Remember in the spring, when the warm weather and sunshine felt so good, and how much fun it was planting seeds and plants in the garden? Remember how that vision of germinating beans pulled at your heartstrings, so proud of yourself, you paused in amazement with life. Visions of organic veggies and fresh-cut flower bouquets filled your mind along with sharing your bountiful harvest with family and friends. Life is good you told yourself. Then you went on vacation for a week, fun and sun, and when you returned home, the first thing you did was run to your garden, arms wide open, excited and shouting to all of your garden plants, “I am home!” As you get closer, you see wilting chard plants, holes in the cauliflower leaves, the weeds have taken over your pepper patch, and where did that giant zucchini come from? Oh my!
No matter where you garden or what you grow, you are going to have problems. When you work every day, every other day, or even once a week in a garden, you start to get to know the plants. You start to understand their feelings when they aren’t getting enough rain, or there are too many clouds, they weep, they really do. Ok, maybe it’s not what they are feeling, but you know they aren’t happy. What about bugs? How many bugs are okay to have chomping away on your plants leaves? One, two, ten, none? Are they good bugs or bad bugs? The first thing that you need to do is to determine if there is a problem or not.
Scenario # 1: I noticed that the cauliflower didn’t look too good this week. The leaves were becoming all curly, weird, somewhat distorted. I only have 4 plants in the brassica family in my garden, because I don’t like any of them, I don’t like to grow them, but I did plant these 4 for my family, because they like them. Anyway, yes, maybe I ignore these plants a little, but I couldn’t help but investigate a little more. So, upon a closer look, what I found rolled up in the center leaves were disgusting little creatures. Problem or not?
In this scenario, upon further investigation, I can see that I am dealing with aphids. Aphids LOVE to suck on plant juices which will eventually kill it. You will always find them at the newest growth. Their natural enemies are lady bugs, but I haven’t seen any of those around. For now, I will spray and wash the plants with soapy water and smash them with my fingers. Watch them daily, and if they continue, start to use insecticidal soap per directions. This should take care of the problem, but you have to stay on it. You can’t let this go. They multiply fast! Or, I could pull them out of my garden….but then my family would be upset.
Scenario # 2: On one of my tomato plants the leaves have been curling in an upward way. Almost to the point where they look like a tube. I can see that the little cherry tomatoes are developing okay, and noticed that the other tomato plants next to it didn’t look the same. They are different varieties, but the leaves just looked odd. Maybe they have a virus or something. Problem or not?
It appears that the plant is expressing a physiological disorder. No virus or disease problems, no insects, just a possibility that it has been too hot and this is what the plant is doing to deal with it. I found a good explanation at http://agdev.anr.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=3228 so no need to do anything.
Scenario # 3: While I was crawling around my squash plants weeding, I noticed these little metallic brown balls on the leaves. I found some on the tops of leaves, and also on the bottoms of some others. They look harmless, and don’t seem to be doing anything but sitting there. For now I will just leave them and hope to remember to keep an eye on them. Problem or not?
These “little balls” are actually eggs of squash beetles. You can smash them as soon as you see them. That’s easy for an Urban Farmscaper to do, but not for a large-scale farmer. I found some really good information on how to deal with these and other cucurbit eating bugs from Clemson: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/plant_pests/veg_fruit/hgic2207.html
I like to use deterrents such as hot pepper wax spray or garlic spray initially to keeps pests away from the garden. They are bound to find their way in there. If you suspect a problem, the first thing you need to do is observe the symptoms, identify the pest, and know when it is a problem and when to act. This is also known as Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. If you aren’t already practicing IPM, learn more at the Michigan State University IPM website. http://www.ipm.msu.edu/ Knowing if there is a problem is the first step, and how to deal with it in a sustainable manner is the next step to having a healthy garden with a bountiful harvest. So..what’s YOUR problem?