Friday, March 6, 2020

Food self-sufficiency, part 3. Problems you may encounter

As your first garden season progresses, or perhaps not until your second season, you're likely to see a few problems. Diseases. Insects. A lot of fungal diseases that tomatoes and cucumbers and squash get can be kept in check by spraying your plants with water + cow's milk or water + baking soda. Don't use chemicals from the store when you can treat with innocuous substances. You're going to eat that stuff, so watch what you spray on it! If you have tomato hornworms, pluck them off and kill them however you wish. (Squish. Stomp. Or cut in half with pruners.) If bugs are eating your kale and broccoli (and plenty love that family of plants), you need a fine mesh net to put over them the instant you see damage. There’s pricey stuff called “row covers,” but I use remnants of tulle fabric from Walmart to net my plants. Also, hunt for little green caterpillars on your broccoli leaves and pluck them off. If you have hens, give the worms and caterpillars to them. Otherwise, smoosh them and drop them on the ground. A bird will come along and enjoy it once you've left the garden. If bugs aren't doing much damage, I leave them be. I can eat lettuce that has a couple of slug nibbles at the edges, no prob.

If you grow squash of any sort or melons in North America, you may well end up with squash bugs or vine borers. They eat the green parts of the plants, and because you can lose a whole huge bed of squash in a week to them, there are organic remedies you can use. ONLY use them once the sun goes down and bees and other pollinators are bedded down for the night. The most common such spray is neem oil—an oil people in India even use in the kitchen, available at most stores that carry gardening supplies. Any bug who is eating neem will die. Bees don't eat leaves or stems; vine borers and squash bugs do, so it's relatively safe for you and for the pollinators, but again, spray it at sundown to make sure you're not hurting the insects you need to pollinate your crops (and the commercial crops, and flowering trees, including all fruit trees. If we like apples or coffee or pumpkin pie, we need those bees!)

Squash vine borer. M McMasters via Wikimedia

And if you see a monarch or swallowtail caterpillar eating your carrot greens or dill or fennel, as a personal favor, please leave the poor thing alone. It won't eat your whole crop. Give it a plant. You get butterflies as a result of your kindness.

As you garden more years, not using chemicals will mean you attract predator insects which will help keep your bad insects in check. (it often goes: year 1, few insects. Year 2, lots. Year 3, predator insects figure out your yard is like a wonderful smorgasbord and you'll have less damage from then on.) You might later also learn about trap plants (plants the pest insects like more than your veg) and plant them in the corner of your yard away from the garden.

Some bugs can get knocked off a plant with a spray of the garden hose. Some won’t eat plants you spray with a weak solution of dish soap. 

mildews that appear on squash and cucumber plants. Baking soda spray it

For years one and two, I've given you some innocuous tools to use on diseases and pests. As you've no doubt intuited, the more often you go out to glance at your plants, the sooner you'll catch the beginnings of disease or insect infestation. You'll need to go out once per week at least to weed and possibly to water and to harvest, but more often would be good to catch insects and diseases at their first signs. Certain crops like summer squash and cucumbers will produce so quickly, once a week isn't often enough to harvest. Every other day is needed. Walking your garden with a cup of coffee in hand every morning is a nice way to start the day (if you don't have the Asian mosquitoes I have!)

Harvest your crops on the day you eat them. They'll taste best and be most nutritious. The first BLT of the season always makes me get a tear in my eye, it tastes so good. By August, I've had so many tomatoes that I preserve most of the rest. (Toss them in the freezer, cored and halved and packed into zipper freezer bags. They'll be good for sauces and soups throughout the winter and taste far better than anything you can buy in a can).

The first year, you want to consider planting a spring crop and main crop. Peas, lettuce, and spinach are good spring crops. The first of the summer, rip those out (lettuce and spinach may have gone to seed already) and replace them with summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, green beans, cucumbers, and summer squash. Crops that take a long time to grow (leeks, Brussels sprouts, parsnips) will be planted in spring and not harvested until late summer or fall. Garlic is planted in autumn and harvested in mid-summer of the next year. In subsequent years, you'll probably want spring, summer, and fall crops. Maybe you'll even have a covered bed (covered by a low tunnel or cold frame) for a winter crop, which is actually a fall crop that you didn't pick all of in the fall. Things don’t grow in winters, but they will stay alive under plastic low tunnels or cold frames.

In general, gardens need 1 inch per rain every week. Note the rain in your area, and water when you must: do it deeply once a week, not a little bit every day.

It's fall of season 1. You're picking the last of the tomatoes and peppers. Did you enjoy it? If so, get cardboard and wood chips and set them up so that you can expand your garden space for year 2. How much should you expand? I'll address that in part 4.

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