Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to cultivate a successful vegetable garden

 By Keith Mickler

I'm sure most of you have heard the real-estate phrase location, location, location when it comes to selling. How about this one, sanitation, sanitation, sanitation when it comes to keeping the vegetable garden clean and free of dastardly diseases, insects and weeds.

By keeping ahead of such devilish problems like early or late blight in tomatoes, squash vine borers in squash, aphids on the okra, corn earworm in corn or weeds sucking up water and nutrients we should have an exceptional vegetable garden. However, the million dollars question is: do you ever just go out and look for arising issues or just pick the bounty and don't worry until the plants start to die or you cannot find your tomato plants anymore from all the weeds.

Plant diseases can be a significant problem in home gardens. Most vegetables are susceptible to a number of diseases. Wilts, leaf spots, blights and fruit rots are just a few of the disease problems that plague vegetables gardens every year.

Plant diseases are caused by four types of organisms: fungi, bacteria, nematodes and viruses. Plant diseases caused by fungi and bacteria are most common when rain showers and/or heavy dews are frequent and temperatures are hot. During such times it's important to visit the garden regularly and look for diseases. Viral diseases can occur at any time, and nematode damage can be more evident if conditions are dry.

Home gardeners can reduce the occurrence of many diseases with sound cultural practices such as soil testing for pH and nutrient levels and following the recommendations, proper watering so not to stress the plants, removing weeds when small and kicking out any sickly looking or dead plants.

Sanitation thus meaning a clean garden will reduce disease and insect problems now and help reduce overwintering of disease-causing organisms thus limiting problems next year.

At the end of the season when we have harvest all we're going to harvest, remove and destroy all plants that have been problem plants. Next, plow or till the soil to help break down small roots and debris that may harbor nematodes, fungi and bacteria. Any remaining plant waste can be plowed under. Don't forget to remove diseased and insect infected plants and weeds from around the vegetable garden as well.

Water Properly:
Avoid over-watering which will increase the likelihood of seed decay, damping-off, and root and crown rot of plants diseases.

If possible use drip irrigation which is the best method of watering the plants without wetting foliage. Drip irrigation uses either a soaker hose or drip tape that allows water to be applied slowly over time at the base of the plant or just beneath the soil surface. Garden drip irrigation kits are readily available at your local garden centers.

Avoid wetting the foliage when watering. Wet foliage is advantageous to development of foliar diseases. If wetting the foliage is unavoidable, irrigate in the morning so foliage can completely dry before evening. Maintain uniform soil moisture which will reduce problems such as blossom end rot (calcium deficiency) in tomatoes and peppers.

Don't work in the garden when plants and soil are wet. Plant diseases will spread effortlessly from one plant to another by hands and clothing when above-ground plant parts are wet.

Novel ideal: use a Mulch Layer:
Use a mulch layer of straw, bark, shredded paper or plastic to prevent soil from splashing onto plants and preventing fruit from touching the bare ground. This will help prevent rots on mature fruit such as strawberries, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and melons.

Mulches also are a sound practice to help conserve soil moisture and reduce weed infestations. Ah yes weeds, the catalyst behind most all vegetable gardeners' anger management issues, not to mention weeds harbor diseases, insect and viruses.

Some weeds serve as wonderful virus reservoirs for several different insect transmitted viruses that can infect our vegetables. Good weed control will increase air movement in the garden thus helping to decrease conditions such as excessive moisture which favor disease proliferation.

Most importantly, use good cultural practices to promote and maintain healthy plants. Healthy plants do not get diseases as readily as scrawny plants. Vigorous plants are the best control against plant diseases, insects and other bad stuff waiting to ruin a good crop of squash or okra.

Keith Mickler is the County Coordinator and agriculture agent for The University of Georgia/Floyd County Cooperative Extension.
Located at 12 East 4th Ave, Rome, GA 30161 (706) 295-6210. Office hours are Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension - Learning for Life.  Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family and Consumer Sciences, 4-H Youth.
An Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Institution.
To obtain extension publications please visit our web site or contact your county Cooperative Extension office.

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