garden provide too much shade? Does the garden back up to a forest where deer tend to forage? By choosing the right place for your garden, you can start winning the battle before you even dig the first hole.
2. Create nutrient-rich soil. When humans eat poorly, we're more likely to get sick ? and the same thing is true for plants living in poor soil. You want yours to live in nutrient-rich soil that includes well-aged compost filled with micronutrients. Mix 3 inches of Nature's Care® Really Good Compost into the top 6 inches of your garden soil to create just the right growing environment.
3. Choose plants wisely. Pick plants with built-in disease resistance. You'll know you've got one when you see a chain of letters on the tag or in the seed catalog description. For example, a tomato plant with the letters "VFN" has been bred to resist verticillium wilt (V), fusarium wilt (F), and root-knot nematodes (N). If you prefer heirloom vegetables, look for varieties that grow particularly well in your region of the country. Whatever you choose to grow, always pick the healthiest-looking plants you can find - in other words, skip the garden shop sale table!
4. Develop a daily routine. By spending time walking through the garden each day, you're more likely to notice if a plant looks sick or if an army of aphids has moved in. The sooner you see a problem, the more quickly you can take action?squishing squash bug eggs before they hatch or removing a diseased plant before it spreads illness throughout the garden.
Look for plants with missing or munched-on leaves, find the culprits (be sure to check under the leaves), pluck them off, and toss them into a bucket of soapy water or give them to the chickens. A strong spray from a garden hose can eliminate smaller pests, like aphids. If you spot yellow, sick leaves, pluck them off and toss them in the trash (not on the compost pile).
5. Recruit the good guys Invite beneficial insects to join your garden party by planting flowers that bloom in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, and at different times during season. You'll also want to provide water for them to drink, perhaps in a big bowl with a few rocks in it.
6. Get plants off the ground. Many pests and diseases lurk in the ground, so don't let your plants hang out there. Use trellises, fences, cages, or stakes to keep vining plants like cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and melons free and clear.
7. Have a plan B. What if you've done everything suggested above, and you still don't have the edge? It's time to turn to organic products like Nature's Care® Insecticidal Soap and Nature's Care® Garden Disease Control. Be sure to follow the directions on the bottle.
And when the growing season finally comes to an end, there's one more thing you'll want to do: clean up. Many pests overwinter in leaf litter or lay eggs in soil, so remove plant debris from the garden and turn the soil over to expose eggs and larva to the elements.
Now, you've got a practical plan to fight pests and diseases so your garden can thrive. Plus, you can enjoy your next homegrown tomato without sharing your harvest with hornworms!