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The Homeowners Column
Organic or not, tips for reducing pest problems
State Master Gardener Coordinator
For me few activities in life are more sustaining than grazing in my garden. As a quirky TV character once said "You think slower when you graze". Or if produce does make it into the house, how about the satisfaction from making a meal of home grown vegetables? In addition, the health benefits from eating fresh fruits and vegetables are widely accepted.
However you are not the only creature wanting to graze in your garden. All kinds of insects love a taste of tomato or bite of broccoli. Some folks are quite philosophical about insects on their veggies. A gardener once explained his "green worm on the broccoli" philosophy. He figured that "worm" had spent all its life on broccoli, day in and day out eating nothing but broccoli, so he figured that "worm" was pretty much broccoli. So if he happened to eat one of those "green worms" in his broccoli casserole, well that was ok because those little "green worms" are just another form of broccoli.
Not everyone shares his tolerance level and insects can reduce yield. Organic or not, the following tips make good garden sense.
· Do not work in the garden when plants are wet. Many diseases can be spread from plant to plant in water droplets.
· Mulch gardens with organic mulches such as straw, shredded leaves or compost to keep plants moist, reduce soil temperatures and lessen disease spread.
· Rotate crop locations between major plant families which include: tomato family – tomato, pepper, potato, eggplant; cucumber family – cucumber, squash, melons; cole crops - broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale; and onion family – onions, shallots, chives, leeks. In other words if space allows don't plant tomatoes in the same area where peppers were planted last year.
· Choose a sunny location. Most vegetables need at least 8 hours of sunlight to be productive. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach will tolerate more shade than vegetables such as tomatoes that must flower to produce a crop.
· Choose disease resistant varieties. Check UI Extension offices and websites http://urbanext.illinois.edu/veggies/
· Plant flowers near your vegetable garden. Many flowers will attract the beneficial insects, parasitoids and predators that help control pests as well as the pollinators needed for crop production. Good choices are sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, tansy, cosmos, yarrow, coneflower, hyssop, zinnia and sunflower.
· Water properly and regularly. An inch a week through rain or irrigation is adequate. Keep leaves dry by watering at soil level.
· Feed the soil that feeds your plants. Add plenty of compost to improve drainage and add beneficial nutrients and organisms to soil.
· Inspect plants daily if possible. Habitually wander and wind down in the garden after a hard day. Learn to identify common pests and beneficial insects. I know its gross, but a quick pick-and-squish of a tomato hornworm or removing a diseased leaf may eliminate or at least reduce problems.
· Tolerate some pest damage.
· Some vegetables are more prone to insect damage. For instance broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cantaloupe, squash and cucumber are pest magnets. However carrot, green onion, lettuce, pea and radish seldom have insect problems. Bean, pepper and tomato occasionally have insect problems.
· Provide good air circulation to help control disease. Stake or cage plants and allow proper spacing between plants.
· Use floating row covers to protect plants such as broccoli and cauliflower from insects. Keep in mind some crops such as squash require bees for pollination. Uncover once flowers form or hand pollinate.
· Plant at correct time for your area. For example sweet potatoes and basil hate cold weather.
· Remove crop residue after harvest.
The 2015 4-SEASONS Gardening webinar series highlights include: May 12 - Busting Garden Myths and May 26 - Strawbale Gardening. Programs are free and begin at 1:30 pm. at the Champaign, Danville and Onarga Extension offices or view from your own web device, by registering http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/