9 problems and solutions
1. Controlling weeds
If you live in Iowa like me, you are lucky to have some of the best soil in the world in which to grow whatever your heart desires (for 4-5 months out of the year). However, we also have our share of robust weeds. If you are an ultra hippy you will encourage the growth of these weeds so you can turn dandelion roots into tea, dandelion flowers into wine, and dandelion salads, purslane, lambs quarters, clovers, or plantains into salad fixings. However, if you don’t want to deal with it at all, here are some things you can do:
1. Put down cardboard or a thick layer of newspaper all over garden. Cut hole in cardboard where you want your plants to go. Cardboard is better than plastic or landscape fabric because it’s eventually biodegradable. I have seen a lot of plants break through that landscape fabric, and it’s slow gradual decomposition gets messy after a couple years.
2. Keep plants watered (without wasting water)
Soaker hose! This is the best way to water a large area of specific plants without using an extra drop of water. Or worse! Getting water on your leaves which will provide a perfect environment to harbor and spread disease. In addition, spraying your garden with a hose in a way that splashes soil up onto your plant. This is also a great way to spread infection from soil to leaves and once it hit the leaves it’s very hard to stop.
3. Mulch Mulch Mulch
My city is awesome enough to compost yard waste. On the edge of town there are huge piles of compost, leaves, logs, and wood chips. The only thing that sometimes goes wrong is there are all kids of weed seeds in the mulch and compost. You also might unknowingly be adding unwanted diseases to your garden that you didn’t have before. Other than that this is a fantastic resource! Otherwise, if you have access to tree leaves raked up from your yard, or grass clippings are the best! The added nitrates are great for If you use leaves I would cut them up further and put on at least 4 inches. Same with grass clippings! I’ve asked the local yard grooming companies and sometimes I go and pick up their grass clippings. However, if you do this you cannot guarantee it is organic because most grass has lots of pesticides and fertilizers on it.
4. Supporting your plants (Emotionally and Physically)
The only time tomato cages is the really big $5 ones at Menards, I flip them upside down, and support them further with bamboo poles in a TP fashion.
Here is my friend’s much better looking tomatoes. You can see she has a pulley system attached to by the base of the tomato plant. That can pull the plant up as it grows. You can also see her expert pruning! Your first leaves should be no closer than 10 inches from the ground.
5. Balance your soil’s pH and nutrient content
You can click on this link to get free soil testing done at Iowa State! Then you can figure out what nutrients you are missing from your garden!
6. Avoiding disease
The best way to avoid disease is to keep plants appropriate distances apart from one another. Trying to avoid getting water on the leaves (obviously rain is inevitable) I’m talking more about not getting them wet when watering them with a hose. Allow no splash up from dirt to plant. So when you are watering at the base make sure soil is not splashing back up onto the plant. You can combat this issue with a soaker hose and/or a nice thick layer of mulch! Whether you’re a farmer, or a gardener, you don’t want rain or wind to come in direct contact with your soil. Always have a barrier. Here is a great soaker hose! Weave this around your plants after they have been planted, and before you put on your wood chips. Then all you have to do is turn it on after it’s been dry for a few days. Smaller seedlings need frequent small waterings, and larger plants need infrequent deep watering.
7. Starting Seeds
If you have lots of money buying and planting plants is easy but pretty expensive. However, Starting seeds of your own can cost pennies but it can be kind of difficult. There are many blog posts about cute ways to start seeds. Like putting them in eggshells or little homemade newspaper cups. The biggest problems I have found with these are that the roots are not established enough to break through the store bought pods, let alone a tough eggshell. I have tried all of these methods and if I do not take physically take the plant out of the pod and plant it in the ground the roots will be severely stunted and won’t break through.
Step1: I would use one of the standard seed growing kits like this! If you’re growing warm weather vegetables like peppers, you will need to buy a warm mat for the bottom of your seed starting kit.
Step 2: I usually start seeds in early March. It’s important to make sure there is a barrier between the soil and the air. Otherwise something called “dampening off” might happen which looks like a white mold covers your soil, this mold is lethal l to your seedlings. I usually put a layer of sand on top of the soil and that seems to do the trick. Without a sand barrier I have always had problems with damping off, but some people don’t deal with it at all.
Step 3: Try to get as much circulation as possible. It will minimize fungal growth on your new seedlings. Also, if there is a fan on your seedlings it will make sure the stems grow up nice and strong. Otherwise when you put your seedlings outside they will not be prepared for nature’s wind.
Step 4: Light! Most likely, unless you have a greenhouse, you will need to supplement your baby plant’s needs with extra light. These can be a little costly but will last you year after year. You’ll need to rig up a system where your light is just above the little seedlings that are growing. If your light is too high then your seedling with grow very quickly and as high as possible in order to reach the light. Their stems will not be supportive enough to support themselves and they will fall over. I’ve never had a plant recover from this, so take care to have the light grow up with the plant. You only need the light on for about 7 hours a day for most plants so purchasing a timer is ideal.
8. Dealing with Pests
You can deal with pests in a few ways. I usually try the non-invasive hippie ways first and then I go to Menards and buy pest killer off the shelf.
Many pests can be killed by throwing some hot pepper seeds and garlic in a jar with some water and letting it ferment for a few days, and then spray liberally onto plants. This way is the best because it won’t hurt the bees and you don’t have to worry about those pesticides getting into your food. If you’re dealing with something like white flies a simple soap and water solution can do the trick.
As for the really invasive pests like the Japanese Beetles that tear up my grapes every year, the only way I have found to control them is with netting. They are literally attracted to the chemical plants give off while they are being eaten. So more insects come the more a plant is being eaten. It’s a pain to have to cover them and remove the netting every year, but not as upsetting as looking at those terrible bugs that poop so much I harvest their poop along with my grapes! I have tried getting rid of them by killing them myself, but more just fly in later, traps just attract more, and pesticides get rid of the ones that are there, but more will just fly in later. It’s exhausting, and the only way to get rid of them is to keep them off in the first place.
If your going to use actual pesticides like Sevin or another popular brand you need to be a little careful. Don’t apply when you know there are going to be bees, there will be bees when the flowers from the fruits or vegetables are open. For my grapes that means early spring into June. Then you don’t want to spray in once the vegetables or fruits have grown on the plant, because that would mean you are going to be ingesting it when you harvest. In my opinion, if I’m going to be consuming veggies with pesticides I might as well just fork out the $2 for them at the store. So I like to keep it as organic as possible. This being said, I completely understand the frustration of an uncontrollable pest! Just read the bottle carefully and make sure you know what is an appropriate time, and amount to spray in your zone.
An easy way to add nitrogen with your soil without adding store bought fertilizer which can often leak into watersheds and cause algal blooms, is of course composting! Of course composting banana peels, coffee grounds, and egg shells is a must, but you should also have some browns and greens in your compost bin. So after you’re done mowing the lawn, throw that freshly cut grass in there! Raking up leaves in the fall? Throw some of them in your composter. Throwing away cardboard? Compost it! If you’re awesome you have a three composting system. If you’re like me, you have just one container that you mix up from time to time. And then when it’s time to use in the garden I dig a huge trench in my garden and dump it all in. That way it doesn’t matter too much if the plants are all the way decomposed.