Organic Gardening Best Learned Tips???

KerenR(7)July 13, 2014

I have been trying my hand at organic gardening, and am finding to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible. I've been using garden safe for bugs, and Bonide copper for disease, but alas, I'm having major issues.

What are the best secrets/tips you've learned to be successful at organic vegetable gardening?

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Many problems in home gardens are abiotic, that is, due to glitches in environment and care.

So the first thing to do is to learn is how to grow healthy plants because they can tolerate some degree of pest damage and not be overwhelmed.

If you're a beginning gardener, start with reliable info for your region by talking with the folks at your County's Extension Service office.

Find your office by using the map at the link below -

To get help with the problems you're having right now, you can begin by telling us what they are and showing us pictures.

Here is a link that might be useful: Locate your county's Extension Service office

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:08PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

You might also want to post this question over on the Organic Gardening forum here as that is the focus of their forum.


    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 11:24PM
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Soil health (compost, beneficial microbiology, worms, etc). Proper nutrients. Trace minerals. Try to catch problems early before they get out if hand. Mulch!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:35AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Keren, you describe your experience with organic gardening as 'incredibly difficult'. I wonder if you could elaborate on that? Is this your first year gardening at all, or did you grow without using organic methods previously? What are you doing that you consider difficult?

I don't think giving you a list of general tips is the best place to start if you are struggling with something. I agree, post the problems you are having and the process you've been trying. Photos if you can.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 3:16AM
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Yes that's a good idea- are you a beginning gardener? what specifically are the issues you're having- bugs? disease? nutrient deficiencies? other? and also what kind of gardening are you doing (container, raised bed, in ground rows, huglekulture, etc)?

Also one tip I need to adopt myself is to get an in-line water filter for the hose you water with or irrigation system to filter out chlorine. Organic gardening is all about letting natural systems flourish and chlorine kills beneficial organisms in the soil where plant health & nutrition begin.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 6:22AM
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The big challenge: finding crops, and sometimes varieties, that are a good match to your soil and climate. Keep records so you will know what works and what doesn't. You will never figure it all out, but your garden will get better with each season.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 7:31AM
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This is my 5th year gardening. I add compost, composted manure, and shredded trees as mulch every year.

My tomatoes and peppers are my biggest problems. My first year, my sweet peppers were abundant. The last two years 3/4 of the plants are stunted and appear diseased and never produce. Right now I have a pepper plant that's barely grown and has no flowers right next to a pepper plant that his 2 feet tall with peppers all over it. I will say that this is my first year using copper, and that is appearing to help the peppers some.

I pruned all my tomatoes 18 inches from the ground this year to try and combat disease. Where I live, it rains at least once every 7-10 days. Every year, I only need to self water maybe once.

The tomatoes leaves are progressively getting worse. Most if the plants are 5 1/2 feet talk and full, but the leaves are dying. I attached pictures.

Squash bugs decimate my squash within the first few weeks of producing. Cucumber spotted Beatles are everywhere. I've been spraying the garden safe right before sunset when all the bugs are out.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pictures

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:46AM
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Agree with posters above. It's all about balance and the health of the soil. Build your soil health and you won't need to spray anything. Is it an area where you sprayed lots of non-organic stuff in years past? You may need some time for the soil to re-establish its own healthy balance.

Add compost. That's the single best tip I can think of. And start making your own -- it'll be much better than bought stuff.

Get a soil test and ammend accordingly. (not a test from a store -- a real one is actually less expensive, either free from your local extension office, or $10 from a University Ag Dept -- U Mass is a good one)

It's really not difficult at all -- in fact my organic garden requires much less work than my neighbor's gardens that are laced with Sevin, because the balance in mine keeps things healthy.

The job of "bad" bugs and diseases it to wipe out the weakest plants. Make your plants strong by making your soil healthy, and the problems will go someplace else.

In the mean time, yes please send photos or descriptions of what you're dealing with. Indiscriminate spraying of anything, organic or not, has the potential of setting off your balance.

This post was edited by elisa_Z5 on Mon, Jul 14, 14 at 9:53

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 9:03AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

A healthy soil is indeed the first step. Equally important is to develop a healthy garden ecology. Planting a range of annuals and some perennials, especially those with heads like dill and fennel attracts, attracts beneficial insects. You can probably find a list of such plants by googling. Once the whole garden gets healthy, insect problems plummet.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 11:25AM
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Tomatoes are tough in general they always seem to eventually get diseased- growing them in a different spot each year helps so rotate crops if you aren't already, and always remove diseased leaves immediately and throw away and do not compost them. Try growing cherry varieties as they are usually more hearty & disease resistant and ripen faster so less chance of getting munched or something else happening to them before you get to harvest them. Maybe plant a second crop of tomatoes mid summer that will start producing as your spring tomatoes start to wind down.

Also where do you get your compost? Just wondering because have heard a couple horror stories of people that use composted hay or grass etc only to find out later that the hay field/grass was treated with herbicide not grown organically so their compost contained traces of herbicide that stunted their veggie's growth. Also wondering if this can be a factor in composted manure if you dont know what the animal that made it was fed? Jut an idea to be aware of your compost's source.

Recomended growing a variety of different crops as well as different varieties of each type of crop so that if one variety does poorly the other may do well and with many different types of plants some are bound to do well but know there will always be some things that fail. Eventually with trying different things you'll find ones that are more adapted for your climate & pests too.

Save the seeds of your more successful fruits & veggies to grow again next year which will also help them continue to adapt to your climate etc as successful traits will be passed on. Also letting plants & herbs go to seed often attracts pollinators and beneficial insects that kill the pests or sometimes draws pests away from crops that are still at the harvesting stage.

Look up simple fungicides for disease like water mixed with milk. Try manual methods first though before using sprayed controls.

Maybe add an organic fertilizer if plants look like they are struggling to help stimulate their immune system. Also adding trace minerals from rock dust or some other source is good. I've not used compost tea yet but hear it can be extremely beneficial both for nutrition and plant health.

No tilling- hope you are using your shredded trees as a top mulch layer only not turning it into the soil which can deplete nitrogen. And make sure none are from black walnut which contains a natural growth inhibitor. I add coffee grounds as a top dressing/mulch layer too. Used coffee grounds repel pests and add nutrition as they break down over time and don't worry will not make soil too acidic.

I'm sure you are already doing most of this but just the things that came to mind.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 11:30AM
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Something to be said for beginners luck in gardening. Maybe those first couple years we are pleased to see anything grow...and so fast!
Third-fifth year is when the study and knowledge kicks in and the garden settles into a healthy balance of rested soil and good supply of beneficial insects, snakes, worms, etc.

I had a few frustrating years before i looked at individual issues rather than stop and stare and spray as a whole crop together. Less needs for some things and proactive for others.
Tomatoes are 'special needs' plants.

No tips but patience and study. And to realize no growing season will be the same.
(keeps it interesting for sure)

After 20yrs, July is spent in a shady hammock, after a morning with a cup of coffee, a bit of harvesting, seeding another row of salad,and paying attention to possible troubles.
No fruit this year, oh well. Peppers and basil are slooow. Best peas in years...
Some crops are always great. Especially those you will learn do well in your general area.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 11:52AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Elisa, OP did put a link to photos.

If you started gardening using inorganic methods and have used chemicals on the same space that you are now trying to garden organically, I would agree there could be a lingering effect and you might have to be patient.

Where is the source of your compost? Do you make it yourself? Are you buying bagged compost and where does the composted manure come from?

To me, less is more. Organic gardening is not just a change of products, it's an ecological process that you try to understand so you can cooperate with it. The natural processes are at the root of organic gardening.

I personally have not used any pesticides, or other chemicals, or any synthetic fertilizers in 25+ years of vegetable gardening. But I didn't have previous inorganic practices to correct. I don't find it too difficult. I have made my own compost, but only a passive pile that mainly had grass clipping and fall leaves in it, with a little bit of clean weeds thrown in. I add grass clippings and leaves as a thick layer of mulch on the bed for the winter and I've used cover crops sometimes, to increase organic matter and fertility.

None of that is hard to do and the materials are right there on my own property for the most part. I have had my neighbors give me their leaves some years. Twice I've used bagged Coast of Maine compost for a specific reason, sparingly. I buy Fish Emulsion/Seaweed liquid fertilizer and use that. I'm using organic Alfalfa meal this year as an additive. And that's it. I've made up a home made spray of a few drops of liquid soap, garlic and red pepper flakes blended in the blender when I've had a really difficult insect issue, but rarely. I normally will hand pick.

If I have a tomato plant that becomes diseased which has happened to me, I pull the plant then I try to determine what went wrong and see if I need to change anything for the next year. A lot of times, using disease resistant varieties is important. I've had heavy aphid infestation and have waited a week or two and suddenly find just a few lady bugs in my small yard, cleaning up the aphids. That didn't happen when I first started organic gardening, and at that point, I just sprayed them off the plants with the hose and that was good enough. The ecology in the garden had to develop and it is still getting better and better.

I also focus attention on knowing which plants attract beneficial insects including bees to the garden and I try to plant enough of those to always have something in bloom.

I would take each separate problem you are having and post photos of the plant along with a description of the problem and post that to this forum and ask for organic solutions and see what help everyone can give you with that problem and address them one at a time.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:24PM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Anyone else unable to see the photos?

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 12:52PM
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theforgottenone1013(MI zone 5b/6a)

The photos the OP linked to are in the eight comment down. I'll post them here (hopefully you don't mind, KerenR).


KerenR's photos:

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:12PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Floral, I was able to see them when I clicked on the link. Here are the photos for those having trouble seeing themâ¦.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:13PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Oops! Guess great minds think alike, Rodney. [g]
I'll stop there.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:14PM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Thanks, you two. I had clicked the link but it didn't open to any images for me.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:49PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

My best tip is to have realistic expectations. Achieving a balanced ecosystem takes time and even when it happens, things will not be bug free. I pretty much know there will always be squash bugs. So every other day I check for eggs and squash the nymphs and adults. Find out what diseases are most prevelant in your area for tomatoes and find out how best to handle them. In my area, it is curly beet top virus and there is little to be done. Ladybugs are wonderful but they still do not take care of all aphids. Beneficial insects do not take care of all bad bugs. Fortunately, aphids can be washed off easily. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:33PM
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Does anyone know what's wrong with my tomatoes by the pictures?

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:58PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Keren,

I didn't hazzard a guess, because I really didn't know specifically, beyond that all the plants in your photos looked diseased to me. That was the reason I suggested you post a separate post with the photos, because the subject line of this thread is only about organic gardening tips and doesn't alert another member that you were asking for help with tomato plant problems.

I am posting a link below that another member posted to a thread on the Tomato forum the other day. It has photos of what certain diseases look like, but I think even this doesn't cover them all. If you don't see a photo of what yours look like, I'm sure someone here or on the Tomato forum would have a better idea. Also I believe you can send a sample to your local extension and they can test and tell you exactly what disease it is for the cost of the test.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tomato Diseases

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 9:10PM
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Prariemoon -- yes, I saw the pics when I came back on. Turns out she was posting while I was writing :)

Keren, I'm wondering if it's one of the wilts -- verticulum or fusarium or walnut? (From looking into my disease handbook) It doesn't seem like blight because your fruit still looks fine. I'm sure the tomato forum will be of more help if you post the photos there.

Also, I know copper spray can burn squash plants if sprayed in mid day sunshine. Are tomatoes also sensitive? A bacterial spray like Serenade is gentler.

At any rate, for sure either soak or spray down your cages before next year with a bleach solution (10:1 water to bleach) as some of the diseases last on the cages and start right up again the next year.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 9:40PM
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