As vegetable gardeners, many of us expect a heck of a lot from our small planted areas. Because the plants are often close together and fertilized beyond what nature would, they are more susceptible to a wide range of ailments, from pests to disease. Wouldn’t it be great to know how to have a low risk garden!
Insects and garden pests are always present in gardens, and it’s not too realistic to think we can (or even want to) eradicate them completely. Pests hide and thrive on dead leaves and weeds, lurking there ready to attack our crops. However, it is possible to keep them to a low population so that healthy plants can tolerate them.
Another risk garden plants face is disease. Disease can quickly spread from one plant to another. These are caused by invisible organisms like fungi, bacteria and viruses. They seem more threatening than pests because they are difficult to control and many of them have developed resistances to more common treatments.
Some of the pathogens that attack our plants can survive for many years. They lurk in plant tissue or in the soil, waiting for the right host plant.
1. Just as we keep ourselves healthy, if we ensure that plants have good nutrition, reduced stress and sufficient clean water, risks can be limited.
2. Good garden hygiene includes removing dead leaves and weeds that provide hiding places and food for pests. Gather and destroy pests such as caterpillars, slugs and snails before resorting to chemical insecticides that often don’t discriminate between pests and beneficial insects. Often a forcible spray of water will dislodge insects like aphids or the eggs of other insects.
3. Removing diseased plants at the first signs of a problem and destroying them reduces the chance of disease being passed on. Never use cuttings from a diseased plant for propagation, since the infection will be present in the tissue of the cutting.
4. Building up a fertile organic soil that has the right balance of nutrients and the ability to keep moisture will help plants grow more healthy, so better able to resist pest and disease attacks. This is the most important step in planning your low risk garden.
5. Choose disease resistant varieties. Many vegetables that have full or partial disease resistance are available.
6. Put barriers or row covers in place to keep out pests such as cats, birds, or carrot flies.
7. Learn to recognize and encourage gardeners’ allies like birds, ladybugs, dragonflies, hoverflies, bees and other beneficial insects. Intersperse their favorite flowers, like asters, herbs and marigolds in your garden. 8. Rotate your crops to reduce the spread of disease and increase the fertility of the soil.
Crop rotating helps control soil pests and avoids nutrient depletion. It can even help restore nutrients to the soil.
9. Want a low or non toxic quick fix for garden pest problems? Visit Mother Earth News for links to organic pest control products that they recommend, and start enjoying a low risk garden!