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Common Problems

This informal vegetable garden, with
its rows of onions, carrots, marrows
(zucchini), spinach and beans, is a
tribute to good garden hygiene.

Nothing is ever straightforward in the garden – perhaps if it were, 
many gardeners would give up through sheer boredom. Nature always throws in a few problems just to keep us on our toes. The weather is rarely consistent: it is either too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. 
You turn your back for a few moments, and weeds seem to sprout up everywhere. Just when everything looks perfect, plagues of pests and diseases arrive. The gardener has a lot to contend with.

On the other hand, the situation is rarely as bad as many chemical  companies would have you believe. Many of the problems are such 
that you can probably live with them, while others need only minor attention. Chemicals are only usually needed as a last resort.

Getting it in perspective

If the problems encountered by gardeners were insurmountable, no one would ever grow any vegetables at all. It cannot be denied that there are problems, but they often seem worse than they really are, particularly if you believe the literature issued by the chemical companies. Most of the problems that occur in the garden can be overcome by simple means that cost little in terms of either time or money. Many of the difficulties are insignificant and can, unless you are fastidious to the extreme, be ignored. A bit of rust on the leeks in a wet year doesn’t look nice but it will not do a great deal of harm. A few minutes’ contemplative hoeing will see off most of the weeds, and a sudden outbreak of caterpillars can soon be picked off by hand.

Do not let the thought of pests and diseases put you off in any way. An occurrence of either to the extent that serious action is needed is rare. Most gardeners find they survive season after season without any trouble. Anyway, if the worst comes to the worst, you can always give up and start afresh next year.

Weeds use up a great deal of
moisture 
and nutrients, and crowd
out young plants, making them
drawn and sickly. Weeds can also
harbour disease. 

Be prepared

If you exercise a little forethought and adopt a good routine, you will be able 
to pre-empt many of the problems that might occur. Always practise good hygiene. Never leave rotten vegetables on the plants or in the ground. Remove them to the compost heap. Don’t leave piles of weeds lying about, but put them on the compost heap or, if they are pernicious, burn them. Keep a close eye on your crops and take action as soon as possible if you see problems beginning to appear. Take out the tips of broad (fava) beans, for example, before they can be infested with blackfly. Cover your brassicas with fleece to keep off butterflies, and hence the caterpillars. If you notice one or two greenfly, crush them with your fingers before they can start breeding. Don’t wait until they have multiplied and you have to resort to chemicals to control them.

Hoe as part of a regular routine. If you allow weeds to get too large, they will take longer to remove. Make your compost in such as way that it gets hot enough to destroy all weed seeds and fungal spores.

Stake peas and beans early, rather than leaving them until they are a tangled mass. Put up windbreaks in exposed areas, instead of waiting for things to blow over. Mulch to preserve moisture so that the soil does not dry out and you have to water. Foresight saves a lot of time and frustration.

Mulching with a layer of grass cuttings
helps to preserve themoisture in the
soil. You will need to water the ground
before applying the mulch.

Chemical control

An increasing number of gardeners are becoming aware of the benefits of organic gardening and are avoiding the use of chemicals. There are times 
when chemicals can be useful, but these are less frequent than the large 
companies that manufacture them would have us believe. A weed-infested 
garden can probably only be cleared with chemicals, but if this is carried out properly, it should need to be done only once, and all 
subsequent control can be done by hand. Using chemicals on just one occasion will probably do no permanent harm to the soil, but do not become dependent on herbicides and reach for the spray every time you see a weed – that is not what gardening is about. You will end up creating a desert and a polluted one at that.

If you do use chemicals make sure that you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Take the necessary safety precautions and thoroughly wash all equipment. Never leave chemicals or associated equipment where children can get at them.