Chapter 6 : Making Your Garden Thrive

After the seeds have been sown many people are tempted to relax and simply wait for their garden to bloom.  These people believe that after the seeds have been planted all of the hard work has been finished and there is nothing left to do.  As tempting as it might be to relax and watch the fruits of your labor you must remember that there is still work to do if you want your organic vegetable garden to grow and thrive.

The first thing you must remember to do is water your garden everyday.  If you have a family this can be a shared family chore assigned to children or spouses can take turns.  During the spring and early summer many people will use watering the garden as an excuse to go outside and enjoy the warm weather.  On rainy days you do not need to worry about watering your garden but make sure you do not let the break in routine lead you to forgetting to water your garden the next day, once the rain has stopped.

Watering the garden should be done early in the morning.  Before 10:00am if at all possible.  If you wait until the afternoon the high noon sun will often cause the water to evaporate before it can properly water your young plants.  When you are watering your plants check the mulch to make sure it is not becoming too matted.  This can lead to the water not reaching the seeds.  Matted mulch can bunch together tightly and absorb the water that you are pouring onto your plants. 

One thing you must avoid is over watering your garden!  This has happened to many unsuspecting gardeners especially if the garden is in a home with several would be gardeners.  It is easy for two or more members of a household to all water the garden in the same day.  To avoid this communicate and make sure no one has watered the garden before you go out to water it.  Also, when you are out looking at the garden check to see if the ground is very wet or soggy which could be an indication of a recent watering.

Too much watering eventually drowns plants and be just as harmful as not enough watering.  Keep track of how much water your garden is getting and after a large rainstorm you might consider waiting a day or two before watering the vegetables again.  After a large rainstorm go outside and check the garden to see if the soil is very wet and do not water the vegetable garden if it is still extremely saturated.

Watering consistently is your ultimate goal.  If you are sharing the watering duties with other people create a schedule to regulate the time gardens are being watered and if possible regulate the amount of water being used.  Watering your plants consistently at the same time with the same amount of water each day will do wonders.

Weeding is another important part of having an organic vegetable garden that many first time gardeners overlook.  Weeds will quickly overrun a vegetable garden killing the vegetables and leaving you with a garden filled with weeds.  Check your garden each day for weeds and get rid of them as soon as you notice them. 

Since you are growing an organic garden you cannot turn to tempting weed sprays and chemicals.  Instead you should rely on old fashioned hoeing and weed pulling.  If your garden is checked thoroughly everyday it is possible to pull weeds quickly and efficiently before they have a chance to get out of control.  Weeding is another chore that is good to rotate especially with children.  Growing up quite a few of our grandparents spent hours in the garden carefully weeding their family gardens by hand as punishment for some mischief or another.

Insects are another thing that must be watched for when growing an organic garden.  Some insects and “pests” are useful for helping a garden grow but too many will eat your vegetables before your family even has a chance to bring in a small harvest.  Mulch and newspaper will help to cut down on insects, slugs, and other things that are part of every garden but insects will often persist.  Here are some of the insects that all organic gardeners should watch out for along with ways to get rid of them:

Corn Earworm:  These insects can be avoided all together by working the soil during the spring and fall to expose the pupae.  Exposing them will lead to them being destroyed by wind and rain or predators.  If you notice caterpillars spray them with diluted soapy water and homemade insecticide.

Cutworm:  An easy way to get rid of these pests is to spread wheat bran and molasses over garden beds a week before planting new plants.  There are also nematodes that can be added to the soil to destroy the cutworm or you (or your children) can pick the caterpillars off each evening once the sun has gone down.  Full night is often the best time to catch them and do this.

Cabbage Worm:  If you notice these worms while the caterpillars are still small you can spray them with homemade insecticide or diluted soapy water.  They can also be picked off by hand once they have grown.  Another job for your children, or neighborhood children, that love playing with insects and caterpillars.

Tomato Hornworm:  Spray the caterpillars with homemade pesticide while they are still young and tilling the soil during the fall will help destroy any remaining pupae.  If there are only a few they can be easily picked off by hand.

Slugs & Snails:  These two pests are the bane of most organic gardens.  Many people invest in expensive raised plant beds in hopes of avoiding them all together but there are more cost effective ways to avoid both snails and slugs.  The first way is to edge your garden area with copper tape.  Growing clover will attract natural predators which will attach the snails and slugs while leaving your garden alone.  Lastly, you can place shallow pans of beer in and around your garden to trap them.  Dispose of all slugs and snails trapped that way daily.

Aphid:  These insects can usually be repelled with some diluted soapy water or even plain water.  If your plants are heavily infested in certain areas prune off these leaves and dispose of them quickly.

Flea Beetle:  Beneficial nematodes can be added to the soil to help eliminate these insects and similar insects.  Row covers can also be used to cover and protect the plants when possible.  One great way to avoid these pests all together is to wait to plant your crops until later in spring after the largest population of flea beetles have moved one from your area (hopefully) or been attracted to existing gardens.

Cucumber Beetle:  Nematodes will help destroy these beetles as well as flea beetles.  Once they have matured or appeared in your garden they can be picked off or sprayed with homemade insecticide.  Once you have brought in your harvest be sure to clean the garden area to avoid a fresh infestation during the next planting season.

Squash Bug:  These bugs will often be hiding on the underside of your leaves so check your garden for them carefully.  When you see them they can be picked off.  If that does not keep their number down then you should spray the plants with homemade pesticide.

If your organic vegetable garden is being overrun there are some things that you can do to help get rid of the insects.  One way to help get rid of insects is to create your own organic pesticide.  This can be done by taking two teaspoons of dish liquid soap and mixing it with one cup of vegetable oil.  Add a couple of teaspoons of this mixture to water in a spray bottle and spray the areas of your garden most heavily affected. 

When spray isn’t enough consider planting borders of naturally repelling plants around your vegetables if you haven’t already.  Insect repelling plants can even be planted in between the rows of vegetables if enough space exists and can be even more helpful than homemade insect spray.  Onions and garlic are two vegetables that are perfect for repelling insects and certain herbs like basil can also help.  These plants can often be purchased in small pots already half grown and transplanted to your garden to provide immediate protection.

There are other things that organic vegetable growers have to look out for in addition to insects.  Many funguses and other plant disease can destroy a healthy vegetable garden before it has a chance to truly thrive.  When watching for plant diseases be on the look out for unexplained wilting, molding, rotting, blotches, moldy coatings, whiting, rusting, and spots. 

It is much easier to avoid these diseases instead of treating them and to avoid them it is important that you take good care of your vegetable garden.  Rotate your crops each year and always keep the growing area clean in between growing seasons.  When growing your crops always make sure they are well watered and fertilized since this will help keep them healthy.  Try to find disease resistant seeds and plants along with disease free starter plants.  The following is a list of the most common plant diseases that will help you diagnose and treat them effectively and organically:

Bacterial Leaf Spot:  This is something that is common in some gardens and that many new organic gardeners will recognize immediately.  The leaves infected with this disease will have small, black or brown water-soaked spots.  The spots will eventually dry up; crack, and leave holes and the infected leaves will often drop off and die prematurely. 

This disease is common with tomatoes, peppers, and members of the cabbage family.  The symptoms will often appear during wet weather and can be controlled by immediately removing infected leaves.  It can be hard to keep up with the disease during wet weather but it can be done.

Late Blight:  This disease most often affects tomatoes and potato plants later in the growing season.  The disease will start out as wet grayish or greenish spots on the leaves and will progress into a white fungal growth that will form on the undersides of the leaves.  There are some varieties and tomatoes and potatoes that are resistant to the disease.  When these varieties are available select them regardless of the expense since you will benefit from a larger harvest.  If you are unable to find a resistant variety remove and dispose of any infect parts of a plant.  One way to help avoid this disease is to water plants early in the morning so that they have a chance to dry out completely during the day which will discourage fungus growth.

Common Rust:  Rust will affect many vegetables so it must be watched for carefully.  The following vegetables are commonly affected by vegetables:





The primary symptom of common rust is a reddish brown spot that appears to be powdery.  These spots will usually appear on the leaves of the vegetables affected and will rub off when touch.  Hand picking infected leaves will help reduce the spread of infection.  Plants that are seriously infected should be completely removed and destroyed. 

There are ways to avoid common rust completely.  One way is to make sure all plants have good air circulation so avoid planting your seeds to close together since this will lead to crowded conditions.  Also weed your garden often and prune plants to make sure plants continue to be well circulated.

Anthracnose:  Organic vegetable growers in the United States will have to deal with anthracnose more often than organic vegetable growers in other countries.  This disease occurs in warm, wet climates and will affect the stems, leaves, and fruits of the plants.  Cucumbers, tomatoes, melons, and beans are the vegetables that are most often affected by the disease.

It will begin as small spots on various parts of the affected vegetable.  Later pink spores will start to appear in the center of the spots.  Water with a bit of lime juice sprayed on the leaf buds will help reduce the chances of this disease starting or spreading.  Any seriously infected plants must be completely removed and destroyed.

Mosaic Virus:  This disease is highly viral and can infect an entire garden if one is not careful.  There is currently no way to cure this virus but there are plants and seeds that can be purchased which are already resistant to the virus.  The disease can be identified by a stunting in the growth of the infected plants and the leaves will begin to curl without reason.  Infected plants must be destroyed and one way to help cut down on chances of the disease is to spray plants with homemade pesticide to kill or repel any insects that might be carrying the virus.

Wilts:  This disease is another one that can affect your entire garden.  It can be identified by wilting of lower leaves and is often accompanied by yellow blotches.  To avoid the disease altogether organic vegetable growers should watch out for cucumber beetles which carry the disease and other insect.  Vegetable growers should also try to plant vegetables which are resistant to the disease. 

Powdery Mildew:  This disease will appear on the leaves, stems, flowers, of the vegetables in your garden.  It comes in the form of a powdery mildew that will coat the affected areas with a white or gray coating.  Ways to avoid the mildew are pruning plants to help encourage air circulation and removing any fallen leaves from underneath the plants.  Keeping organic mulch around your plants will also help and baking soda can be used to help treat the disease and prevent it spread.  Adding baking soda to water and spraying the infected plants will help cure them and prevent more infections.

Clubroot:  A disease that infects cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli clubroot is a fungus that inhabits the soil.  Plants that are infected with this disease will have swollen roots and will wilt in the full sun.  A way to avoid clubroot is to purchase seeds that are resistant to the disease and to rotate vegetable crops each year.

Once you have conquered weeds, insects, and avoided water shortages along with diseases you must always be sure that your vegetables are receiving enough nutrients.  This nutrient comes from the rich soil and compost that they are growing from.  Do not be afraid to spread more compost around your growing plants to help encourage growth.

Some plants, corn especially, need compost every few weeks in order to grow properly.  If you feel that your compost is not making enough of a difference consider purchasing organic manure from local nurseries and even small farms.  Aged manure might sound disgusting but it can mean the difference between a healthy, thriving, garden and a struggling one.

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