7 ways to stop vegetable garden loss organically
This year marks my first growing season the Roanoke area (BIG difference from Upstate New York), so it’s required some experimentation as things went wrong.
One issue I’ve never dealt with is suburban deer (country deer are a lot easier to discourage or redirect).
Another is prolonged heat. This makes it much harder on the soil once you remove ground cover (I used a potato fork to dig up earthworm rich grass for the vegetable area). In the past, I’d lay a heavy compost layer in the fall and could reseed areas throughout the season into harvested areas. Here, it’s been necessary to amend the soil on all beds being replanted.
Along with the heat, sufficient natural water has been an issue. Keeping an eye on crops daily to ensure they’re not starting to get limp can save plants from going into stress mode.
As challenges have cropped up, and they will, I’ve found it necessary to get more creative with low-cost or no-cost solutions.
- Bye Bye Bambi. Deer are a pain in Roanoke. They’re brazen, gluttonous and determined. I keep trying strategies that work for a while, then don’t. My latest brainstorm came from a neighbor. They had a large metal dog cage they weren’t using that folded up and out so it could be customized to garden spaces. This has been working beautifully to protect my cherry tomatoes not only from deer, but also from the rabbits that graze here daily and other nibbling critters. It only works on very small areas, but I’ve managed to finally enjoy ripe tomatoes. Another trick my plumber suggested was two fences about a foot apart around the perimeter. Apparently deer won’t jump such a hurdle, even if it’s low. I’ll be testing with snow fence and chicken wire next year.
- Feed your soil. Soil stress happens fast around here. I’ve been amending with compost gathered from an area horse riding stable, which has been somewhat effective, but that’s time consuming hard work. I’m going to try heavy mulching with straw as I prepare beds with fall crops and transition to winter dormancy.
- Water deep. Water is critical for healthy vegetable garden growth. Soaker hoses are an efficient, easy and effective way to combat prolonged dry periods. The easiest way to make this work is to lay one or two 50-foot hoses per watering section on your beds. If you try to add more length you won’t have the pressure to get a good consistent soak. Instead, consider a rotational watering system. Give each area 2-3 hours at a time, one to two days per week, depending on how dry the weather is and how young your crops. For some seedlings, you may find daily necessary initially in hot heat weeks.
- Find free soil nutrients around the house. Like eggs? Egg shells crumbled and sprinkled around your plants are not only great for eliminating crawling pests but also add calcium to the soil. Some claim they’re also a deer deterrent. Not here, but perhaps those in your neck of the woods?
- Grab other’s waste. Used coffee grounds are free and for the taking at Starbucks. They add nitrogen to the soil. The pH is close to neutral, so they tend to make all plants happy. You can also add home grown grounds to your compost pile – filter and all.
- Supplemental sustenance. Sometimes, even with careful companion and rotation planting, good soil to start and compost help, your vegetables may need a little more help. Fish emulsion (about $8 for a 32 ounce bottle) goes a long way as you dilute it properly in water. I haven’t found a good delivery system yet for efficient vegetable garden watering, but have seen decent results where this has been applied. Potted plants are easy to do with a watering can or spray bottle and tend to respond magically, particularly in the spring, to this energy boost.
- Combatting the poisonous or prolific weeds. Salt diluted in water is my go-to source for unwanted invaders. Poison ivy is a huge issue here. Not only because I’m extremely allergic, but also because prior owners let this take over the property so vines are now the diameter of trees. While Tecnu is a great find for rash relief, I’d rather not knowingly touch the stuff. Standard commercial products are not an option. I’m eating off this ground while promising clients chemical-free vegetables. A spray bottle (you can find these for about $1), with table salt dissolved in water works great. It’s best to get these unwanted crawlers when it’s hot and sunny out and plants are thirsty. You may need to apply weekly for a time, but you’ll see a quick die off when the weather’s right and salt is happily sucked into the roots.
Granted, it can be quicker and easier to use manufactured, chemically-rich, off-the-shelf products to get vegetables that look good. Since I know what I’m eating though, I prefer simpler, more natural solutions. How about you?