I do not use chemicals to control diseases and pests in my garden. Sometimes this approach can be frustrating, but there are some tactics that can lead to more success. A garden free of chemical fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides is the safest, most responsible way to garden. Following are a few steps to help you be successful. Although any organic methods can be applied to the permanent parts of your landscape, for the purposes of this article, I am discussing growing annuals in vegetable and flower garden beds.
A healthy plant that resists disease and insects requires a steady supply of the proper nutrients. This first step, gardening without chemical fertilizers, is easy. I use compost and green cover crops to keep my soil healthy. When I do fertilize specific plants, I use both organic meals that I mix into the soil around each plant, and liquids that I mix into a sprayer and apply to the foliage. Although many people point out that chemicals such as the well known poisonous blue granules cost less to use, the hidden costs are very high. The Organic Trade Association details many of these hidden costs on their web site. In additions, numerous studies have shown that the correct use of organic fertilizers can provide a better gardening result.
The number one thing I do to avoid pesticides and fungicides is to cultivate healthy soil so my flowers and vegetables have a vigorous root system capable of taking up the nutrients they need. Most of my plants require nothing further except water, getting all they need from the healthy soil. When I do supplement some of my tomatoes, peppers or eggplant, I do as I described above.
Certain pests and diseases can be difficult to prevent but over the years, I have learned to anticipate which plants may have problems. For example, in our area, tomatoes are susceptible to blight and fungus diseases. I do try to choose resistant varieties, but that is not a sure solution. Although there are some organic products that help a bit, the only other preventative options are nasty chemicals that I am unwilling to use. So, what I do is plant twice as many tomato plants as I think I will need. When it becomes evident that a particular plant is going to succumb to disease, I uproot and dispose of it. I then use the empty space to grow something fast like lettuce that does not get the tomato diseases. Most years I only lose a few plants, but some years I lose as many as 1/3 of my tomatoes. Still, I always end up with more than I can use.
A pest that causes a problem in my garden is the squash bug. Although many sites state that there are no effective organic controls for adult squash bugs, I attack them with a weak soap solution when the pumpkin and squash plants are young to keep the population in check. Bugs that are directly hit with the soap do eventually die. As the vines grow large and start to sprawl, it becomes impossible to get every bug with a dose of soapy water. At that point, I look for the colonies they tend to gather in and spray those. Like the tomatoes, I also plant a few more vines than I think I will need. A few pumpkin vines may succumb, but I always end up with plenty of jack-o’-lanterns on Halloween.
In summary, if you cultivate healthy soil, are particularly vigilant when your plants are young, make good use of the organic controls that are available, and plant a bit more of the varieties that have problems in your area, you can grow all the vegetables and flowers you want without resorting to the use of chemicals.