The twists and turns of gardening

Garden Life
From Sarah's garden to yours
Growing your own vegetables can be an incredibly gratifying activity. Hard work is rewarded with crops that have a freshness, a taste, and a crunch you can’t get anywhere else. This is what makes it all worthwhile. However, gardening is a journey that starts well before plants are planted in the ground. Gardening is steeped in age old methods that have stood the test of time, and supported by science that provides a solid explanation that helps to understand the ‘whys’ of what needs to be done in order to achieve the harvest.

You may have mastered a system of gardening that works for you but a particularly wet or windy season can cause problems that require new solutions. Of course, the weather isn’t the only spanner in the works – there are also pest and disease to contend with. Some seasons these can be devastating and destroy plants before their time, and other seasons can lull you into a false sense of security with their absence.

The key to getting a garden as close to perfect as the nature of gardening can allow, is vigilance. Regularly inspect the garden, and look closely at how it is growing and changing. Get to know your plants and familiarise yourself with what ‘normal’ looks like for each of them, so you can spot a problem when it appears, and move swiftly to address it.

Some problems which can impact the abundance of the harvest can be easily fixed, if tackled quickly and effectively. Others are more sinister and may require immediate removal of the plant and burning it to avoid the spread across the garden. By paying close attention to your garden you will be well placed to deal with whatever comes up.

Bear in mind that sometimes a problem may not be as it first appears. For example, an ant infestation is more likely to be due to an aphid infestation, as the ants take advantage of the aphids and farm them for their honeydew.

Ants farming aphids
Honeydew can go mouldy creating a black residue, called Sooty Mould, that coats the leaves of plants causing problems of its own. This is a secondary problem, which indicates the presence of aphids or scale insects. When the insects are treated, the Sooty Mould problem also goes away. So, determining the exact problem can often be a bit complex and may not necessarily be caused by what you first see.

Also, not all problems are pests or disease. It could be physiological – the plants natural reaction to adverse conditions. For example, in cold weather green leaves can turn purple and curl, but when the conditions are more favourable the leaves return to their healthy lush look. It helps to look at the wider picture when trying to identify a problem.
Yellow leaves
Plants can use leaf colour to tell us when they are hungry. They have various colours, patterns and behaviours that can appear to signify a deficiency or over-abundance of nutrients. This can often be easily fixed by addressing the balance with an appropriate plant food. But as the garden is full of contrasts, it could also be a nutrient unavailability due to other factors such as the wrong pH in the soil, the temperature being too hot or too cold or a watering issue – too wet or too dry. All options need to be explored before attempting to fix a problem; otherwise you could make it worse.

Blossom End Rot, caused by a lack of calcium in the plant, is a common problem in tomatoes early in the growing season. However, while calcium is often present in the soil in abundance, cold soil temperatures can prevent the roots from taking it up. As the temperatures warm up the problem often goes away.
Tomato with disease
Holes in plants are a little easier to solve, as it generally means something is trying to eat it. Try to determine what is eating the plant by thoroughly inspecting the leaves. Hopefully the culprits will still be lurking there, so you can either remove them, or work out the best remedy. Different pests respond in different ways to different solutions, and it’s best to use a method proven to combat the problem you have so it can be resolved swiftly. Insects often have short lifecycles and can easily adapt to repeated applications of the same treatment and become immune to it. Also be wary of home recipes, which may include ingredients that seem safe enough, but can be harmful to the plant, making it vulnerable to new problems.

Disease is the hardest problem to deal with. If caught early, a leaf or branch can be removed, and with the appropriate spray the problem can be averted. However, many fungal, bacterial, or viral problems can become systemic – getting into the heart of the plant and dooming the plant to certain death. Action needs to be taken swiftly to remove the plant, as sap sucking insects are prolific in the summer vegetable garden. Even the hands of the gardener can spread disease throughout the garden, which is why garden hygiene is essential to prevent or contain potential diseases. Never put diseased plant material in your compost heap. Clean your tools after each use, and keep them well maintained.

It can be helpful to keep yourself up to date with what is going on in your community. Join a local garden or community group, online forum, or visit your local garden centre from time to time. You may find out about a common problem in your area, and benefit from the collective wisdom on how to deal with it. Also reach out to trusted experts to help you solve problems - you will find that they are usually generous with their knowledge and willing to help out.

Gardening problems are inevitable and should be expected; if it isn’t one thing then it could be another. Try not to be disheartened, and relish the chance to be your own garden’s rescuer – you may be surprised at how satisfying it is to successfully overcome the challenge in front of you. Of course, there is also no harm in hoping for that perfect season – with knowledge, experience, and a helping hand from Mother Nature it is completely possible. And, most importantly of all, enjoy your gardening journey with all its twists and turns.