So, how is our lovely garden doing this year? Well let me tell ya, it ain’t lovely, and it ain’t doing much! Our first year gardening in Georgia has been a challenge, and the rewards for our hard work have been minimal. But, (there’s always a but!) the effort we’re putting in this year, will mean better harvests in the future. At least, here’s to hoping…
The challenges we faced this year with our first year garden read like a Who’s Who of Garden Pests. This year, we’ve battled:
Aphids (a variety of flavors)
Kudzu beetle (apparently they eat more than kudzu 😡)
Mexican bean beetle
Squash vine borer
And these are the ones that I KNOW about and have confirmed damage from.
As it turns out, I have been spoiled rotten by our easy gardening in Up Nort’. Georgia’s got bugs, and lots of them! It doesn’t help that last winter was particularly mild down here, so the bug season this summer is particularly bad.
Despite what we were facing, I was determined to try to maintain an organic approach to dealing with these pests and other issues in the garden. This year, I used neem oil on plants to control many common pests, and manual picking and Bt bacterial spray to control for hornworms and other caterpillars. Milk spray works wonders on powdery mildew. The plants also receive fish emulsion for fertilizer.
I had help from beneficial insects in the garden, too. Spiders guard our tomato plants, wasps and hornets provide aerial support, big fat black beetles patrol the ground, and ladybugs and praying mantises hunt among the leafy canopies. Neighborhood dogs, a few of which live outside all of the time, chase off deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and other animals.
While our pests are numerous this year (at least, compared to what we’ve dealt with before), it is encouraging to see the beneficial insects come out in force. There were a number of times I was ready to throw in the organic towel and nuke everything with Sevin, but I am glad I didn’t. Maintaining an organic approach helps beneficial insects gain a foothold and overall is better for the health of the garden and our own! The garden wasn’t a complete loss – I’ve harvested a variety of veggies and put them up – but our yields were low and the produce quality wasn’t the best.
Next year, I plan to take a more preventative approach to deter pests instead of waiting to treat for them once they appear. First and foremost, we’ll continue to improve on the health of our soil. Healthy soil means healthy, strong plants that will be more resistant to the onslaught of 6 legged buffet-goers. Adding lots of compostable material, nitrogen-rich chicken manure, and amendments such as lime and bone meal will help tremendously. Also, weekly preventative spraying with neem oil and Bt will hopefully prevent many of the pests we battled this year from making an appearance. This year, I also learned about proper solarization of the soil and pruning of tomato plants to help prevent blight, so I’m excited to give that a go next year!
All in all, I’ve learned to take it in stride. Sure, the big garden I planned didn’t… well… go as planned! That’s life. I learned a lot about Georgia gardening this year and will continue to do so, and every year will be better, either in harvest or in learning experiences! Given the challenges we faced this summer, we’ve decided not to do a fall garden this year. Our soil remains poor and we need to improve and build upon that foundation first. This winter, we’ll expand our orchard and berry bushes, and come spring, we’ll be ready for battle!