My original thought was to blog about my incredible tomato harvest. I had planned to sing the praises of cherry tomatoes. I’ve had dubious success with tomatoes in the past (a fruit everyone can grow easily) and did some reading which gave me a hint that cherry tomatoes are less vulnerable to pests and diseases. That was enough for me, that’s what I planted.
But then I remembered I had suffered a pretty daunting attack a couple of weeks ago by something which put larvae in each tomato (even the cherry tomatoes). This made me stop and think about what might really going on out there. My garden is hugely productive and healthy right now when in the past I’ve had all kinds of problems. So what is it that’s working? I am not sure it is any one thing, I’ve been trying a myriad of approaches and I suspect they all contribute. Here are some of the things I’m trying with a few photos I took this morning to illustrate my points:
1) Plant what works. For example, cherry tomatoes when your big tomatoes are being eaten from the inside out by everything.
2)Plant in the right month. I know this sounds obvious but in the past I’ve stretched the seasons on some veggies which hasn’t really worked. Even if they do grow out of season, weaker plants are more prone to attack by disease and pests.
3) Use companion planting. This year I planted squash and beans in with my sweet corn. This trio is supposed to help control pests and to provide support, protection and nutrients that are mutually beneficial. I also went wild with basil and marigolds. They are everywhere, especially around my tomatoes. They are supposed to keep pest numbers down. Both of these experiments are looking successful.
4) Water in the morning. I’ve heard that watering at night encourages leaf mould (I’ve had huge problems with that in the past – especially on all squash plants) and brings the bandicoots into your veggie beds because the grubs rise near the surface when the ground is wet. I still have visits from the bandicoot but, for whatever reason, they are less frequent and the damage is less thorough. And the leaf mould hasn’t gotten to my tomatoes and only a bit is sometimes found on my cucumbers.
5) Minimal (no?) organic pest spray. I always have on hand my generic garden problem spray (a lot of water, a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, a couple drops of dish soap, a few drops of oil, a crushed garlic and a chilli or two – left to soak so it’s nice and stinky). In the past I used it proactively to keep aphids and cabbage moth away, this year I only use it when an infestation is really really bad and then mainly on trees (citrus and rose bushes) not on vegetables. I want to encourage good bugs like wasps and lady bugs. I have so many beneficial insects in my garden that I think this approach is paying off.
6) Remove problems by hand. I cut off mouldy leaves, pick out cabbage moth larvae, catch cabbage moths in my butterfly net, squash aphids and remove leaves or branches with infestations I can’t otherwise control. I stay on top of problems as best as I can and hope nature reaches some kind of balance. This seems to be working since right now there are no aphids or cabbage moth larvae on my vegetables (even though cabbage moths are always present).
7) Don’t pick off flowers from shooting plants – they attracts the pollinators to your food.
8) Install a fruit fly trap. A couple of weeks ago we put out a Cera fruit fly trap that is organic and plant based. It is supposed to attract fruit flies so they leave your fruit alone. I checked this morning and there’s one fly in there. Not sure if it will help, but I figure it can’t hurt.
9) Get bee hives. I didn’t really do this with the expectation that my bees would increase my harvest but I have a very strong hunch that their mad pollination is turning a lot of flowers into fruit that last year just withered and died.
10) Protect seedlings from the worst of the sun. This isn’t always possible but I have learned that for the first few days seedlings really don’t like full sun. Even mature plants wilt, but most of them spring back over night.
11) Rotate crops. This isn’t something new for me, it’s just something I practice because it is such a well documented requirement for pest control and plant health. I’m sure it makes a difference to my harvest.
12) Fertilise. I use my chook poo tea to keep the crops healthy and happy. They are healthy and happy so I think it works.
I feel I should mention the lunar calendar here. I have tried many times to convince myself that there’s something to the concept of planting with the phases of the moon but, at least for me, it just doesn’t matter. The good news is that’s one less thing I need to worry about, I sow and transplant when the weather is right and the beds are ready, not when the moon is waxing or waning.
And just in case any proof was needed about how my garden is doing….
Here’s a cucumber I picked this morning that I probably should have harvested a few days ago. As for those tomatoes that set off this whole post? Here’s the result of 5 minutes picking on the past two days (minus a bit of snacking). The plants are incredibly healthy, full of flowers and fruit and very few of the fruits now have any insect holes in them.
So, what’s working? Everything. If I stop one of the 12 things listed above, will my garden stop producing? Probably not. But it might not be as amazing as it is right now.