9 Strategies to Help Combat Common Edible Garden Problems

Having garden problems? Do you ever feel frustrated with your soil, pests or limited space? Is it too hot, cold, wet or dry to grow food? If you’re having challenges growing an edible garden, it helps to have a ‘tool kit of techniques’ you can use to overcome common problems.

I use a variety of strategies to harvest from my edible garden all year round.

I use a variety of strategies to harvest from my edible garden all year round.

When the Growing Gets Tough

Here in subtropical SE Queensland, Australia, we have challenging wet and dry seasons. We often experience long months of drought. Our growing periods are not governed by a calendar with a traditional three month season like many places in the world. Spring typically only lasts a few weeks in the subtropics and summer is at least four months long! Here the hot/wet/dry months can be very challenging to grow food. Many northern hemisphere gardeners look forward to warm summers as a prime growing season but get frustrated with a long, cold period. So no climate is perfect!

“Extreme temperatures, high humidity, wild storms, hail, damaging winds, sudden heavy downpours, driving rain, drought and flooding are common weather issues to deal with. Not to mention pest insect population explosions. It’s no wonder many food gardeners throw their hands in the air and give up altogether!”

So what CAN you do when growing conditions are difficult?

 

9 Strategies to Help Combat Common Edible Garden Problems

These are a few techniques I use to find enjoyment and grow at least some edibles all year.

If you're having garden problems, I hope these techniques help you get more delicious food onto your plate! Tuck in...

I hope these techniques help you get more delicious food onto your plate! Tuck in…

 

1. Focus on your VIPs (Very Important Plants)

Prioritize your plants. Decide which ones you can’t live without! Make a list of your VIPs:

Focus on those that save money by feeding you, provide you with value, have special meaning or you can’t afford to lose. e.g. long term investment fruit trees, herbs you use in cooking regularly, edibles you only have one of, or healing medicinal plants.” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener

My VIPs are the plants I always give first attention to i.e. protect or maintain if I have limited time and have to make tough choices. This takes the pressure off trying to give every plant the same care. Some will just have to fend for themselves! You can always put the rest of your garden into ‘low maintenance mode’ until circumstances or the weather become more favourable.

Fruit trees like this productive orange, need extra care if you want high yields. A small investment in your time can really pay off when it comes harvest time.

Fruit trees like this productive orange, need extra care if you want high yields. A small investment in your time can really pay off when it comes harvest time.

 

2. Grow an Easy Indoor Garden

When it’s too hot or cold outdoors or you simply don’t have the energy, you can still enjoy nutritious, tasty edibles:

  • Start sprouting. You can grow sprouts all year round for digestive enzymes and only need basic equipment.
[Follow my Tutorial]

 

CLICK BELOW for healthy raw food resources like sprouts & mushrooms

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  • Move potted edibles indoors into a sunny or well-lit spot like a window sill. Focus on harvesting from those. Many edibles like leafy greens still produce plenty of salad leaves in less than perfect growing conditions. 3-4 hours of light daily is often enough for  loose leaf lettuce varieties. You may be surprised what will grow indoors in a well lit location!
  • Be adventurous! Try a mushroom kit – humid bathrooms and laundries are perfect environments. I’ve had great success with kits. My favourite are oyster mushrooms.
  • Propagate cuttings in water on your kitchen bench. Herbs like the mint family, basil and rosemary can be propagated ready for planting out, so you don’t waste time. Follow a moon calendar for optimal times to take cuttings and improve your strike rate. It’s fun and SO satisfying growing your garden for free.

 

TIP: Add a drop of liquid seaweed to the water to boost root growth on cuttings.

TIP: Add a drop of liquid seaweed to the water to boost root growth on cuttings.

 

  • Grow spring onions in a glass of water. These tasty nutrient-packed greens will flavour meals continually and are very versatile ingredients.
  • Allow your root crops to sprout ready for potting up – potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger and turmeric are all easy to grow this way.

 

“I encourage you to experiment! If you don’t try, you’ll never know what you CAN grow.” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener

 

3. Protect & Cover your Crops

In harsh hot, dry or windy weather, shade structures are a smart strategy to save your plants. There are many DIY portable or temporary ones you can make. Palm fronds are just one example of garden ‘green waste’ you can reuse in a practical way to save money and food crops. I love Del’s idea here:

 

If you have garden problems with too much heat, consider a temporary free shade cover using a palm branch frond over stakes from the stem as a sun hat for plants.

Temporary Mini Shade Cover: This free DIY ‘Sun Hat’ for seedlings is a creative way to reuse palm fronds over home made ‘stakes’ from the stem to protect young plants.

 Image: Del Hansen’s Garden

 

White shade cloth (50% or 30% UV) helps reflect heat to keep your crops cool. It is also more visible to bats and other night creatures, reducing the risk of injury.

I use a shade house to allow filtered light into my plants on wire shelves. A greenhouse structure can be used to protect plants from hail, strong winds, heat and frost = a multi-purpose solution. If you have the budget and space, it’s a great investment.


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There are many creative crop protection solutions – temporary and permanent. Make choices based on your time, budget and DIY skills.

Exclusion netting is an option for keeping out pest insects, birds and animals. It’s also worked very well in my garden to protect crops against hail, filtering tiny hailstones through and catching the rest. Taught netting has saved my garden from being shredded. It’s economical, easy to move and quick to erect. Just be aware you may need to hand pollinate some crops if the netting is very fine.

 

This fine netting has also been useful to protect my raised garden bed from bush turkeys. They are extremely destructive & they won't go near it.

This fine netting has also been useful to protect my raised garden bed from bush turkeys. These large wild birds are extremely destructive but they won’t go near it now!

 

In cold weather, a greenhouse or cold frame can provide your plants with a safe, warm environment to grow. Small portable cold frames can also be used to raise seeds each season.

 

4. Grow in Containers

I’ve found container gardens offer many benefits in difficult weather, space and soil conditions. They are portable, can easily be protected and moved to a more suitable microclimate in the short term. The bonus is you have minimal if any, weeds and pests! If you have poor soil, just make your own potting mix.

I grow a lot of my food crops, herbs and medicinal plants in pots. During summer, I move these under the semi-shade of two large trees just off my porch. When storms are forecast, to avoid waterlogging, heavy rain, hail damage or broken pots from wind, I can easily shift them to a protected spot. Heavy pots are best on castors so they can be moved quickly.

By planting crops in pots, you can also extend the growing season for many edibles. For example, leafy greens like lettuce or rocket often wilt or bolt to seed in the heat. In containers, you’re more in control of growing conditions. I often put my salad greens in a semi-shaded microclimate and get to enjoy them for weeks longer!

Crops in pots - edible container gardens with salads, fruit and herbs

Crops in pots – edible container gardens with salads, fruit and herbs

 

Other crops like beets, spinach and curcubits suffer rust and powdery mildew in the garden due to rain splash. Then there’s the greedy grasshoppers who don’t play fair! These challenges can be avoided with smart pot choices.

 

“Container gardening provides greater control over the environment and microclimate, so you can minimise most problems.” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener

 

With so many advantages, I encourage you to learn container gardening skills.

 

5. Build Healthy Soil for next Season

If you want to eat an abundance of nutrient dense food, your top priority is to work on soil health. Even when you’re not growing food, you can still be improving your soil. These are a few techniques for building healthy, living soil:

  • Cover crop solutions – Sow a ‘cover crop’ or ‘green manure’ over unused or tired garden beds. A practical solution for a low maintenance summer or winter garden. Choose a suitable mix of legumes and grains for your season and climate. Buckwheat, cowpea, oats, woolly pod vetch, lucerne/alfalfa, clovers and fenugreek are a few crops that help enrich the soil and attract beneficial insects.

 

White clover is a cool season perennial legume crop & can be used to help build healthy soil. Plant under fruit trees to add nitrogen and feed them, grow as a living mulch, or a cover crop to prevent erosion. It's also a magnet for beneficial insects especially bees. They'll help pollinate your fruit trees at the same time!

White clover is a cool season perennial legume crop & can be used to help build healthy soil. Plant under fruit trees to add nitrogen and feed them, grow as a living mulch, or a cover crop to prevent erosion. It’s also a magnet for beneficial insects especially bees. They’ll help pollinate your fruit trees at the same time!

 

  • Cover crops and green manures minimise weeds, leaching and soil erosion by covering bare soil. Each crop provides different benefits. They can help smother weeds; build soil fertility by recycling nutrients; aid aeration; prevent soil-borne pests and diseases; and boost beneficial microbe populations. You cut the plants at ground level before they set seed, typically just as flowers are forming. ‘Chop and drop’ the crop as a nutrient-rich, weed-free mulch. You can also cover with another layer of mulch to accelerate breakdown. Wait 2-3 weeks for the organic matter to break down before planting.


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  • Build a compost system to recycle your household and garden waste.

 

Trench composting is an easy method of recycling nutrients from your kitchen scraps. As the organic matter breaks down, this helps build a healthy soil. Dig a shallow hole or trench under the mulch between your plants or in an empty bed/pot. Add the food waste & cover with a thick layer of carbon (brown, dry) mulch. The soil microbes will do the rest!

Trench composting is an easy method of recycling nutrients from your kitchen scraps. As the organic matter breaks down, this helps build a healthy soil. Dig a shallow hole or trench under the mulch between your plants or in an empty bed/pot. Add the food waste & cover with a thick layer of carbon (brown, dry) mulch. The soil microbes will do the rest!

 

  • Plant a living ground cover. Some root crops like sweet potatoes, yakon or yams do the digging for you. Their tubers aerate the soil and provide erosion control. The leaves above ground prevent weeds and provide shade protection.
  • Start a worm farm in a shady spot and turn your kitchen scraps into beautiful nutrient-rich humus for your soil, potting mix and seed raising.
  • Add a thick layer of mulch. Recycle free garden waste like bark, leaves or grass clippings if available. Mulch retains soil moisture; adds microbes and nutrients; insulates soil temperature; prevents weeds; and improves the visual appearance of your garden.
  • Grow nutrient accumulators like nasturtiums, comfrey, yarrow, sorrel, dandelion and watercress. These plants will add health to your garden by drawing up minerals from the soil into their leaves, stems and flowers. Use them as ‘chop and drop’ mulch or as ingredients in your compost to remineralise your soil.

 

Comfrey is a multi-functional medicinal herb that every gardener should grow. These are a few of its wonderful uses.

Comfrey is a multi-functional medicinal herb that every gardener should grow. These are a few of its wonderful uses.

 

6. Pay Attention to Seedlings

If you are raising seeds indoors or a protected area, they can die if it’s too hot, dry, cold or wet. Nurture your plant babies with a little extra care:

  • Maintain consistent moisture and light.
  • Wait until their roots have fully formed before planting out.
  • Give them a few days to adjust to the weather.
  • Sun-harden them gently for short periods over a week, so they acclimatize and have a better chance of transplanting successfully.

 

Liquid feed diluted seaweed or worm juice to boost seedling ‘immune systems’ and prevent transplant shock.

Liquid feed diluted seaweed or worm juice to boost seedling ‘immune systems’ and prevent transplant shock.

 

  • Plant out early morning only.
  • Mulch well and protect with some shade or suitable cover for your climate.

 

7. Harvest & Use Rain Water

If you experience down pours in your climate, use this as an opportunity to passively harvest free rain water. It’s full of minerals, especially nitrogen. Even better, it’s free of chemicals like chlorine and fluoride that can harm your plants.

 

Small buckets are ideal to passively harvest rain water. Refill your spray bottles for watering seeds and microgreens. Much healthier than chemically treated town water.

Small buckets are ideal to passively harvest rain water. Refill your spray bottles for watering seeds and microgreens. Much healthier than chemically treated town water.

 

Even a small water tank, bin or barrel will make your garden more sustainable. When it rains, it’s an ideal opportunity to give your container gardens a good soak. Bring houseplants and pots outdoors to wash off dust, remove toxic salt build up in the soil and remineralise.

 

Your plants will ‘thank you’ for refreshing them in a rain shower with new growth and vitality! Edible gardens in pots thrive with a little extra care.

Your plants will ‘thank you’ for refreshing them in a rain shower with new growth and vitality!

 

If your plants do become waterlogged or contaminated from flooding, you can usually revive them. Follow my tips to revitalise your potting mix and waterlogged pots.

Whilst it can be soul-destroying when plants are damaged or destroyed in bad weather, you can still recycle the nutrients. Add plant material to the compost or use as mulch. They will give life to a new garden.

 

8. Work WITH the Weather

Become a weather watcher. Familiarise yourself with your favourite online weather channel. I check the weather every day.

 

“Having advance warning of seasonal or daily weather changes can save you time, money and even your garden, from destructive damage.” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener

 

You can find out:

  • when storms are coming e.g. hail and snow (plants need early protection);
  • daily temperatures (for heat/frost cover);
  • gusty or drying winds (extra watering, mulch or protection);
  • when rain is forecast (avoid watering to save time and money, move plants to prevent waterlogging or flooding).

 

Get to know your local weather patterns. Use them to your advantage to save time and money while maintaining your plants.

Get to know your local weather patterns. Use them to your advantage to save time and money while maintaining your plants.

Locally I use:

Other free online weather resources include:

 

9. Time your Gardening Activities

  • During hot weather, I get up early or go out late in the day when it’s cool. This gives me time to observe plants. I see what needs attending to or harvesting, when it’s a comfortable temperature.
  • Do less when conditions are not favourable. Let yourself off the hook! Do more when you’re able to.
  • Walk in the rain. Grab the umbrella and your gumboots and go outside! It’s amazing how many important things you will notice about your garden in wet conditions. Which plants are thriving? Who’s drowning with wet feet? What’s the drainage like? Is there a boggy spot you could plant water-loving plants? There are opportunities to ‘design out’ problems and observe what’s doing well.
  • I use a Moon Calendar as a planting guide every month to maximise my production, plant health and success. It really makes life easy and I love working with nature’s moon cycles. This simply means working with the soil moisture when it is flowing up or down and using it to your advantage.

 

I use a perpetual moon calendar to optimise planting during the month. In the first quarter of the moon cycle, soil moisture is moving up the plant. This produces strong above ground growth. In my edible garden, I time my garden activities accordingly so I get the free benefits.

I use a perpetual moon calendar to optimise planting during the month. In the first quarter of the moon cycle, soil moisture is moving up the plant. This produces strong above ground growth. I time my garden activities accordingly so I get the free benefits.

 

  • There are times in the month when your plants have a rest and times of incredible growth. You can plan your activities easily to enjoy the many benefits of moon gardening.

 

“There’s just as much joy and satisfaction in planning as planting.” – Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener

 

At the end of the day, growing a food garden should be fun and give you pleasure. If it’s all too hard due to weather, your health, budget or skill level, there are ALWAYS solutions! I hope these ideas help inspire you.

How do YOU manage, when the ‘growing gets tough’? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

 

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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.

7 Comments

  1. Rosalie January 3, 2017 at 9:26 am - Reply

    Нello, I wоuld ⅼike too subscribe for this webpage to obtain most up-to-Ԁate updates, thereforе where can i do it please Һelp out.

    • Anne Gibson January 4, 2017 at 6:59 am - Reply

      Hi Rosalie you can subscribe to my free newsletter here. Cheers Anne

  2. Jennifer Edelman December 22, 2016 at 7:08 am - Reply

    Hello, Anne, Have you ever found out about the Aboriginal seasons and how they affect planting and plant growth? I was watching Landline (I think it was) recently and there was some discussion about the seasons according to the local people. It made me wonder whether we could apply their knowledge to better garden practices.

  3. Jane Shamrock January 26, 2015 at 10:52 am - Reply

    I’m gradually learning what does and does not grow in my garden. Some disappointments, eg I cant seem to grow carrots or other root vegetables and I really dont know why.

    However I can grow taro which is a wonderful root vegetable which loves SE Qld. climate (subtropical).

    I love The Microgardener, thanks
    Anne

    • Anne Gibson January 26, 2015 at 11:31 am - Reply

      Hi Jane
      Thanks for sharing your successes and challenges. No two gardens are the same – even though we live in the same climate, we can grow different things! It all depends on the soil and microclimates we have. I have found that root vegies like carrots, beetroot, garlic, potatoes and sweet potatoes all prefer well drained soil. Perhaps you could do a soil test or physically examine your soil to see if there is sufficient drainage. Or grow them in sections of your garden where it is OK. Sing out if you need help!

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