Problem Solving articles – here I answer questions and help provide solutions for common garden problems.

How to Control Garden Pest Insects Naturally

Do you panic when you see an insect you don’t recognise in your garden? Do you assume it’s a pest causing damage? If so, it may help to understand WHY insects attack plants. I also share a toolbox of natural and organic strategies to help prevent and control the damage.

How to Control Garden Pest Insects Naturally - why they attack plants + organic and natural strategies to prevent and control damage

Firstly, a reality check! Don’t expect a pest-free garden. Even the healthiest gardens still get pest insect visitors. It’s more important to focus on creating a healthy balanced ecosystem. Aim for a productive harvest rather than a zero-tolerance policy!

There will be more beneficial predatory insects and pest controllers in residence with the right elements in place, than those causing damage. You need both – in balance.

If your garden is new, has few flowering species or has poor quality soil, it may be a different story. If you have a horde of herbivores eating your plants, don’t give up! Give it a little time and nature will restore the natural equilibrium. Read on to learn how.

Let’s colour in the picture so you know why the pest insects are there and what to do about it.

How do Pest Insects Damage Plants?

Some insects suck the sap out of plants or chew leaves, while others bore into the roots, seeds or stems. You can tell if you have some unwanted visitors in your garden by the visual damage. You won’t see underground pest insects. However, you WILL be able to observe the evidence they’re in residence by the appearance of your plant aboveground.

Why do some Plants Attract Pest Insects?

Pest insects target plants that are minerally deficient. They are indicators of an imbalance. Weak malnourished plants are magnets for herbivorous insects. They are a CLUE you need to change something.

Pest insects often target nutrient-deficient plants

Pest insects often target nutrient-deficient plants

Professor Philip Callahan, the author of Tuning into Nature, observed that insect antennae enable them to sense a variety of environmental signals. He also found that plants emit infrared radiation (not visible to us). What’s really interesting is these signals vary depending on the nutrient levels inside the plant. He notes “A sick plant actually sends forth a beacon, carried in the infrared, attracting insects. It is then the insect’s role to dispose of this plant deemed unfit for life by nature.”

Survival of the Fittest

So, ‘pest’ insects are actually Nature’s ‘garbage collectors’. Their role is to remove ‘rubbish plants’ and help strong healthy plants survive! They leave plants with optimum nutrition levels alone. What can you learn from this? Grow nutrient-dense food and insect pests won’t bother your plants.

If you have a lot of pest insect problems in your garden, look at your soil health as a first step. Then, cultural practices like watering, feeding and position. It’s far easier to implement preventative strategies than deal with a big outbreak.

Pest insects select plants with a nutritional imbalance of one or more nutrients. They don’t have the pancreatic enzymes necessary to digest complex carbohydrates in healthy plants. Untouched plants are a clue you are meeting their needs. (more…)

What is Damping Off and How to Prevent It

What is Damping Off?

Definition: ‘Damping off’ is a condition caused by pathogens that destroy seeds before germination or very young seedlings. The term refers to the outcome – weakened or dead seedlings or seeds. The seedling stem rots and the young plant collapses or seeds fail to germinate.

What is Damping Off and How to Prevent It - Symtoms, Causes & Treatment

Is it really that serious? Yes, unfortunately! Damping off can affect up to 80% of seedlings. So, if affected, you could lose a significant number of plants. Research has found that “even a very low population density of soil-borne pathogens can lead to severe epidemic development.” (1)

What Causes Damping Off?

So, who are the little rotters responsible for this sad end to your plant ‘toddlers’ or seed ‘babies’?

There are over a dozen culprits of soil-borne disease-producing organisms – different species of fungi and fungus-like organisms called ‘oomycetes’. They live in soil and transfer to a seed or seedling when conditions are favourable. Some pathogens are carried inside seeds or on the seed coat. However, only a few are commonly associated with damping off.

Firstly, let’s meet a few pathogens and their tongue-twisting names! They include Pythium species, oomycetes like Rhizoctonia solani, Phytophthora, Fusarium and Aphanomyces cochlioides.

More importantly, where do they hang out? Wet or overwatered soil, particularly in cool temperatures or cloudy conditions, provides favourable conditions for oomycetes called ‘water moulds.’ Why? Clearly, because they require water to multiply and spread. Phytophthora and Pythium species are both parasitic oomycetes.

Difference Between Pythium and Phytophthora - Pathogen Comparison

However, if you have warm, dry soil conditions, Rhizoctonia and Fusarium can thrive and are usually the most likely offenders. Rhizoctonia attacks seedlings causing them to collapse. A dry brown discoloured stem is often a clue.

This fungal pathogen thrives in soils with poor fertility (nutrient-deficient) and insufficient moisture. The brassica family of vegetables including broccoli, rocket, kale and cabbage seem most susceptible to this pathogen. Making your own seed raising mix just before sowing seeds may prevent this fungus from ‘priming’ itself to infect the emerging crop.

What are the Two Types of Damping Off?

Damping off affects both seeds and seedlings. So, what evidence should you look for?

  1. Pre-emergence: Seeds rot in the seed raising media before germinating or emerging above the soil level. Your seeds never appear to germinate. So, you may be left wondering what went wrong.
  2. Post-emergence: ‘Newborn’ seedlings that have recently germinated wilt, collapse quickly or die from soft rot in the stem. They usually fall over at the soil level. Woody seedlings may start to weaken and wither while still erect, but baby roots may decay soon after. The infected stem looks soft, brown and water-soaked. A bit of a sad story really, isn’t it? It’s devastating for new ‘plant parents’!

What are the Symptoms of Damping Off?

Damping off in Seedlings:

(more…)

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions

Gardening in dry climate conditions can be really stressful but there are loads of simple strategies you can apply to make it easier. Many gardeners in Australia and around the world have been struggling to keep gardens alive and thriving. Drought, winds, dust storms, extended heatwaves and fires have been impacting plants, people and our wildlife.

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions | The Micro Gardener

Extreme temperatures and long periods without any significant rain in many places are some of the biggest problems. It’s no wonder many gardeners are giving up trying to grow an edible garden.

Yet a garden – no matter how small – gives us hope as well as healthy food. It feeds our mind, body and soul; provides wonderful stress relief; and is a welcome sanctuary to escape to. Even a single, well-cared-for plant can bring great joy and healing.

For many gardeners though, water – or lack of it – is our biggest issue. Struggling, water-stressed plants become magnets for pest insects as nature’s ‘clean up crew’ move in to feed. It’s natural to expect some casualties in hot and dry weather. Without sufficient water, crops can’t take up nutrients from the soil to grow, flower and fruit. Small container gardens also need more frequent watering.

So, what can we do to help our gardens survive and even thrive?

Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions and Hot Temperatures | The Micro Gardener

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions

For years I’ve endured all sorts of harsh growing conditions in my gardens. By careful observation, applying Permaculture design principles and journalling where my gardens have been exposed to harsh dry or hot weather, I’ve learned how to grow a kitchen garden that not only survives but thrives! This has enabled me to help my clients who suffer similar problems but in different locations to get the most out of their edible gardens.

I hope by sharing some of these strategies, you will be able to enjoy an abundant productive kitchen garden too.

1. Audit your Garden and Make Tough Choices

That’s right! If you can’t save ALL your plants, prioritise and focus on keeping the most valuable ones alive. If conditions are really tough and you have limited water resources, concentrate on your high-value fruit trees, perennials and essential crops.

Turn thirsty, low-value plants into compost to feed your soil. Some plants may just have to survive without your help or be sacrificed to save others.

Collect seeds and take cuttings to pot up as a backup plan! You can always start again with these.

Save seeds from your garden to sow again in more favourable weather

Save seeds from your garden to sow again in more favourable weather

(more…)

Can You Sow Out of Date Seeds?

Do you have old seeds you haven’t got around to planting? If they are out of date, you may be wondering if you can still sow them. Most gardeners have good intentions when buying seeds, but then life happens! Rather than wasting money you’ve spent on expired seeds, why not test their viability to see if there’s any life left in them? You may be pleasantly surprised.

Can you sow out of date seeds? How to test seed viability and store seeds safely

Out of Date Seeds

Seeds, like other living things, have a shelf-life! Just because seeds are out of date, doesn’t mean they won’t germinate and grow normally. Don’t get rid of them yet! Checking your seeds is much more sustainable than throwing them out and assuming they are useless. I’ll show you an easy way to test them. So you won’t waste time and effort planting the packet if they’re not going to grow.

If the seed packet date has expired, it’s similar to the ‘Best Use By’ date on food packaging. It doesn’t mean the food isn’t edible, but the quality may have deteriorated. Likewise, some of the seeds may still grow if planted, but not necessarily every seed in the packet. The longer you wait to sow, the lower the chance of successful seed germination. (more…)

Why are my Lemons Staying Green not Yellow?

Lemons are one of the most popular citrus trees to grow. Given their incredible health benefits, you may want to consider growing your own. Do you currently buy conventionally grown lemons rather than organic? If so, be aware that after harvest, they are routinely dipped in fungicide to prevent fungal diseases occurring during storage and when displayed at retailers.

WHY ARE MY LEMONS STAYING GREEN NOT YELLOW?

Lemons are also waxed to improve appearance and retain the fungicide. Some are even ‘degreened’ to get them to market before they are naturally yellow. When you touch those lemons, the chemicals used may absorb into your skin. Not appetising thoughts are they?

Whilst citrus trees require higher maintenance than some fruits, if you want to harvest lots of delicious juicy ripe lemons, they’re worth the effort.

5 Reasons Why Lemons may not Ripen and Turn Yellow

If your lemons appear a reasonable size but are still green, rather than turning yellow, this could be due to a number of factors.

1. The Fruit may be Immature

You simply may need more patience! Your lemons may not yet be fully ripe. So just wait a bit longer. Depending on your climate and local conditions, lemons can take up to 9 months or longer to ripen!

Mature lemon trees with heavy crops of fruit require more water and nutrients to sustain growth

Mature lemon trees with heavy crops of fruit require more water and nutrients to sustain growth

(more…)

2019-05-01T20:25:10+10:00Categories: Fruit Trees, Problem Solving|Tags: , |10 Comments

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

Do you ever see ants running up the stems or along branches and leaves? What about your pot plants? Do you notice them in your potting mix? Or in your lawn making little mounds that blunt your mower blades?

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

Perhaps you’re wondering WHY they are there and WHAT they are doing? Are they causing damage or are they just annoying? If you want to know the answers and how to get rid of them naturally, read on.

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

The answer is simple. Ants are extremely smart insects and ALWAYS have a good motive for inhabiting your plants, pots or soil. The two most likely reasons are for:

  1. Food
  2. Shelter

Seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? We all need a roof over our heads and something to eat! Believe me, ants won’t expend energy doing anything unless there’s something in it for them.

If you see little black ants ON your plants, it’s likely because they have found a source of food. Ants are often a clue you have a bigger problem. Don’t shoot the messenger!  They are just the ‘couriers’ delivering you a message. They’ll take you straight to it. By being more observant, you’ll understand what they’re doing and why. Assuming they are harming your plant may be a BIG mistake because you only have part of the picture!

Most likely, if you look closely and follow their trail like a good detective, you’ll find it ends in sap-sucking insects like aphids, scale, mites, whiteflies or mealybugs. These pest insects are what you should be really looking for! Ants are your ‘tour guide’ and can detect the presence of these pests with their antennae. Smart hey?

So, instead of treating them as the enemy to be killed, learn to value their presence. Why? Because they have alerted you to the problem you really need to deal with! Micro gardening is about looking at details; learning to understand who, what, where and why things happen and ‘joining the dots.’

(more…)

40+ Best Shade Tolerant Vegetables

If you’d love a vegetable garden but your space has too much shade, don’t despair! There are plenty of shade tolerant vegetables to choose from that may be perfect for your space.

40+ Best Shade Tolerant Vegetables that Grow in Shade or Partial Sun

Whether you’re overshadowed by neighbouring buildings or trees, or your growing space faces the wrong aspect, there are still options. You may not be able to increase the sunlight, but you may be able to work with the shade you have. You may also try using your vertical space wisely.

Sometimes thinking creatively opens up opportunities to grow where you may not have thought possible. One of my clients has a heavily shaded small urban garden. LOTS of tall trees surround the two-storey house as a cool oasis in our warm climate. More like a rainforest!

How did Jenny grow a vegetable garden with such limited sun? I recommended pruning selected trees to let in more sunlight and growing vegetables and herbs that can tolerate low light conditions in this shady area. We also utilised vertical space by planting pots on the decks and growing climbers up trees or trellises to reach the sun. A mobile wheelbarrow garden also enables Jenny to move it where the sun is during the day. So don’t give up! The solutions to a shady garden may just require seeing your space through a new lens.

Sun and Shade Exposure

How much sun do vegetables really need and what can you get away with? The answer to this really depends on your climate and specific microclimates within your garden.

(more…)

Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather

Regardless of where you live, it’s likely you have some climate challenges to deal with when growing food. Here in my subtropical climate in SE Queensland, Australia is no different. During the year, we experience five seasons of different lengths. Some months are almost perfect food growing conditions and others are extremely challenging. It’s particularly difficult growing food in hot, dry weather.

Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather | The Micro Gardener

Growing Food in Hot Dry Weather

During our summer months – December through March – hot and sticky weather is typical. We can get sudden storms which often bring torrential rain and even hail, flooding the garden and potentially damaging plants or even destroying them. Hail damaged leaves, fruit and stems are more vulnerable to diseases as the plant tissues are exposed to pathogens.

During storm season, strong gusty winds can stress plants out, particularly if they are hot and dry. During storms, wild weather can cause stems and branches to easily snap or fruit to drop.

Baking hot days often result in heat stress and scorching temperatures can cause sunburn. Plants can suffer dehydration very quickly if exposed to strong sun and wind, without sufficient soil moisture.

Not to mention the pest insects and diseases that thrive in hot, humid and windy conditions! At times it seems like everything is stacked against us as food gardeners.

Whilst these conditions may be common, they don’t happen EVERY day. I find the best way to cope is to know what to expect in your climate and be prepared with suitable strategies.

Likely you have difficult weather at times too. So, what can you do to help protect your precious plants?

3 Ways to Protect your Crops from the Weather

1. Provide Windbreaks

(more…)

Organic Aphid Control with Hoverflies

Controlling aphids organically is much easier if you encourage natural predators like hoverflies to take up residence in your garden. One natural pest management strategy for organic aphid control is to make your garden attractive to predatory insects. These can help keep aphid numbers and other sap suckers in balance – no chemicals needed.

Organic Aphid Control with Hoverflies

 

The Hoverfly or Syrphid Fly (Diptera)

Also known as Flower Flies, hoverflies are members of the Syrphidae insect family. As their name suggests, adults often ‘hover’ like mini helicopters over nectar and pollen-rich flowers.

They lay their eggs near or in the middle of aphid colonies so when their babies hatch, dinner is served! Hoverfly larvae not only eat aphids but also soft bodied sap suckers like scale, mites, thrips and some small caterpillars. They are valuable predator insects to have in your garden as part of your organic pest management strategy. (more…)

Organic Fruit Fly Control Strategies

Fruit flies are one of the most destructive pest insects in home gardens and attack a wide range of fruit trees and fruiting crops. Many gardeners find they are the number one enemy they battle every year.

This pest insect is most active from spring through autumn and species vary in different locations. For vulnerable fruit, you need to be prepared to be vigilant and have controls in place at the right time. You really have to know your enemy to tackle it!

If you’ve experienced damage to your harvest, it can be disheartening to even try to grow your favourite fruit crop. What if managing this pest insect is all too difficult?

Organic Fruit Fly Control Strategies

If you don’t want to deal with fruit fly damage in your garden, you still have options:

1. Remove any host plants that are prone to attack.

(more…)

Go to Top