What has been your biggest gardening challenge in the last 12 months?

More to come later on this week, but for today:

  1. What’s the most challenging situation you’ve faced in your garden in the last 12 months?
  2. Why is this one so important to you? What would you be able to do if you got past it? What would you want to create?

Let me know in the comments down below and I’ll see if I can help…

 

 

Update: Here is one quick note I would otherwise include with probably 80% of my answers down below:

Insect and disease problems are the result of the plant not being optimally healthy, not the cause.

The remedy to that may be any number of things, from balancing soil fertility to improving soil biology to improving water availability, etc.

So in the comments down below, although I tended to focus a little more on short-term solutions to the challenges you’ve been facing, the long-term solution is improving soil and plant health.

This 3-part article explains how to do that: My 2 Strategies For Growing Nutritious, Organic Food

232 Comments

  1. Rebecca Hagerott on February 19, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    Every spring my honeysuckle vines are attacked by aphids. I’ve tried neem oil with some success. I absolutely love honey suckle and would love to enjoy them.

    • Brandon on February 19, 2017 at 1:29 pm

      I use any biodegradable dish soap mixed with water. I use 1 tablespoon of soap to one gallon of water. Use a sprayer to apply in early morning or late evenings.

      • Rebecca Hagerott on February 19, 2017 at 7:37 pm

        Thank you! I have some basic H. I’ll give this a try.

        • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:42 pm

          Yes, dish soap (or Insecticidal soap) often works well as a short term control for aphids if you can spray them directly, and so can neem oil. And actually, that old trick of spraying the aphids with water can sometimes be sufficient because they may not be able to get back up on the plant. But long term, more effective is to attract aphid predators such as lady beetle larvae, lacewings, parasitic wasps and spiders. You can do this by planting things such as borage, calendula, nasturtium and sweet alyssum, or just do what I do and plant as many different herbs as you can.

          And even more interesting, aphids occur more when plants are deficient in calcium, phosphorus, iron and copper, so if these nutrients are applied in small amounts, that should help over time. And be sure not to overfertilize with nitrogen (aphids are drawn to plants with excess nitrogen) and to make sure the plants get enough water (aphids are drawn to drought-stressed plants).

    • Larry Silva on February 19, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      It’s the ants that carrie the aphids up to the flowers,get Diatomaceous Earth at Home Depot cultivate it in the soil it will kill all the ants and a lot of other criders but it won’t kill the worms.

      • Rebecca Hagerott on February 19, 2017 at 7:40 pm

        How intriguing! I have some d-earth. I’ll put that in my soil when it thaws. Thanks

        • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:43 pm

          But it will also kill a lot of beneficial insects, so be sure not to use diatomaceous earth indiscriminately. If there are ants (sometimes there are, sometimes there aren’t), they’re more a contributor than a root cause of the problem. The bigger issue is some kind of soil and plant imbalance.

          • becky83316 on February 25, 2017 at 7:39 pm

            Hi Phil, I’ve been a member of your academy for several years. I try to be very careful with my insects. I have lots of ladybugs, honey bees and spiders. I follow your advice about EM, sea vegetables, ocean water. I have oregano growing at the base of my honeysuckle too. Lots of leaf mold. Maybe it’s time for me to finally get my soil tested. Thank you for your support.



    • Gina on February 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm

      Place citrus peel around base of plant.

    • Gina Abrams on February 20, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      Place citrus peel around the base of plant. Spray plant with diluted citrus and water.

      • becky83316 on February 21, 2017 at 12:20 am

        Thank you Gina. This is a fix that is new to me. I’ll give it a try!

        • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:43 pm

          I’ve also heard that bananas can be draped over branches and stems and the aphids will leave.

          • becky83316 on February 25, 2017 at 7:20 pm

            Thank you Phil!
            I’ll give the banana 🍌 peels a try. I can’t help but see the visual of a honeysuckle banana tree. You made my day.



    • Bill on February 20, 2017 at 7:25 pm

      Mine would have to be vine borers in our squash/zucchini plants. We fight them every year, but they keep coming back. We always start out with beautiful plants, but by mid-summer, they always get attacked and die.

      Bill

      • Russ on February 23, 2017 at 8:52 am

        Hi Bill, I know what you’re talking about…the summer squash gets them so easily, as well as the soft stemmed winter squash like buttercup. I’ve tried wrapping the lower stems with aluminum foil as it starts running, also burying the stem under dirt/mulch. This helps prevent the initial egg laying from occurring at at critical part of the plant growth. Have to say…eventually the vines get so extensive that borers will show up at further points, but at least I get to enjoy some fruits first. Also have done the careful slitting of stem (parallel to stem) where borers can be found, dug them out and covered cut open areas. This can keep them under control if you’re diligent at it (daily inspection for sawdust like debris coming from egg laying holes). Tried floating row covers to prevent egg laying, but found that troublesome for adequate pollination when it’s needed. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Russ

        • Bill on February 23, 2017 at 4:14 pm

          Hi Russ,

          I’ve tried everything you mentioned (minus the foil) and had similar results. In my case, it seems just when the plants look their best, they get attacked and eventually die. I live next to a forest, so I suppose the vine borers may be coming from there. Or they may be coming from my own soil. I’ve thought about going a couple years without growing squash (and similar plants) to take away the insects’ food source for a while, but I don’t know if that would help.

          Bill

          Sent from Outlook

      • Mari on February 24, 2017 at 12:33 am

        Try Tatuma and Trombetta–these are not bush summer squash but send out long vines. Both do not appeal to the squash vine borer. Both are available on Amazon. We like Tatuma best. and believe it tastes better than zucchini. Tons of blossoms too if you like those for frying. We made a huge arch in the backyard out of 20′ PVC pipe–three parallel ribs or sections with chickenwire holding them together. The ends are slipped into metal pipes which extend about 9 inches above the ground surface. We plant Tatuma squash on either side and they grow all the way over the arch to the other side. The center of the arch is about 8-9 feet tall. Very beautiful with the squash vines. Butternut is a fall squash that the vine borers do not care for either.

        • Bill on February 24, 2017 at 11:20 am

          Thank you, I will try them!

          Sent from Outlook

          • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:49 pm

            Vine borers are tricky. Here are some options, many of which you’ve probably tried.
            -Rotate. Be sure to rotate the plants every year because the larva overwinter in the soil.
            -Remove. Get rid of the vines as soon as you’ve harvested the fruit in the summer/fall. Some people burn them, but personally, I would be okay with hot composting them.
            -Fertilize. Calcium and phosphorus deficiencies are often a big contributor to most insect and disease problems, so applying 1 pound of calcitic lime and 1/2 pound of soft rock phosphate or fish bone meal per one hundred square feet can really help in the long term. Liquid calcium and phosphorus fertilizers sprayed directly on the plant can help even faster.
            -Parasitic wasps. They can be a big help at controlling the borers for you. You can attract them by planting an abundance of various herbs among your squash. You can also buy the parasitic wasps online if you want, but make sure you’ve planted the herbs first so they stay around.
            -Cover. One of the most effective solutions is to cover the squash with floating row covers so the adults can’t get to them to lay their eggs. This won’t work if there are already larvae in the soil from last year, which is why rotation is so important. And yes, they do need to be opened for pollination, although you could hand-pollinate.
            -Switch varieties. I’ve found butternut squash and summer crookneck squash to be not as susceptible. Thanks to Mari for the other suggestions.
            -Timing – early or late. Warm up the soil early with a hoop house or by other means and plant early so the plants are mature by the time the eggs are laid. Alternatively, plant late (like July) once the adults have already finishing laying eggs.
            -Hope there’s something in there that helps you!



          • Bill on February 25, 2017 at 7:31 pm

            Thank you for all of the information!

            Sent from Outlook



    • Celine Laubsch on February 21, 2017 at 11:28 am

      Deer and Gophers!!!

  2. Janis Lee on February 19, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    cabbage moths, they can devastate a large group of the vegetables I like, not just one but the whole brassica genus. My cousin has no trouble growing brassicas, she sees the moths in her garden but they do not wreak the same damage. Conversely while she can grow brassicas her tomatoes never grow as well as they do in my garden. Is there something about our soil types?

    • Joy on February 20, 2017 at 2:23 pm

      Hi Bill, it’s possible the crabgrass hitched on the pallets.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:50 pm

      Yes, it may be something with the soil – especially the fertility balance or the biology balance – or the sun exposure, or water. The cabbage moths don’t cause a problem (they’re pollinators), but their larvae certainly do. Here are my tips:
      -Companion plants. Interplant with thyme because they’re repelled by it. Plant a row of mustard because they may go to it instead. Plant red cabbage too because they sometimes seem to prefer the green.
      -Attract predators. Parasitic wasps and flies, plus many other insects will keep them in check if they’re around. Plant as many different types of herbs as you can in order to attract them. Insect-eating birds can also help (this includes chickens and ducks, if you want to go the distance and get some new pets 🙂
      -Cover. Floating row covers can save the day.
      -Garlic. Crush 1 clove of garlic and blend it with 1 quart of water. Optionally add any or all of the following before you blend: 1 teaspoon of dish soap, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of chili powder or pepper flakes or 1 small hot pepper. Optionally let it sit for 24 hours before using.
      -Bt and Spinosad. These are organic insecticides derived from bacteria – they’re safe, but can harm beneficials, so they aren’t my first choice. Bt is less harmful to beneficials than Spinosad.

  3. Bill on February 19, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    We live on a small amount of land (about 1/3 of an acre) in upstate New York, about an hour north of Albany. We’ve been converting all of our outside space over to raised bed gardens (about 24 4×16′ so far) and permanent plantings. We want to grow as much of our food as possible – maybe sell some, but producing our own is the current concern. In permanent plantings, we have 20 or so blueberry bushes, 2 4×30′ strawberry areas, an apple tree, a cherry tree (yet to produce), 2 thriving grapevines that need to be trellised a 30′ blackberry (thornless) run, and 4 dwarf pear trees. The non-bed areas of the yard are heavily (more or less) mulched with woodchips from our local pallet manufacturer.

    The problem – last year, I had an unbelievable attack of crabgrass. I just couldn’t believe it, how fast it took over the two strawberry areas. In the fall, I literally rooted it out of one, taking care to follow the roots and pull them out. I’ll need to do the other area in the spring. It’s backbreaking work – though the fact that it’s mulched, and been that way for a couple years, makes it ‘pullable’ (rather than needing to dig). So – is there something that makes us susceptible to it? I haven’t tested the soil, so I can’t say if we’re missing anything obvious.

    Thanks – I enjoy your videos! Thanks for putting them out there!

    • Larry Silva on February 19, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      where you want to keep the weeds out open up your card board boxs lay them flat right over the crabgrass and any other weeds put lawn clippings and leaves and water everything down you can also add news pappers this is what’s call lasagna gardening.

      • Bill on February 19, 2017 at 4:29 pm

        Hi Larry, thanks – that’s basically what we do. You have to be careful with cardboard though – it should be US cardboard. If it’s imported, you don’t know what other chemicals are present. I should have redone the cardboard in that area last year but I didn’t want to disturb the strawberries. The cardboard was 2 years old there – so basically gone. That crabgrass was vicious.

        • Larry Bailey on February 19, 2017 at 7:34 pm

          Bill I hav e tried “organic” heavy mulching on strawberries and it doe snot work–using landscape fabric has redcuced weeding by 95%–my time and labor is worth something. Great success with this system. Take a look https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFytZs38BqM Hope it helps.

          • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:51 pm

            Thanks for the tip Larry. Couple of questions: 1) Landscaping fabric is made with synthetics such as polypropylene, which can be moderately toxic, but I’m not sure what happens when you burn it – what do you think? 2) How do you replenish the soil with organic matter with this system? Strawberries love organic matter (as do many food plants), and it does many good things for the soil. Do you replenish it every X years and then lay the fabric down again?



        • susan ragsdale cronin on February 23, 2017 at 7:55 pm

          ive heard that planting potatoes kills crabgrass

          • Bill on February 26, 2017 at 1:40 pm

            Thanks Susan – it’s definitely worth a try. I also have heard that there’s probably something missing in the soil, so maybe I’ll do testing this year. I would do landscaping fabric only as a last resort. My preferred method is cardboard (but only domestically produced) and wood chips. We also have very sandy soil, and so if we do not cover our soil, it reverts to sand pretty quickly.



      • Lyn on February 22, 2017 at 5:18 am

        Your crabgrass sounds like our nut grass………..tall, thin stips of ‘grass’ that grow from bulbs way underground! I took over a plot at a community garden where black plastic had been laid over half the bed……….the other half had been covered in cardboard. The nutgrass grew with vengeance through the cardboard and intriguingly, the nutgrass never grew back after removing the plastic that had been there for a few months.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:51 pm

      Here are my top tips:
      -Soil fertility. Crabgrass generally means a deficiency of calcium, so per 1000 square feet, applying 20 pounds of calcium carbonate (aka ag lime or calcitic lime, not dolomite) and 5 pounds of gypsum fertilizer could be helpful over time.
      -It’s an annual, and it needs light to germinate, so if you don’t disturb the soil and if you mulch heavily, that should help.
      -Corn gluten meal. It can work to control crabgrass in a lawn IF it’s applied correctly (before the weeds have germinated in the spring, the right weather conditions, etc.), so I’d be curious to see if it works in a mulched garden, too – I don’t see why not.
      -Other organic weed killers. There are various options available, based on essential oils, orange oils, vinegar (acetic acid) or fatty acids. Worth trying.

      • Bill on February 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm

        Hi Phil – thanks! Based on your statement of it being an annual, I think I will flame weed (my latest toy) the area and not pull it. Then go over the top with cardboard and a fresh coating of mulch – but also adding the calcium like you suggest. I would start by pulling a bunch of the strawberry plants to replant once the ‘renovation’ is complete.

        • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 8:22 pm

          That could help, Bill. I don’t usually suggest flame weeding just because most people don’t have one, but it’s an option. If you remember, I’d love to hear how impactful it is in the end.

  4. Jen on February 19, 2017 at 12:41 pm

    I cannot get ride of the horseradish root that the previous owner of the house planted. This thing has grown to be a monster and is taking over the veggie garden!!! How can I get ride of it! Last fall I dug a hole down to the largest part of the root hoping the winter freeze will get ride of it, so hoping it will be gone this year.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      You’ll need to dig it out. It can be very persistent, but if you keep pulling and digging, you can get it eventually. Of course, it is a food, so you could make friends with it and use it 🙂

  5. Pete Kinyon on February 19, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Stink bugs because they decimate most cucurbits.

    • Brandon on February 19, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      That’s the same problem I have. I have used marigolds planted in between each plant. That consused then for a while. I also water the plants, individually. As the water pours the stink bugs run up and I squish them by hand. I also check under their leaves to kill eggs by hand on the bottom of them.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

        Yes, French marigolds can work very well, not only to confuse them but also to attract their predators. I would go broader than just marigolds, too, and plant a number of herbs.

        • Brandon on February 26, 2017 at 9:32 am

          I do use multiple herbs. I alternates basil and tomato plants. I use dill, oregano, mint, roman chamomile, lemon balm, and more. You are right that herbs bring a lot of good insects to the garden and most pests hate their smell.

    • Virginia Gardner on February 19, 2017 at 1:51 pm

      Ditto… squash bugs on all squash, and the stink bugs went for the tomatillos this summer. But the squash bugs are my nemesis. I could send you photos of my end-of-year infestation, but its really too ugly. And this was with winter squash! I’ve long since stopped growing any summer squash.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:54 pm

        Ya, squash bugs are another common one. Many of my tips are similar as for stink bugs, so I won’t repeat that here, but additionally:
        -Crop rotation. This can help with squash bugs, and choosing resistant squash varieties can help.
        -Floating row covers. This helps during the beginning of the season. They need to be removed for pollination.
        -Switch varieties. Plant butternut and other C. moschata species instead. And in general, planting several varieties can help because the bugs may very well choose one over another.
        -Timing – early or late. Warm up the soil early with a hoop house or by other means and plant early so the plants are mature by the time the eggs are laid. Alternatively, plant late (like July) once the adults have already finishing laying eggs.
        -Cleanup. Removing all organic debris at the end of the growing season and tilling the garden will remove their homes. Unfortunately, in organic gardening, we mostly want to increase our organic debris (mulch) and decrease our tilling in order to improve the health of our garden, but sometimes pest control gets in the way of best practices, especially if the pests are causing a lot of problems.
        -Diatomaceous earth. Works against the nymphs (ie. when they’re young), but is also harmful to beneficials, so use it sparingly.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      Here are some stink bug tips:
      -Hand picking eggs. In the spring you can remove their eggs from the underside of the leaves. But, and this part is a little tricky until you get some experience, if you notice that some of the eggs look different that others, often being darker, you should probably leave them because they’ve probably been parasitized, which is when certain species of wasps and flies lay their eggs right inside the eggs of the stink bugs and then eat their way out – we want to let those eggs hatch, do their thing, and then reproduce.
      -Hand picking the insects. If you just go out every morning (or evening) and toss them into a bucket of soapy water, you’ll take care of a lot of them. This is unfeasible on a farm, but in a small garden, it can be a good solution.
      -Trap crop. Rodale found that sunflower worked well as a trap crop. If you can surround your squash bed with sunflowers, I wonder if it would help divert the stink bugs on such a small scale?
      -Companion planting. The sunflowers also attract ladybugs and other predators of the stink bug eggs and nymphs. Plus, as I find myself saying a lot in these comments, plant a diversity of herbs to attract their predators – this may be the most important step.
      -Garlic. Crush 1 clove of garlic and blend it with 1 quart of water. Optionally add any or all of the following before you blend: 1 teaspoon of dish soap, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of chili powder or pepper flakes or 1 small hot pepper. Optionally let it sit for 24 hours before using. This won’t get rid of them, but may slow them down.
      -Kaolin clay. Is a clay powder that, when applied to the leaves, will agitate the stink bugs. Can work very well.
      -Insecticidal soaps and neem oil. Can work when the bugs are young.

  6. Ken Bourne on February 19, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    I have been asked this question a few times–“How long does compost remain potent from the time it has been completed?” I know that compost tea has a shelf life of a few hours but I am not sure as to the compost that has been made by turning and heating. Just need a ball park figure, thank you.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:09 pm

      Compost would just keep improving if you leave it in the heap. After all, you are just trying to speed up the natural rotting down of leaves on the surface of the soil.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:54 pm

        Compost doesn’t go bad, but it is nice to apply it within a year or two of being finished because it will keep shrinking over time and it will off gas over time, so some nutrients like nitrogen and sulfur will decrease.

        • newsletters on February 27, 2017 at 3:00 am

          Hi Phil,

          I agree – there are constant losses. But people tend to thing about organic fertilizers as being like chemical fertilizers – you must not “waste” any. In the same way, I’ve heard my parents deplore fruit that was falling and rotting on the ground. That’s not a waste.

          In my last house, I had someone who would drop a truckload of lawn clippings about twice a week. I spread it everywhere about a foot deep, and a few days later it would have rotted down to one inch deep. That is terrible “waste” but after ten years the soil was showing the benefit of all the stuff that hadn’t been wasted. Of course, if you buy bags of compost, you don’t want to waste any of it.

          I’ll soon have about 50% groundcover with Aptenia cordifolia. In spite of the climate, the groundcover just keeps getting deeper and deeper, so I can “harvest” the succulent excess into my compost. I’m not wasting all that ground. There would be parched ground baked more and more sterile by the hostile sun where I’m growing Aptenia. The soil under the Aptenia is greatly improved too.

          Ian McAllister

  7. Sandra Jo Mauck on February 19, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I live in the Sonoran Desert, so there are many gardeners here, but it’s a challenge. I think soil amendments are key. What do you think?

    • Matteo BATEMAN on February 19, 2017 at 2:14 pm

      My home was built on a hill that his been graded flat. So no top soil. just hard dry dirt. last season I grew carrots, beets, corn, tomato’s, grapes, sunflowers, dill, and peppers. Corn was tiny as can be. Nothing edible, grapes just leaves , beets were delicious but small. Sunflowers grew about a foot tall. Flowers were tiny and destroyed by insects. Carrots were about an inch long very cute. total crop was equivalent to one regular size carrot. Tomato’s came late but fairly good crop in a raised bed. Nothing grew well on the ground. Please help

      • Nataliya on February 26, 2017 at 8:01 am

        I have a similar problem, builders left no topsoil in my yard, I have stones of different size bind with clay, covered with weeds. One summer I tried to cultivate a small area, to dig out as many stones as I could and put commercial compost in. Silly me! :))) Killed the whole summer on that and still no good. Last year I bought a compost bin and started filling it. Also bought a 3”x3” raised bed, filled with commercial compost and grew few salads. I liked the idea and this year I invested in 11 more raised beds, 2 tons of loamy topsoil and farmyard manure. Now educating myself in organic gardening. I think if you do not have topsoil you should get one. Otherwise, all hard work and money spent are not worth it.

        • cybspac on February 26, 2017 at 10:24 pm

          Thank you

    • Larry Silva on February 19, 2017 at 2:55 pm

      The thing you have not tryed is organic rock powder it has all the minerals you need for to growing a beutifull garden you can get rock powder at any place where they crush rocks you can also get it on Amazon.

      • Larry Bailey on February 19, 2017 at 7:41 pm

        Rock powders come in various types (greensand (K), rock phososphate (P), Azomite (70 elements in tiny amounts of periodic table of elements plus some Ca, Microna 300 mesh ground limestone for Ca. etc) Get a good soil test first and test for more than N,P, K, pH and Ca–also do S, Bo, Mo, Mn. Mg, Zn, Cu etc then you can balance your soil properly–not too much. For sources– we are an organic farm and can get minerals at about 20% of the cost charged to home gardeners (and better quality too–sorry if that hurts to hear–maybe if you are cooperative (and most home gardeners in classes I have taught are are quite independent and won’t cooperate –for some strange reason) you could go in with a bunch of other area gardeners and get organic-compliant minerals in bulk quantities and save a lot of dollars…just a thought. Hope it helps.

        • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:19 pm

          It takes about ten years to develop good soil. If there is someone who does lawn-mowing rounds, contact him and ask him to dump the grass clippings on your property. That will save him paying to dump the load somewhere else.

          Collect leaves in fall. It doesn’t matter if you spread them a yard deep over your garden. After the winter they will have rotted down well.

          Use the Smiling Gardener advice about what nutrients to add to a new garden.

          If you’re lucky the mycorrhyza will have spread over your no-dig garden in ten years, but you could speed it up by buying some inoculant to spread around.

  8. Annette on February 19, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Weeds. They over take my garden. I would like to use an all natural weed killer ie vinegar that won’t harm my vegetable plants.

    • Larry Silva on February 19, 2017 at 3:01 pm

      You need to do a web surch on lasagna gardening, that will take care of all your weed problem.

      • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:28 pm

        If your live in a hostile environment such as Perth, Western Australia, like I do, use your weeds. If you can’t beat them eat them.
        We have water restrictions, and unrestricted watering is limited to hand-watering. I often have to water my pumpkins in the middle of the day because they are completely wilted.
        Milk thistle, and several other edible weeds grow in profusion. They don’t care about 110F heat. Nettles are delicious if properly cooked but wear gloves. Garden snails are very tasty, but feed them for several days on safe food in case they have been eating poison.
        Identify your main weeds, then google “are WEEDNAME edible”. You’ll even find recipes.

        • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:57 pm

          Well said. And many weeds are actually (slowly) fixing our imbalanced soil conditions, so they do a lot of good in the end. But some of them are quite bothersome 🙂

          • newsletters on February 27, 2017 at 3:13 am

            The worst weed here is Kikuyu grass. I’ve seen it growing up a wooden lamp post. It breaks up asphalt surfaces. I dumped some in a large bin and filled the bin with water, then put on the lid. After four months I expected to have some nicely rotted liquid manure, but the lid was forced open by the Kikuyu grass growing under water in the dark until there was no more room for it.

            Solarizing is the only solution, but it kills the soil. I water the area well then spread industrial-grade clear polythene plastic over the grass. Then I seal the edges with soil, so that the hot vapor can’t escape. The grass grows aggressively, then the tender new growth is cooked by the sun. After two or three months it is safe to remove the plastic. Nothing is alive after solarizing. I hate that situation. I had to do that three years in succession when I had just moved into this house.

            Ian McAllister



    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:56 pm

      Vinegar will at least partially harm many type of plants, not just weeds, but if you can spray the weeds without spraying the plants, it can work, at least for annual weeds. For perennial weeds, you need something stronger, like a horticultural vinegar. If the weeds have taken over the whole garden, you want to remove them with a hoe (or hire someone to do that) and then mulch heavily after that with something organic, like leaves, straw or wood chips.

  9. Andi on February 19, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    My soil seems to be hydrophobic. I water deeply & consistently, about 30 mins of leaving the hose on the soil, it soakes in, no run off. I even dig in between the plants to allow the water to get deeper in the raised bed, only to find it running out the bottom. When i check the soil, its wet for 1 1/2 deep and DRY after that. The soil composted leaves, seaweed, lawn clippings, etc. & native ground- which is sandy loam. Its been tested as Nutral ph. Ive added microrazae & worm castings….. any thoughts?? Id li,e the soil to retain more water, landlord pays utilities. Id like to be able to plant more densely & create a ‘mini’ food forest….

    • Larry Silva on February 19, 2017 at 3:22 pm

      You need to add Gyp site to your soil to penatrate more deepley

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:57 pm

        Not necessarily. If there’s a calcium and sulfur deficiency, then yes, gypsum could help improve the soil structure, but if there’s a Ca or S excess, gypsum isn’t the answer.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      It’s a pity you don’t own the property. A few thousands of dollars worth of clay mixed in with your soil would change it from sand to loam, but the landlord would get the benefit.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      New raised beds sometimes have this problem because the soil is so loose that the pore spaces are too big to hold water – this tends to get better each year. My first tip would usually be to add compost, although it seems like you may already have plenty of organic matter in there. My second tip would be to use a soaker hose or drip irrigation to slow down the rate of flow – sandier soils can’t take much water at once, so slowing down the flow could help.

  10. John Butcher on February 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm

    Tomatoes plants not producing much fruit. Garden in the same spot for 20 years. Always plant tomatoes. No options for relocating.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      That’s interesting. Did you have a strange year weather-wise? A really hot and dry summer can make it so the pollen doesn’t stick to the female flowers, while a really hot and humid summer can make the pollen so sticky that it just stays on the male flowers. It’s nice to plant many different varieties of tomatoes that like different weather extremes, and also to plant them at different times in the spring because an early- or late-planted tomato may do better in a given year.

      Other questions: Did you have pollinators around? Do you give back to the soil each year? Tomatoes want a fairly fertile soil.

  11. Bruno on February 19, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Rats! Tiny garden space in North Vancouver, BC pillaged by rats!!! This is disgusting and a real problem all over the city. I killed more than I can count with traps but they still keep coming in bigger numbers. ..

    • Larry Silva on February 19, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Bring in the Cat bregade to rid of all your rodents.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:58 pm

      I’m going to write about rats soon. Stay tuned!

  12. Kathleen Rose on February 19, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Phil
    I am a small landscaper on Vancouver Island. My biggest challenge is my own backyard. When I moved here last year, I found out that the previous owner had the gray water from the kitchen and the laundry room pumped into the backyard. The yard is green all year because of the water. I am designing my garden and have decided to create a labyrinth of garden boxes, as I have no privacy. The south side of the property is next to a dog park. My plan is to build the boxes without a bottom in order to draw up the water. I plan on filling the bottom with chipped garden waste from my yard and top it up with wood chips if necessary, before adding organic soil. I have already switched to natural soaps without phosphates.
    My challenge is how high to build the boxes to ensure the moisture will be drawn up and how much soil to put in the boxes on top of the chipped garden waste.
    I would like to grow all of my own organic food this year and want to get the plan right from the start. I am hoping you can help me with this dilemma before I start building the boxes. I thought they should be 20 inches high but am not sure of the right height to draw the water up.
    Thanks Kathleen

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:36 pm

      Most of your vegetables have roots going down four to six inches, so why make the frames deeper than eight inches?

      • Kathleen Rose on February 21, 2017 at 11:02 am

        The only reason to make them higher is to add height for privacy. I have absolutely no privacy in my entire back yard. There is a public dog park next door and there is access to it from two sides which pass my property.

        • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:58 pm

          Good question, Kathleen. I’m not sure the garden waste on the bottom of the beds will be helpful because in general, any type of growing medium texture change will actually inhibit water movement. But as for drawing up water from below, that’s not something I know much about. In my experience though, 20 inches is a good height for raised beds. Many roots will grow down 2 feet or more if given the chance, and will benefit from doing so.

  13. ollie padgett on February 19, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    I’m just starteod out growing organic iwould say it would be pest I live in south Georgia termites they cut down my plants.Iaslo need to know how to get my soil right we have pinebark where they cut the pine down .

  14. John Redding on February 19, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Pests in general. Squirrels eat the tomatoes, Squash bugs kill my zucchini and flea beetles decimate kale and similar foliage. This is my seventh year of a garden in this spot and I have composted, done soil tests, used fungi, etc. but it seems to get worse each year. May have to go back to limited pesticide usage to have food for consumption.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 5:59 pm

      I’m going to write an article about squirrels soon. I’ve given a bunch of tips about squash bugs up above. As for flea beetles, talcum powder dusted on the leaves can help. So can 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol and 1 Tbsp olive oil mixed with 2 cups water and sprayed onto the beetles. Last, they don’t like catnip or basil, so interplanting them among your greens may help.

  15. Vt on February 19, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Gophers. The garden is lined with heavy construction wire and they still chew and dig through. We use traps, castor oil, gas, gum, daffodils and gopher snakes. None work for very long. If you have ever witnessed entire bell pepper plants being pulled down a hole into the earth you would be as aggressive about getting rid of them as I have become. Any suggestions?

  16. odette suter on February 19, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Last year most veggies (radishes, salad greens, etc.) went right into bloom. Nothing grew the way it did the first year when I had created my raised garden beds with new organic soil. The second year yield had decreased and then came last year. Even ‘weeds’ didn’t grow well. I had added horse manure the second year and compost last year. What do you think is missing? How can I remedy this? Thanks!!

    • Mari on February 24, 2017 at 12:43 am

      We had the same problem with a raised garden. We found out that tree roots (from trees about twenty feet away) had grown up into the raised bed. We took all the dirt out, put weed cloth in the base, returned the same dirt into the bed (minus the tree roots) and everything grew well again..

      • odettesuter on February 24, 2017 at 8:18 am

        Thanks for sharing, Mari. I didn’t think of that and I certainly have trees all around. I will go digging to see if that’s the problem.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      We often think our plants bolt simply due to the higher temperatures and longer days of summer, but there are a number of potential reasons: insufficient water, imbalanced soil fertility, toxins in the horse manure or even the compost, and yes, competition from tree roots is an interesting one, etc.. I’d suggest not adding any more organic matter for a while – you probably have enough as it is.

      If I were you I would send a soil sample to a good, organic soil lab, which you can find online, and they will help you figure out which fertilizers you need to balance out the fertility, as their is probably a fertility imbalance. And be sure to provide sufficient water.

      • odettesuter on February 27, 2017 at 2:35 pm

        Thank you, Phil. I probably over did it ;).

  17. Jimmy Brooks on February 19, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    Hands down it’s the Leaf footed bug. If anyone has any proven organic remedies, please post. Surround clay product works, but the rain washes it off.

    • Linda Crum on February 23, 2017 at 7:10 pm

      Plant black-eyed peas as trap crop. They love the peas and are easy to pick off and put in a can of soapy water. The population will gradually decrease. But you have to keep after them.

      • mrlandlord79107 on February 23, 2017 at 11:18 pm

        Thanks…your suggestion is awesome news seeing that I just put down iron clay peas/sunflowers as a cover crop.

        • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

          Control methods are similar for the leaf footed bug and the stink bug. I gave some tips for the stink bug up above. Interesting suggestion from Linda, too.

  18. Greg T. on February 19, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    I live in NW Ohio. We moved out side of the community in farm area and I can not produce enough for my wife and I to can. Problem is getting a good mix of soil, nutrients, and compost. I have purchased black top soil, we have clay soil, compost and added table scraps. I get an OK crop of tomatoes, peppers. I get no lettuce to speak of, no corn worth picking, no onions to make it worth while, and beans I quit planting. I have had gardens in surrounding areas that I have had so much produce that one year I gave the food banks estimated 100 + lbs of produce.
    I have tilled a 1/2 acre and added compost no luck. I have tried raised beds better but not satisfactory results.
    I need an expert.
    Thanks Greg

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      It looks like you already know the basics of planting, watering, sunlight, etc. that are often challenging for new gardeners, so the next step is to get your soil tested. Send a sample to a good, organic lab and they will help you balance the fertility. Unless there’s a soil contamination issue (which can also be tested, often by a different lab), it often comes down to soil fertility, soil biology and water.

  19. Caole Lowry on February 19, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    As a gardener in the Western Colorado high desert, the biggest challenge last year and all the years before is WATER. I am semi irrigated and need to work on my system. I hand water, sometimes twice a day and it is time consuming. I know I need to educate myself on my irrigation system–Rain Bird is the brand name. I used to garden on the East Coast and it is an entirely different thing so I don’t know if you can help. Building my soil has also been a challenge. I have chickens that help and a friend with goats so I just need to work harder to get this and my compost (I have a two barrel turn system) on the ground.

    It is important to me because it keeps me grounded to garden…it is the most healthy endeavor that I can spend time doing….growing organic food and preparing it and eating it! It feeds my spirit and my body.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      It seems like you’re on the right track, Carole, by both focusing on the watering system and on improving your soil so it doesn’t need to be watered as much. Compost helps with that, and mulch is really key to conserve moisture. I’ve read about desert gardens that don’t need much of any watering because they use mulch and cover crops to keep the ground covered year round. Plus using perennial plants that can tolerate drier conditions can be really helpful.

  20. Isobel on February 19, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Verticillium wilt!!
    Everything in my garden is either sick, or dying, or dead and removed. Except for the fig, gingko, eucalyptus and hellebores.
    There have been problems for 7-8 years without knowing why, till a friend asked if I have a lime tree nearby – and yes, I do… One was overhanging (now kindly felled), it’s chum is only 5.5′ behind it (alas not felled).
    I’ve gone organic, applied beneficial bacteria and inoculation followed by shredded leaf mould from a nearby arboretum, and decided that the bet tying to do is go with it and only grow resistant or immune plants. That excludes most veg and fruit, sadly.
    If you have any ideas I’d be very grateful…
    Best wishes,
    Isobel

    • JHEIRA SPRINGFORD on February 19, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      I have an apricot tree and it is just outside my small greenhouse where I had my pepper plants growing and the peppers were beautiful except they kept dropping all their blossoms. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong…so I kept doing Google searches, and found that most vegetables will not grow near citrus trees. So I moved all my containers with the peppers to another area, and they did just fine. Maybe that will help.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:02 pm

        Thanks Jheira, yes Isobel, it seems like the lime tree could be the culprit. Can you build some raised beds with a solid bottom to keep out the lime roots? That would allow you to grow some fruits and veggies.

        Verticillium is challenging. You need to create well-drained (not too wet) soil that’s warm (so planting later can help). Don’t use too much nitrogen. Choose plant crops that aren’t susceptible. Rotate crops. And do what it takes to make plants healthy. Arden Andersen says it’s a deficiency of phosphorus, copper and manganese, so it would be worth learning how to bring these minerals into your soil.

  21. Dean C on February 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    I have a problem with powdery mildew. Any organic solutions?

    • Paul on February 20, 2017 at 2:43 am

      Here in Durban South Africa we just spray Bi-Carbonate of Soda 1 Tablespoon to 2 pints water, it works very well. The Mildew can not live in an alkaline state, the crop improves immediately!

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:02 pm

      Powdery mildew is one of the most common diseases I see, and often it doesn’t cause that much of a problem, but here are some tips:
      -Water. Powdery mildew thrives in warm, dry weather, so wetting the leaves can actually help. Downy mildew, on the other hand, likes it cool and wet.
      -Spacing. Most plants need airflow, and sometimes we plant them too close, which can create better conditions for disease.
      -Sunlight. Most veggies need a lot of sunlight or they get sick.
      -Nutrition. Too much nitrogen often leads to mildew. And there’s generally an associated deficiency of calcium and phosphorus, so applying 1 pound of calcitic lime and 1/2 pound of soft rock phosphate or fish bone meal per one hundred square feet can really help in the long term. Liquid calcium and phosphorus fertilizers sprayed directly on the plant can be helpful even faster.
      -Compost tea. Well-made, aerated compost tea can prevent and even suppress powdery mildew and many funguses.
      -And there are many homemade and purchased fungicides that can help:
      -1-2 Tbsp of baking soda (start with the low end) or baking powder per gallon of water. Even better is to mix it with an equal amount (1-2 Tbsp) of liquid dish soap. Potassium bicarbonate may work even better than baking soda or powder, if you happen to have that around.
      -Garlic. Crush 1 clove of garlic and blend it with 1 quart of water. Optionally add any or all of the following before you blend: 1 teaspoon of dish soap, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of chili powder or pepper flakes or 1 small hot pepper. Optionally let it sit for 24 hours before using.
      -Vinegar. 2 Tbsp of any kind of household veingar per gallon of water.
      -Milk. 1.5 cups per gallon of water.
      -Neem oil. 2 Tbsp per gallon of water.
      -Serenade. This product is a specific strain of the bacteria Bacillus subtilus, which helps suppress a lot of fungal diseases.

  22. Mary Meeker on February 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    last spring something chewed or ate everything in the garden. All plants that weren’t eaten to the ground had leaves that looked like lace. Ground cover plants that had never been bothered by anything in years of gardening now were nothing but tattered clumps. Put out traps for slugs and never saw a one. Could not find any kind of bug on the plants so figured the culprit came out at night. I lost all my spring veggies and finally started covering the new seedlings with light weight row covers which helped some. Finally after our late spring or early summer arrived the chewing stopped and most of the perennials began to leaf out and recovered. My garden is fenced in so I don’t have rabbits. I have never had this happen before. I lost all of my cool weather crop as it got too hot to replant when the chewing finally stopped.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:39 pm

      Try examining the leaves at night with a torch.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:02 pm

      Maybe cutworms? I’ll write about them further below.

      • marmeelib on February 26, 2017 at 6:26 am

        As far as I know cut worms work at ground level. My damage was eating the leaves from the top down and finally the whole seedling. On established plants the damage was severely skeletonized leaves with some of them dying and some of them able to produce new leaves later on when the chewing stopped.

        • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 9:29 am

          “Skeletonized” does sounds like an insect. Could be cabbage moth larvae, or a beetle like the Asiatic garden beetle, or perhaps pill bugs (although I doubt they’d do that much damage).

          • marmeelib on February 26, 2017 at 11:51 am

            Asiatic beetle sure fits with the damage I have, but in goggling it they seem to do their damage in the summer while my damage is very early spring and no damage in summer. I have never heard of the Asiatic beetle and outside of the internet I don’t know anything, so am I wrong about when they feed?



  23. Bruce Turner on February 19, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I garden at the base of the Berkshire mountain range in CT with a whole bunch of assorted wildlife that are admirers of my garden and they eat much more than their share. Manures, compost, bonemeal and honey, anything organic you get the idea, attracts one animal or another all growing season long I gave up on trying to produce a corn crop and carrots are loved by ground hogs, emerging seedlings of beans, peas and squash are eaten by birds and deer. I have tried, with some success, floating and hooped row covers, but I need more and they are expensive.
    Any ideas?

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Fences, cages, hoop houses and/or a dog. In a situation like this, I tend to reduce the square footage of the garden, protect it really well, and plant intensely.

      • Bruce Turner on February 25, 2017 at 7:49 pm

        Thanks Phil, I guess I am on the right track except my dogs think bone meal has been sent from heaven. I stopped using it long ago along with molasses or anything dextrose.

  24. Hailey Ann on February 19, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Greetings from NorthEast GA!
    My biggest problem is squash bugs. So much of what we grow is in that family, (cucumbers, spaghetti squash, zucchini, butternut, and on,) and though we try to remove poisoned vines and plant these items in different beds so if one set is infected, the others are not as fast.
    Truly need an organic way to irradiate these little guys from my squash plants. Got any ideas?

    • Carol Rooker on February 19, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      Hailey, I read in Organic Gardening that you should try planting squash after July 15. Supposedly the squash bugs are gone by then since they cannot find your squash. I have tried this and have had great success. Try it. Carol

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:03 pm

        Yes, this can work great if you have a long enough growing season.

  25. Rick Becton on February 19, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Gophers! I bought a well developed garden and learned about gopher the hard way. I have developed a multi-front management system that approaches the problem in several ways: vigilance, plant selection, barriers, traps, chemicals. Get them early! They destroy plant roots and build unnecessary reserve dens because it is their nature.

    • vt on February 19, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks Rick. Your reply is what I feared the most. This is a never ending all year long problem and there are only short term cures unless the entire neighborhood participates.

    • Larry on February 19, 2017 at 10:18 pm

      Theres a plant called Gopher Perge and when this plant makes seed podes you can plant them arround the your yard .

  26. Linda Crum on February 19, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Whiteflies on citrus. I’ve alternated neem oil with spinosad and the white flies persist.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      Whiteflies can be tricky! Here’s what I’ve done in the past:
      -Spray them with the hose.
      -Vacuum them up.
      -Herbs. Plant a bunch of different types of herbs to attract their predators. This is very worthwhile.
      -Floating row covers. They can work well.
      -Garlic. My good old garlic recipe. Crush 1 clove of garlic and blend it with 1 quart of water. Optionally add any or all of the following before you blend: 1 teaspoon of dish soap, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of chili powder or pepper flakes or 1 small hot pepper. Optionally let it sit for 24 hours before using.

  27. Dan on February 19, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    I run out of energy for gardening in the heat of late July.

  28. WK on February 19, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    What is the very best way to rid dandelions and other broadleaf weeds that are in my garden and lawn?
    Thanks…
    KW

    • susan ragsdale cronin on February 23, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      eat them, saute with onions, garlic and bacon… you wont have enough next year

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      Dandelions are such a wonderful plant. Very nutritious for eating, very good for breaking through compaction, bringing up calcium from deep in the soil and providing a good habitat for earthworms, so my recommendation is to not fight the dandelion, but to love it, because without them, your lawn would be less healthy. That said, if you apply 10 pounds of calcitic lime to the lawn every spring to get your calcium up, and if you stop applying nitrogen and phosphorus, that should gradually make the soil less hospitable for dandelions. The challenge with a lawn is that we can’t incorporate this calcium 6 inches deep, which would make things happen more quickly – lawns take longer to change. Core aerating before you apply the calcium will help that calcium deeper.

  29. Sara, B. on February 19, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I enjoy your information. I live In Vancouver Canada, most of the time is raining, and don’t have much garden, but I like to plant in pots. Last year all my Tomato leaves were yellow and plants didn’t look healthy Sometimes when I eat the organic tomato, plant the seeds in earth, also buy organic plants from the store, but all of them had a bad or no crop. What should I do this year. Another problem I have is there are plenty of wasps around, I have made organic spray to discourage them around, what should I do about them, do you think they are the one bringing disease to my plants. Thank you for your response.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Wasps are good for your garden. They lay eggs in the pests. The eggs hatch out, and the grubs eat the insides of the pests.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:04 pm

        Yes, wasps are beneficial. Most of them don’t lay eggs in pests, but they do control pests in various ways, and they also pollinate plants.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:04 pm

      Growing in pots does sometimes seem to be a little more challenging for people, but it’s entirely doable. It’s hard to know for sure what the issue is, but it’s probably some combination of:
      -Are they getting enough sunlight?
      -Is the soil mix good? It should include some quality compost.
      -Are they getting too much water?
      -Do they have enough nutrition? It’s a myth that yellow leaves automatically equals a nitrogen deficiency, but it is a common culprit. The best thing to do is often to spray the plants with an organic liquid fish fertilizer because it supplies high quality nitrogen along with dozens of other nutrients. Just make sure your soil has enough calcium in it, because that’s needed for foliar fertilizing to work. I like to add about 1/4 cup of calcitic lime (ag lime) per gallon of soil mix.
      -Do they have enough beneficial biology? Often, plants in pots are deficient in beneficial microorganisms, so spraying them with the product “effective microorganisms” will help, as will applying mycorrhizal fungi during planting. And good compost in the soil mix will help too.
      -Do they have a disease that’s causing the yellowing? If you do all of the above, disease should be less of a problem. Disease is a result of plant sickness, not a cause.

  30. Richard Wissler on February 19, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    I’m growing in containers on my 24×32 flat shop roof because i got tired of being tick bit 10 or 15 times a year growing down back- entirely enough of that. so every spring i dump out each 5 gal grow bucket and mix in my charged bio char , wormcastings, rockdust , composted leaves and coconut coir , mycorrhizal fungi ….that’s about it . But with about 60 buckets that gets to be a LOT of work, 70 year old guy with 60 50lb buckets – (whew) . To what extent could i rely on just top dressing so i wouldn’t have to do all the hard lifting and mixing? Any other suggestions ?
    i also put cover crops in my buckets in the fall. how can i get closer to no till in buckets ? Anybody else doing this ? thanks.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      I don’t know if it works with ticks, but most blood-sucking creatures don’t like garlic in your blood. So eat plenty of garlic.
      I’ve gone to barbecues and watched others slapping themselves because of the mosquitoes. I watched the mosquitoes land on my arms and then take off again immediately. I eat about eight cloves of garlic each day.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:05 pm

      Hi Richard, I encourage you to try reusing some of your buckets this year, perhaps 25% of them to start. It can work very well. Of course if there were diseases or insects problems last year – the type that overwinter in the soil – that could be an issue, although it might not be if you plant something different that isn’t impacted by that particular disease or insect. As for nutrition, you can fertilize without removing the soil, and you shouldn’t need to bring in much nutrition, as plants don’t remove that much. For example, you could make some herbal tea or buy some liquid seaweed to bring some nutrients back in there, and topdressing with good compost is usually a good idea. I say go for it. See what happens. I’ve use the same containers for many years in a row with good results.

  31. Chris on February 19, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Moles and deer! I have a motion activated water scarecrow for the deer…when I remember to turn it on but MOLES? Help!!

  32. Jessica on February 19, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Squirrels!! They nibbled my basil seedlings last spring, ate my strawberries before they were fully ripe and have been nibbling on all of my wintered over bok choy and cabbage. We were hoping to have a dog by now but have decided to wait until our baby is a bit older. In the meantime the cute little rodents are stealing the best of my crop! Lol

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Article on squirrels coming up some time soon 🙂

  33. Shelagh on February 19, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve browsed the whole list so far, and declare us all heroes.
    Last year, I took the row covers off the squashes early, as there was no sign of the bugs, and within a week, all plants were smothered with the little beasts… I picked off male flowers, smashed them and dropped them into soapy water, which was somewhat satisfying, sprinkled diatomaceous earth, and pretty much wrote off the crop, focussing on other things… Some plants died, but the survivors– Uncle Dave’s squash, and a delicious French pumpkin, produced incredibly. They were growing in the previous year’s compost, with some oyster shell, seaweed, straw, wood chips, etc… and a dusting of humic acid.
    The big problem, which is getting worse, is a wild plant in the mint family that is pretty much everywhere. Mint, by comparison, is easy to dig up, with it’s twine-like runners, but this plant has roots like white styrofoam. They snap easily, every tiny bit sprouts… It smells rank, not pleasant at all, grows 3 feet tall, small mauve flowers just like a mint. I haven’t been able to find it in any resource material.
    It has completely overtaken the raspberries, although, strangely, they also produce abundantly with the heavy competition. I’m using black plastic tarps from the lumberyard for tomatoes and other seedlings– just cut a hole in the tarp and plant there– which helps to keep it down, but doesn’t kill it, and the tarps attract–yes– rats, which eat beets and carrots… sigh… If anyone can I.D. it, or suggest anything, I’d be so grateful.

    • Shelagh on February 19, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      I forgot to add the why….
      I like working WITH situations, rather than against, so learning some way to keep this mint-thing at bay is a huge challenge. I’m planting hostas in one section this year, in incredibly built-up, gorgeous soil where I used to grow greens, because I just can’t keep up with the invader, and hope the hostas will hold their own and overcome it, eventually…
      The other why is how much more food I could grow by reclaiming the areas I’ve had to abandon. I feed myself, friends, and take a bushel to the local food bank every week. Fresh, crunchy, rich and delicious food.
      Or, I’d love to learn that this plant has incredibly powerful medicinal qualities.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm

      Weed competition is a concept created by herbicide manufacturers, and I was taught it in a University Agriculture course.
      I’m not surprised that your raspberries did well. They were probably helped by the shade.
      One family went on holiday for a month. When they got home, they couldn’t see the cabbages because of the weeds around them. Neither could the cabbage butterflies and moths, and the cabbages were large, with uneaten leaves.
      I plant succulent Aptenia cordifolia. It’s edible, but it grows like a weed, rapidly covering the ground to about 4 inches height, so I couldn’t possibly eat all that I grow.
      I then clear enough room to transplant in a taller vegetable. Last year the heat and lack of water gave me four cucumbers from all the gourds (cucumbers, pumpkins, squash) that I had planted. The leaves were miserable sizes, smaller than my hand. This year I only planted Kakai pumpkins, because last year I got a tennis-ball size pumpkin that went to seed. This year I planted them among the Aptenia.
      The leaves grow to about a foot across. This morning I harvested the first ripe Kakai. It weighs 5 lb. The catalogue says that they should weigh one pound each. They grew up a fence and are dragging it down.
      Kakais are grown for the naked seeds. You don’t need to shell the seeds to eat them. I’ve a feeling that I’ll have an oversupply of pumpkin seeds to nibble – all because of the “competition” that I gave them.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:07 pm

        It’s true that weeds are often very helpful for our soils and plants, and it’s also true that they can steal water and nutrients from our plants, especially when the weeds get big. It’s all about finding balance. I would never allow my garden to be weed-free because it would be an unhealthy garden, but too many is of course a problem as well. And it sounds like this weed is causing some problems.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Can you email me a photo Shelagh? info@smilinggardener.com

      • shelaghamandayoung on February 25, 2017 at 11:28 pm

        Hello Phil:

        How wonderful to hear from you… Thanks so much.

        I’m in Prince Edward Island, and despite a couple of days of rain, there’s still a few feet of snow on the remains of the plants in question… I haven’t any pictures of it. It’s vanity, or something, but I have only taken pictures of the beautiful aspects of the whole spread that plant hasn’t taken over… yet….

        I’ve googled ‘mint family’, ‘invasive species’,and so on, asked local people, and the agricultural officer, who shrugged his shoulders and suggested Roundup, and can’t find any description close to this predatory plant, or anyone who knows how to contain it. It laughs at extra-strength vinegar, borax, urine, raw chicken manure and other natural cures. When I lift up the tarps used to grow tomatoes and things, the entire soil surface underneath is thickly covered with the white roots. It’s almost scary.

        The roots are white, starting from a pupa-like form which can be any length from an inch to a foot long, then on and on with thinner soft white runners. They are soft, like styrofoam, as mentioned, snap easily into little bits, each of which resprouts within a week. It grows incredibly fast, and I mean incredibly, reaches a height of 3 to 4 feet. Does resemble a mint, with the squared sides on the stem, the leaf shape and a pagoda of small pink flowers, but it has a very unpleasant, rank smell when touched.

        My land is low, even wet sometimes, which is great, as I don’t have to irrigate, even when it’s dry. I’ve added tons of organic matter of all kinds– mountains of wood chips, seaweed, at least 30 round bales of straw, sprinklings of rock dust as per your video, so it’s especially distressing to have this invader take over areas I’ve worked so hard to develop.

        Any advice you can offer would be so appreciated. I really love what you are doing.

        Thanks again, Shelagh.

        • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 9:09 am

          Perhaps Stachys palustris?

  34. David on February 19, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Lack of production from blueberry bushes. They are healthy but no fruit.

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 10:18 pm

      Do you live in a hot country? Blueberries need between 250 and 1000 chill hours. That means that they won’t fruit if they don’t get that number of hours below 46F in winter. I have that problem. It’s the same with most berry fruits, which makes me sad.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      How long have you had them, David?

  35. Roderick on February 19, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Fire ants,just attack a plant and its over for that plant. Gone to all container garden, space I had gets flooded when it rains in excess ,guess i could install gutters to stop flooding

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:07 pm

      The main one I know of is spinosad, which is a substance produced by bacteria and sold as an organic insecticide. You can buy it as a liquid to soak the mounds and as an ant bait so the ants take it in the mounds. Worth a try.

  36. Andy Berger on February 19, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    I’ve had problems for years with the vine borer on my summer and winter squash plants. They go from beautiful plants to dead in a matter of a day. I’ve tried pantyhose on the base of the stem and trying to kill the eggs but there are too many.

    In addition, the cabbage worms have won every year on all my barrasicas. I have tried row covers which helped for a while but they eventually made their way into them.

    Open to any organic solutions!

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      Find what WILL grow well and grow that.
      My garden is a nightmare. Radishes are a great crop for children to grow because radishes survive anything. Comfrey is unkillable. If you rotavate one comfrey plant into the ground, you’ll get a thousand springing up from the root fragments. And you know what a pest nettles are. All these plants just die in the sand that is laughably called “soil” in my garden – it doesn’t even need to get above 110F to kill them.
      But I eat in abundance from what DOES grow in my garden, including weeds and plants that love these conditions.
      I measured the pH seventeen years ago. The half near my house was 11. The half further from my house was 4. I’ve two lemon trees side by side. The one in alkaline soil is rampant. The one in acid soil is nearly bare, but still produces lots of smaller lemons. The macadamia nearest my house needs to be kept well pruned. The one in acid soil hardly grows at all, and is unlikely to have more than one or two nuts on it. The sweet potatoes love the acid soil and grow out of control.
      I can’t grow brassicas, or tomatoes, or beans – but I still eat well from the garden.
      Oh – snails used to be a problem, but if I transplant things into an Aptenia cordifolia groundcover, the snails are all over the groundcover at night, but they leave my seedlings alone.

      • Bill on February 20, 2017 at 7:02 am

        “Find what will grow and grow that” – Indeed! We’ve taken to calling it ‘free food’. There are some things that just grow without any work beyond planting and harvesting. That’s our kind of food!

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      I gave some tips for vine borers and cabbage worms up above 🙂

  37. Trevor on February 19, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Cut worms in my tunnel house, devastating my capsicums, tomatoes, kale, tomatoes, beetroot and everything else thats green. Hide in top layer of soil or mulch. Neem oil has little or no effect. Only way I have of control is to find them and squash, however they have already damaged the plant when they are big enough to find.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      Ya, cutworms are another challenging one. Some tips:
      -Make collars out of toilet paper rolls or paper cups that can be wrapped around your plant and partially buried in the soil. You can plant right into these if you start your seeds indoors, or otherwise put them on during planting. Here are some images of what this can look like: https://www.google.com/search?q=cutworm+collar&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X
      -Herbs. My oft-repeated advice: Plant a whole bunch of herbs among your other crops – they will attract the predators of the cutworms.
      -Sprinkle some diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants. It’s not something I use too much of, but this is a case where you can put it just around the stem and even on the stem.
      -Bacillus thuringiensis can apparently be very effective when first mixed with moist bran and molasses and then applied to the soil surface around the base of the plants. It can also work, although generally not as well, if you spray the Bt the usual way, at night.
      -Steinernematidae carpocapsae is a nematode you can purchase that works well if applied correctly.

  38. Jocelyn on February 19, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    I have only small raised beds and plantars in most of my garden. It is very tricky to rotate the veggies, because optimum location depends on the amount or intensity of sunshine, especially since our growing season is super short in Eastern Canada. I would really appreciate a recommendation for a compatible veggie chart.

  39. Anne on February 19, 2017 at 8:12 pm

    Three things: Something got my sunflower sprouts just as they were starting to take off. I planted them three times, and each time it was the same, so I gave up. Also, I tried half burying plastic flower pots with the bottoms cut out at the top of a drop-off and filled the pot and some below it with lots of goodies – I wanted it to be an intense food fest for the squash I planted. I also watered regularly. But they didn’t thrive – only two took off, and each of them only produced one squash. The volunteer squash growing out of my compost pile did amazingly, however, as happens every year, and I hardly watered that. It isn’t at the top of a drop-off, either, mind you. Finally, I planted 5 asparagus slips in a row, 1.5 ft apart, and only one came up. I wonder if others might come up this year???

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:09 pm

      Any number of animals could have got to the sunflowers – a row cover would solve the problem… As for the squash, that could be any number of things, but worth trying again this year… It’s possible that the asparagus will come up this year – they’ve been known to do that – but it could also be that the slips weren’t in great shape, as is often the case with purchased asparagus.

      • anne_studley on February 26, 2017 at 8:11 pm

        Thank you for answering, Phil. Is there a way of telling whether the slips are in good shape or not? They seemed to all look pretty much the same when I bought the bag of them, and I treated them the same way.

        Have a good night,

        • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 8:34 pm

          Often the roots are quite dry, and when roots are allowed to dry out, the plants often don’t make it. That’s true for asparagus and anything else that’s sold bare root.

          • anne_studley on February 26, 2017 at 8:40 pm

            OK, thanks a lot. What would you suggest to get the best start with asparagus?



          • Phil on March 1, 2017 at 9:37 am

            Well, that’s quite a broad questionm, but they like compost during planting and they like well-drained soil that doesn’t get too wet.



          • anne_studley on March 1, 2017 at 9:24 pm

            Thanks a lot, Phil. I did plant them the way you’re mentioning. I meant to ask how I can determine when buying slips if they’re in good shape or not or if it’s better to start with seed. And if some in the package aren’t in great shape, is there anything I can do to help them?



  40. Magi on February 19, 2017 at 8:14 pm

    Biggest challenge has been SHADE! We have one large two trunked Elm and 3 Norwegian Maples (which I cannot figure out how to prune back in an affordable manner).

    Sun is important to me because I am so excited to grow veggies. My husband and I are going to build a hoop greenhouse to keep the everything-eating deer away, but we figured out that the yard from March on is too shady because of those big trees! 🙁

  41. Magi on February 19, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    My biggest challenge is shade! We have a large Elm tree and three Norwegian Maples and I haven’t figured out how to cut them back inexpensively. My husband is a construction superintendent and is thinking about renting a lift and cutting them ourselves, but I’m not sure how dangerous it will be.

    The reason lack of sun is so important is that I am very excited to grow veggies this year!

    • Ian McAllister on February 19, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      A construction superintendent should know how to keep safe. A hard hat, goggles, and safety-belt will be no mysteries to him. The main rule is “Never rush things.”
      You can use a chainsaw from a lift. Just cut everything off in three-foot lengths from the tip. Remember the branches have weight, so when you saw off a length the remaining branch will thrash upward. Make sure you’re not where it goes.
      You probably already know to cut the low side of a branch, then the high side, so that it will snap off cleanly.
      Forty years ago I brought down a tall tree with a handsaw. I used a belt around the trunk to keep me from falling off when the trunk whipped about as I sawed off heavy branches. It took about six hours.
      So you might not finish the three trees in one day. If your husband is a superintendent he may not be musclebound. So holding a chainsaw at arms length for six hours may be more than he can handle.

      • Magi on February 20, 2017 at 10:46 am

        Ahh.., thank you for a reply from someone who’s done it, with details and encouragement! Most of his friends say it’s way too dangerous.?Yeah, he’s got some muscle, he was a union carpenter for 10 years and even as recently as two years ago did a lot of work himself on the jobs that he was superintendent on. But yeah, he’s kind of done with the days of jackhammering for four hours at a time and the like, but he is interested in cutting down the tree so we’ll see. The maples are not that big and one is almost dead. I think we’ll just take down the dead one and then prune the third one. They’re in a line between the house and the yard on the other side of the driveway. Do you have any idea how much we can cut from the one maple?

        Best,
        Magi

        • Ian McAllister on February 20, 2017 at 8:00 pm

          1. Decide if you still want the tree, and if so how large you want it to be.
          2. Ask Google how to prune a maple tree. There’s an amazing amount of advice.
          Ian

          • stomasic21 on February 22, 2017 at 3:09 am

            Thanks Ian. I hadn’t thought to do that yet. I’ll definitely go to Google!



  42. Trisha McNeill on February 19, 2017 at 9:38 pm

    I am extremely new to gardening. However, I am super motivated to help my mom start an organic garden to grow her own vegetables and fruits, as she is fighting cancer and needs a lot of organic produce. We are starting out in a 2 ft by 5 ft non-treated cedar elevated garden box and I have spent hours researching if I need to put a soil liner in this box to prevent the soil from leaking through the drainage holes and to protect the wood from constant moisture. My goal is keeping it organic and healthy for the veges and I am getting mixed reviews on what tyoe of liner is good for an organic garden, if any is needed at all. I’m just looking for some direction here and then I can move forward to focusing on the soil and compost. Thank you!

    • Jimmy Brooks on February 20, 2017 at 8:03 am

      I pray that it is God’s will that your mom makes a full and speedy recovery. Have you considered a tonic of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and honey? It is a quick energy boost ( inside a drinking glass, I mix 8 ounces of Bragg’s and add enough honey and water to taste).

      • Trisha on February 20, 2017 at 8:53 am

        Thank you so much for your prayer and your suggestion. My mom has recently heard about Braggs apple cidar vinigar and does currently use it regularly.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      Hi Trisha, the mixed reviews are probably because it depends on climate, moisture and type of cedar. Personally, I wouldn’t use a liner – it’s simpler that way, you shouldn’t lose soil, and in my experience, the wood will last about as long anyway, which should be at least a decade for cedar.

      • Trishalmvc on February 27, 2017 at 10:52 am

        Thank you for your response! I appreciate it.

    • Nataliya on February 26, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Trisha, did you check a book ‘Vernon’s Dance With Cancer After The Jolt’? I’ve got mine on Amazon Kindle. Actually, after reading this book and also Dr. Tulio Simoncini interviews, I’ve realized that cancer is a result of microbial dysbiosis in our body, particularly overgrowth of Candida Albicans. A couple books later (Fat Chance The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity And Disease, and another one Gut Balance Revolution), I realized that I have to start organic gardening using EM, that’s why I am here. God bless you and your Mum and all the best of luck in your hard battle.

      • Trishalmvc on March 1, 2017 at 8:31 am

        Thank you so much Nataliya!I will be sure to mention these books to my mom. God bless you as well!!!Trisha

        Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

        • Nataliya on March 1, 2017 at 10:38 am

          You are most welcome, Trisha!

  43. Dennis Valade on February 19, 2017 at 10:08 pm

    We’ve had great success with straw bale gardening. Don’t have to worry about soil conditions just bugs. I’m going to try planting borage next to my tomatoes this year to deter hornworms.

  44. Chris Anderson on February 19, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    Tomatillos, and tomatoes and peppers aren’t producing and growing. I have beautiful black soil and have been using organic fertilizer from Dr. Earth and tried a few other thing without much difference. What do you think about miracle grow?

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      Hi Chris, miracle grow isn’t the answer. I’d rather see you use a liquid fish fertilizer or ocean water fertilizer, which has many more nutrients than miracle grow. As for beautiful, black soil, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fertile soil, and yet, although fertility is an issue, remember the basics too: Is there enough sunlight? Enough heat? The right amount of water? My peppers are always slow in zone 5, so a hoop house over them is needed if I want a big harvest.

      • g.christiananderson on February 25, 2017 at 7:08 pm

        Thank you Phil, I was surprised to get a response from you. I really do appreciate your advise.

        Thank you – Chris

  45. Kristin Saunders on February 19, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    My biggest challenge seems to be the powdery mildew that always occurs on the squash leaves. Without this problem, the harvest may be bigger (depending on how early the mildew starts) and I would be able to compost the vines at the end of the year instead of throwing them in the garbage.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      I gave some tips on powdery mildew up above, so be sure to find that. The only thing I would add is that in my view, it’s okay to compost the mildewy squash leaves. The mildew will always be around anyway, and composting it may build up some other microorganisms that can assist in keeping it at bay.

  46. Birgitta Fröjdendahl on February 20, 2017 at 3:17 am

    If I could rid of the Spanish slug, wich i fight against every single year, then i could grow for example salad in the garden plot instead of in elevated pots . Or be able to sow seeds in the garden plot without having the sprouts eaten by the Spanish slugs.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      The only method I know that really works is hand-picking them and killing them (e.g. by throwing them in a bucket of soapy water). I have a whole article on slugs, but Spanish slugs don’t succumb as easily to home remedies as other slugs…

      • gitanne on February 26, 2017 at 2:34 am

        Thank You for answering Phil ![😊]

        Your method is one of my methods for getting rid of the Spanish slugs and it is a

        perpetual work, but I can keep their number down to an acceptable level. My garden is an allotment and many slugs come in from the neighboring allotments.

        Well, my dream is still that in the spring, the garden wakes up without the slugs.

  47. suzanna davis on February 20, 2017 at 7:56 am

    Bermuda grass – I have to grow in containers and 100+ temperatures sometimes for a month at a time along with 20 inches of rain a year make it so that I can only garden in old bathtubs severely limiting my growing space.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Is that because Bermuda grass has invaded your yard?

      • suzannadavi on February 25, 2017 at 9:08 pm

        My yard IS bermuda grass

        • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 9:03 am

          Did you plant the bermuda grass or is it a “weed”? I’m just confused about what the issue is.

      • suzannadavi on February 26, 2017 at 12:13 pm

        I bought this house 15 years ago with bermuda grass lawn. It is very common in this drought ridden area.

  48. tony on February 20, 2017 at 10:03 am

    my P H is over 8 blocking up take nutrient ?? nothing seem to help. our water P H is high also. I do not want to use chemical in this process to balance it? what is your take
    thanks in advance
    tony

    • Max Mayhem on February 21, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      Agricultural sulfur will lower Ph but it takes about 6 months to work. Best to apply t in the fall.

      • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:12 pm

        Ag sulfur is only the answer if there’s a documented sulfur deficiency (and if you want to kill a lot of your soil life, as sulfur is very antimicrobial).

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Send a soil sample to a good lab and they will help you figure out how to balance your nutrients, which will in turn balance your pH. You can use minerals to balance it – no chemicals needed. On top of that, increasing the organic matter content of your soil (such as with compost and mulch) will gradually bring down the pH. And even with a pH of 8, if your soil has enough organic matter, it will grow most things okay – pH is not as big of a problem as people make it out to be.

  49. Lisa Price on February 20, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    I built five raised beds for my vegetable garden a couple years ago. I also have some strawberries in the middle bed. Last summer, I noticed a very invasive vine/tree starting to grow in two of the beds. Later a friend identified it as a wisteria vine. I have no idea where this came from. I have been using a home made weed killer (made with salt, vinegar, dishwashing detergent) and that has slowed it down a bit. But I have not been able to eradicate it. I am really upset and discouraged.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Yes, wisteria is a tough one to get rid of. You’ll either have to dig it out by the roots or just stay on top of it each week, pruning and spraying it as it sprouts.

  50. Susan Rowe on February 20, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    i am restricted to container gardening as I live in a Strata community
    I do have success with ornamentals – annuals , perennials and shrubs but my vegetable production
    is usually pretty poor
    What do I need to do to get better results with my vegetable growing in pots

  51. ROSSANNA on February 21, 2017 at 12:53 am

    I have completed my garden design with evergreens, then decided to try my hand at vegetable in pots as well as fruit trees. My greatest challenges have been potting soil for the vegetable and fruits in container drying out and keeping th econtainers watered and fed properly (especially when it gets hot in zone 7B). I am also looking into potting irrigation for a proper amount of water to each pot. I am not sure how to grow successful in pots. Please Help

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Yes, they may need to be watered every day or two during the summer, whether by hand or automatic irrigation. Two things that would help would be a thick mulch of leaves or straw on top of the pots, and a bit of shade (e.g. shade cloth) in the afternoon.

  52. Brad Letch on February 21, 2017 at 1:43 am

    With Summer now established in the Southern Hemisphere my biggest challenge lately has been to protect the soil from extreme heat and UV – Also to make the right choices regarding what plants tolerate these conditions the best. Mulching thickly and growing in shady areas protected from hot winds has been a great help. The temp can get up to near 50C here in the Midwest and combine that with a strong hot wind n that’s hard going

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      That is a challenge. Shade is your friend here, including shade cloth over the plants and a thick mulch over the soil.

  53. Richard Goodman on February 21, 2017 at 5:50 am

    I had a problem with voles in my garden last year. It was the first time I ever had a serious problem with pests and could not find a way to get rid of them. They ate all my pea and string bean plants as well as all of my beets , carrots and other vegetables. I tried repellents, fencing, everything I Could think of but nothing worked. Towards the end of the season I had some luck with mouse and rat traps baited with peanut butter but by that time the damage had been done. Usually I mulch with leaves but had to use hay last summer and wondered if this was part of the problem and the hay was more attractive to the voles. I need help badly!

  54. Nataliya on February 21, 2017 at 6:17 am

    Hi Phil, I only started and it’s definitely organic route for me. I am focusing on the soil health in my garden. I’ve learned the idea after buying Soil Renew and to be honest, it’s mind-blowing info. Then I found your site. So much to learn. As for the challenge, I have verticillium wilt on my container grown strawberries and if I identified correctly – on few trees as well. 🙁

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      Verticillium is challenging. You need to create well-drained (not too wet) soil that’s warm (so planting later can help). Don’t use too much nitrogen. Choose plant crops that aren’t susceptible. Rotate crops. And do what it takes to make plants healthy. Arden Andersen says it’s a deficiency of phosphorus, copper and manganese, so it would be worth learning how to bring these minerals into your soil.

      • Nataliya on February 26, 2017 at 11:28 am

        Thanks for your kind answer, Phil, and for the info, I’ll follow your advice. Last fall before I knew that my strawberries are diseased with verticillium wilt, I threw their potting mix from containers into the compost bin. The compost bin is too small for hot composting 60x60x80 sm, so it’s cold decomposition. How do you think what should I do with this compost now? I am considering burning it as going the whole bin through the oven to cook the wilt would be really heavy on my electricity bill. Any advice would be highly appreciated.

        • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 12:12 pm

          I would use the compost. First of all, cold composts can suppress disease. Second, the problem is not the presence of wilt, as it will always be in the air and on the ground, but it’s that the soil/plant/weather conditions are right for the wilt. In my view, all of the focus on killing diseases (by burning plants, for example) is focusing on the wrong issue – it’s mistaking the disease as the problem, when really, the disease is actually the result of the problem.

          • Nataliya on February 26, 2017 at 3:18 pm

            Thanks for the sound advice, Phil! I must change my mindset then, a lot to learn, so happily enrolled into your Academy.



  55. Rachel on February 21, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Do you have tips on keeping deer out of gardens? I enjoy planting a garden, but this last year, deer found my garden as our neighbor behind us removed the fence separating our yards. I live on the outskirts of the city and since no hunting is allowed in the city, deer have become a problem.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm

      I’m planning a deer article soon 🙂

  56. Max Mayhem on February 21, 2017 at 9:40 am

    I have exterminated moles using exhaust from my car and my pickup. I use the “Underground Exterminator” which is a rubber tube that attaches to your exhaust pipe with a hose clamp. It is made to attach a garden hose which you run into the tunnels. I put a hose splitter on and then run two garden hoses out to both end of the tunnels, moving them about every 15 minute. The moles just go to sleep and stay below ground. No poison residue, no dangerous spring traps.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      Thanks for sharing Max!

  57. Tricia Royster on February 21, 2017 at 11:02 am

    My biggest challenge this past year has been dealing with “critters.” Something is digging up everything I plant, even bean seeds! I have set a Havahart trap and caught an oppossum, but something else is climbing into my raised beds. Whatever it is even lifted my row covers! A vet friend says it has to be a racoon. Since I can’t seem to catch him, is there anything other than red pepper I can use to deter the little rascal(s)?

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      I’m planning a raccoon article. Stay tuned!

  58. claire shia on February 21, 2017 at 11:07 am

    I live in Austin,TX and my biggest problem is watering. It gets so hot and the tomatoes never make it to full term. Can’t plant too early because a late freeze may get to them. I am totally an organtic gardener and most of my plants thrive but not profusely. Is it a water problem or a soil problem? Wish I had more produce to share with others.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      Shade cloth could be your answer, or design the garden for shade using vines, trees, etc. That’s what it takes in your climate. And deep mulch to keep the soil and roots cool and moist.

  59. Stewart West on February 21, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    Last year I had an invasion of mice in my garden. They basically ruined my tomatoes having bit into or eaten large segments of the fruit. I had no ideas as to how to deal with them and ended up pulling the plants and getting no tomatoes. I did not know what to do.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      Interesting, I don’t hear about mice in the garden very often. I don’t have a good answer for you other than mousetraps (or a cat).

  60. Max Mayhem on February 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Squash bugs were ruinous last year. What organic solution can I take? I burned the vines last year rather than compost them. As to cabbage worms, I have had success dusting the leaves with regular flour but only when conditions are dry. I add about 10% cayenne powder too to discourage other bugs. When the little bugs eat the flour they cannot digest it and they die.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      Yes, I gave some tips on squash bugs up above.

  61. Deem on February 21, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Plant diseases, fungus.
    We built a hoop house to be able to exclude deer, etc. But I am having trouble finding info specific to the challenges it brings…extreme variance in temp, less air flow, timing differences, etc. The em product you sell saved the day but still it was a battle.
    I have autoimmune disease that is improved with organic vegetables and I need more than I can easily afford.
    With abundance of healthy produce, I’d share with more family and friends.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      With our old hoop houses, we used to pull the plastic up on the sides to get airflow and release some heat, but not high enough that deer would come in. They are challenging, not something I have a lot of experience with.

  62. Dale A. on February 23, 2017 at 1:50 am

    My biggest challenges last year were my strawberry and corn plants just not producing well. Both of them seem to survive well enough and are healthy looking to my very untrained eye. My main goal is food production from the garden, so the results are disappointing. I’m thinking the problem may be poor soil, mine is pretty sandy and “dusty.” Possibly I just don’t have enough direct sun for the plants in the location. I do have strawberries in the sun constantly but they produced only slightly better and the plants were only a few years old. I’ve been trying to compost but the process is slow as I don’t have a lot of organic material available. I’ve thought of picking up others discarded grass clippings or leaves but worry about unwittingly taking home non-organic pesticides, chemicals, and even pests. If I can figure out how to over-come this problem I want to work next on a rain water collection and irrigation system to my growing beds. I’m already expanding the plant selection in my garden to see if other plants work better for my location. On a brighter note, I’ve had bumper crops of raspberries for two years in a row.

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      Looks like you’re trying a lot of things, Dale. Compost does sound like part of the answer for you, even if you have to buy it to get going. Testing the soil so you can work on balancing the fertility will be another key issue. Of course sunlight is also vital. In terms of getting leaves, sometimes that means planting a certain percentage of your garden in “mulch-making” plants so you can make your own mulch.

      • Dale A. on February 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm

        Thanks Phil! I don’t know why I had not thought about “mulch making” intentionally. Sometimes I get caught up in the things I’m trying to accomplish and forget to keep the big picture in mind! I see more herbs, leaves, and pinwheels in my gardening future. (The pin wheels to discourage voles.) I had thought about soil testing but just had not done that yet. Appreciate the encouragement to do my homework so I’m being more purposeful in the steps I take with more knowledge and less needless trial and error.

  63. Ian McAllister on February 24, 2017 at 6:53 am

    I don’t think there’s anything you can do about my problems. I hope to migrate to get away from the hostile environment in my garden.

    The government restricts us to ten minutes per day on two days each week to use automatic watering systems. They tell lies about that being enough, even though they accept that horticulture people water three times a day on hot days.

    Phosphate retention is measured by pouring a phosphate solution of known concentration through soil to see how much less phosphate there is in the water that has gone through the soil. We have a negative index. There is more phosphate in the solution after passing through the soil.

    Our “soil” is pure sand. After 16 years of putting lawn clippings onto the soil I am finally getting a little bit of water retention.

    Chokos, Sechium edule, grow so strongly in Tasmania, that one lady gets rid of blackberry thicket infestations by “throwing chokos like little hand grenades into the thicket.” The chokos grow so profusely that the deprive the blackberries of light and that is the end of the blackberries.

    I’ve been trying to grow them for the last two years. Each time we get a day with a temperature over 110F like today, all the growing tips are killed by the heat. They’re surviving better this year, growing in a bed of Aptenia cordifolia, but the growing tips still crisp. That’s typical of many “sure things” in the garden, such as radishes, that die in our conditions. I want to migrate to Central America where they have three crops per year.

  64. Victoria on February 25, 2017 at 2:57 am

    Every year I fight aphids, leaf curl with black spots and a hotel scale on my dwarf.navel orange trees. This year the giant oranges split before fully ripe. I have only had two good crops in10 years. I live in Southern California. Trees arin pots and face east. So get morning to noon sun all year long
    Help

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      It’s definitely much more challenging to keep potted trees happy, which is why they so often get bothered by pests and diseases. Their root system wanted to be many times bigger, so it’s not a good situation for them. With that many issues, I wouldn’t even bother trying to kill the insects and diseases directly. Instead, I’d focus on improving plant health, because the plants are obviously sick. Applying the right amount of water is often the biggest issue, and next is getting the tree enough nutrients from such small soil area. That’s where foliar fertilizing with things like ocean water fertilizer and effective microorganisms can really help.

  65. Juan Carlos Arango on February 25, 2017 at 6:47 am

    We have had an amazing amount of pill bugs that are eating the young plants and the fruits of mature ones (like tomatoes). This is in our hoop house.
    We don’t use pesticides. We used traps like orange peel and beer in small containers. It has helped but the problem continues and right now transplanting the seedlings is practically feeding them.
    Thank you for any tips
    Juan Carlos

    • Phil on February 25, 2017 at 6:16 pm

      If it’s that big of an issue, you might want to put diatomaceous earth around every seedling. It kills beneficials too, so it’s not a good long term solution, but sometimes it’s what you need to do in the short term. Another one that is worth trying is a 50:50 yucca extract and water sprayed onto the soil around plants.

  66. Andy on February 26, 2017 at 11:18 am

    When starting seeds, is it necessary to start in small containers and transplant to larger containers or can I just start the seeds in larger 4 inch containers and skip the step? I’ve always started in the larger containers and never had a real issue but everything I read suggest starting in small containers and transplanting at 4 weeks. Please explain why it’s necessary if it is. Thanks!

    • Phil on February 26, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      You don’t have to, but what can happen when seeding into a big container is that the growing medium always stays too wet, which can promote disease. And some plants seem to actually benefit from transplanting, like tomatoes, which is strange, but often true. What I would suggest is to do half and half and see which does better for you.

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