The use of fertilizer is to condition the soil to make it suitable for the plant. Certain soils may lack certain nutrients, thus requiring additional additives to make it suitable for growing. The easiest way to find out the kind of fertilizer that the soil needs is to use a soil testing kit that can be bought from any gardening store. Otherwise, general estimation of the soil would work as well.
There are 2 types of fertilizer in general:
Organic fertilizer basically comes the remains or the by-product of living matter. This includes plant compost, bonemeal, bloodmeal and manure. Organic fertilizer contains materials that stimulate the growth of microbes, or in some cases, provide the microbes to the soil that it is being added to. These microbes then break down the soil, releasing much-needed nutrients to the plant. The nutrients found in organic fertilizer is usually quite low compared to synthetic fertilizer, but they are well balanced in general although organic fertilizer with higher amounts of certain nutrients do exist. However, organic fertilizer releases its nutrients slowly, and might not release enough nutrients for the budding plant to grow at the desired rate. Organic fertilizers also add structure to the soil, making it more firm and suitable for plants.
Synthetic fertilizers are produced using chemicals and are available in granular, powder or liquid form, making it easy to apply to the soil and also ensuring that precise amounts of nutrients are added. Synthetic fertilizers tend to release their nutrients faster and in most cases, instantly for the plants, causing the plant to grow at the desired rate. General synthetic fertilizers are also available in readily mixed forms for gardeners so that they can just add it to the soil. However, one risk with synthetic fertilizers is that it is very easy to overdose on them which causes the plants to wilt from having too much nutrients at once.
Fertilizers are usually added to the soil to enrich them, allowing plants to grow properly as they provide the proper nutrients for the plants to grow. The usage and mixing of both fertilizers are commonly practiced as well, but for organic farming only organic fertilizer made from compost is used to ensure that the plant grows as naturally as possible, while ensuring that there is sufficient nutrition.
Mealybugs or wooly aphids are probably the most destructive of all the pests. They grow in huge numbers and like aphids, suck out nutrients from the plants, leaving them to die. Surviving plants are often infected by fungus even after the mealybugs are removed or become very weak. Mealybugs have an outer layer of white, waxy and fuzzy substance, which gives them resistance to pesticides and predators. The waxy layer can also be shed to protect eggs when they are laid, causing their numbers to grow very fast as they have not much natural enemies. Mealybugs can either grow on the leaf or the root, both being equally damaging. Soil affected by root mealybugs will need to be removed or else they will infect the next batch of plants in the affected area.
Mealybugs can be controlled the same way as aphids. However since they have a pesticide resistant coating, not all remedies may work. A chili and garlic spray mixture, which can be made by boiling equal parts of garlic and chili together and then diluted with water and some dishwashing liquid, will remove mealybugs from the affected plant. Plants like mint and basil can help repel them when planted nearby.
Aphids are insects that are invade plants and suck the juices of the plant. They come in many colors and can either fly or crawl depending on the stage of its development. They are very tiny but they come in clusters, making them easy to spot. Aphids suck the plant’s juices, denying the plant of its nutrients and causing it to die and wilt. They also multiply and spread very quickly and can overwhelm a garden in a very short time. They also spread diseases between plants as they go along and secrete a sugary substance called honeydew to get ants to protect them against their natural predators.
Aphids can be hosed down with water from infected plants to reduce their population, especially from under the leaf. Garlic juice spray also works perfectly in repelling and eliminating remaining aphids. Putting foil on the base of plants can also repel the aphids. Planting chives, mint and basil helps repel aphids, as they do not like the scent of these plants. Lastly, making mulch from banana peels also repels aphids as well. Do keep the garden beds clear of vegetation as these attracts aphids.
Garden Ants are ants that appear and live in the garden on a regular basis. On their own, they are harmless except invading a fruit or two, but they often brings their cows out for grazing on your plants. And those cows could be aphids or mealybugs which produces sugar for the ants while they destroy your crops. This is the main reason why most gardeners want to get rid of them because if you destroy the aphids, the ants will just bring more up from their nest so they, in other words, are the source.
Good news is that there are a few solutions available to repel the ants. Sprays made of tea, lemon juice or vinegar work very well although they need to be reapplied regularly. Another solution is to line the garden with chalk, talcum powder or flour around the plants as this also repels the ants and must be reapplied when it gets washed off by the rain.
Ants are very persistent in general and can be quite hard to manage, but with constant vigilance they can be avoided.
While they may be slow moving, snails can also damage crops as they feast on the whole plant when they are able to get near them. Like caterpillars, in small numbers the damage is not apparent but in bigger numbers they can wipe out entire garden plots as each snail can eat 2-3 times their bodyweight in foliage. Snails feed on plants and like dark, damp places and feed during the night to escape the heat of the day. Snails breed a lot as well and this could cause a huge infestation of them in a garden.
Once infested with snails, you could pick them out one by one, or use beer traps to lure them by burying saucers of beer in the soil. This somehow attracts the snails and they will fall into the saucer, allowing you to catch them the next day to relocate them.
Preventing them from invading the garden would involve sprinkling the ground with cedar or pine chips, which repels the snails. Another alternative would be to put stakes around the plant or cage them to stop the snails from reaching them.
While they may grow into beautiful butterflies, caterpillars can be devastating to your garden and crops. If caterpillars have invaded your garden, you will see specks of butterfly eggs on leaves initially, and then holes on the leaves when they hatch into caterpillars. They can come in small amounts or huge numbers which will effectively kill the plant as they chew their way through it. They usually come in seasons and are sometimes specific to certain plants.
Caterpillars can be easily prevented by using floating row covers to cover the plants and prevent the butterflies from landing and laying eggs on the plants. Another remedy that works mysteriously, but works is to wrap the base of the plants with cardboard. Another method to repel caterpillars are to spray a mixture of garlic and chilli juice on the plants.
Caterpillars may or may not cause huge amount of damages in general, but if they get out of control they must be stopped.
Fusarium wilt is a kind of fungus that infects a plant through its roots, and then through its main body and killing it. Initial symptoms include a yellowing on the edges of the leaves that will eventually spread to the entire leaf, causing it to fall off. It then spreads to the xylem or main body of the plant, changing the way of how the plant carries nutrients and water throughout the plant and eventually killing the plant off. Once fusarium wilt affects an area, it will remain and affect any other crops that will grow there. In such cases the affected area will need to be sterilized. There is no effective way known to control or reverse fusarium wilt.
These are the conditions that causes fusarium:
- Infested planting materials
- Infested soil
These are the preventative measures for the wilt:
– Use wilt-resistant cultivars whenever possible.
– Practice a proper crop rotation strategy.
– Remove and destroy infested plant materials after harvest. However, do not put these into your compost pit or pile. Compost from such materials will contain the fungi.
– Grow healthy plants with appropriate fertilization, irrigation, and weed control.
Damping off is a disease that starts from the seeds of the plant. Affected seedlings will sprout normally, and then die off. It causes the root of the sprout to rot off, causing the sprout to fall off the ground as if it has been cut off from the root. There will also be the presence of a mould on the soil as well. This is a very common problem and affects even seasoned gardeners. If untreated, it can spread very fast and destroy an entire garden very quickly. There is no cure for dampening off but it can be prevented.
These are the conditions that cause damping off
- Lack of air circulation and sunlight
- Diseased seeds
- Over fertilization
These are the prevention methods:
- Buy sterilized seed starting soil.
- Use clean, sterilized containers.
- Provide plenty of air circulation and sunlight.
- Let the surface of the soil dry out between watering.
- Stir the top of the soil around the seedlings.
- Put plants in a sunny location.
Corn smut is the formation of galls in the bud of the corn that will develop into full blown spores. It destroys the corn completely and it is caused by a fungus. The fungus spreads fast in the form of spores through manure or through the wind. Affected corn form galls or sacks, which then replaces the corn cobs and develop into black, foul blisters in the place of the cobs. They usually infect corn through wounds found on the corn, or on newly formed silks and can usually be seen on the ears but can also infect other parts of the plant as well.
These are the conditions that cause corn smut
- Nitrogen rich soil
- Diseased seeds.
- Warm rainy days with high humidity.
- Insect pests.
These are the prevention methods:
- Use of diseased-free seeds that are selected from healthy mother plants.
- Control insect pests.
- Split nitrogen application.
- Removal and proper disposal of infected plant debris.
- Avoid field activities when the plants are wet.
- There is unfortunately no cure for corn smut.
Anthracnose, aslo known as canker causes the plants to form dead tissue in the form of spots over time, and in most cases kills the plant eventually. Anthracnose can be caused by a number of factors, namely bacteria and fungus and can be easily spread by animals passing by or even by the weather. Once a plant is affected by anthracnose, they die very fast and affect parts have to be cut off as soon as possible, although sometimes it can be cured but such cases are rare. You know a plant is affected by anthracnose when spots of dead tissue appear on the fruits or on various parts of the plant. In any case, the plant must be quickly isolated from the rest of the crops as anthracnose spreads very quickly.
Conditions that increase the risk for this disease are:
- Infected seeds and infected plant debris left in the field after harvest
- Moist and warm weather during the reproductive stages. Plants are most susceptible during the flowering stage from bloom to post harvest
- Badly drained soil
- Wet periods of about 12 hours or more favors the occurrence of infection
- Nutritionally stressed or unhealthy crops
- Proper seed and planting materials selection. Sow only diseased-free seeds
- Proper field sanitation
- Seed treatment
- Transplant only healthy seedlings
- Remove and destroy infected parts but avoid touching other plant parts, especially when these are wet
- Harvest unripe but mature fruits
- Plow under all the plant debris after harvest
- Practice crop rotation. Take note of plants that are susceptible to anthracnose disease and rotate these with those that are resistant
- Keep area free of weeds
- Baking soda spray
- Bordeaux spray