Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Disease prevention in the garden

Have you ever happily watched your garden growing, only one day to discover some plants acting strangely, and then watched sadly as they stopped growing and died?

This happens fairly often in family gardens, and sometimes the affected family of plants can’t be grown in that spot successfully for many years afterwards.

There are many plant diseases that are virulent and destructive to vegetables and fruits. Fungus diseases such as Powdery Mildew and Verticillium Wilt, viral diseases like Tobacco Mosaic, and even bacterial diseases such as Bacterial Wilt, all take their toll.

Pictures of some common plant diseases and their symptoms can be found here.

Books on the control of these diseases fill shelves in libraries all over the world, and research is constantly being done to find ways to stop them – mostly with limited success.

Given this situation, what chance does the small family gardener have to grow plants to maturity successfully on a continuing, or sustainable basis?

Actually, with a little knowledge of how these diseases get started, what they look like, and how to minimize the damage they cause, and by following a sustainable gardening procedure known as the Mittleider Method, you stand a very good chance of growing a successful garden, free of diseases and other problems.

Fungus diseases most often start in damp conditions, such as where plant leaves are thick, This is one reason we teach people to prune excess plant leaves, especially the leaves touching the ground. Pruning excess leaves also allows more light to reach the fruit, hastening maturity.

Another way to prevent fungus disease is to refrain from placing compost, bark, or other organic materials on the ground around growing garden plants, as these tend to create the kind of dark, damp environment in which fungus diseases thrive.

Bacterial diseases enter a plant by contact through a cut or break; therefore, an open wound is an invitation to infection. Fortunately bacterial diseases seldom migrate from an infected plant to adjacent healthy ones unless they, too, have wounds and contact is made.

When pruning your plants use a clean knife or scissors, and wash your hands before starting. Also, avoid getting dirt on the cut or break.

If you find an infected plant, remove it from your garden area quickly and completely, and never handle any other plants until after thoroughly washing your hands.

As with any disease, prevention is far, far better than control or cure. Therefore, you need to keep a garden that is inhospitable to the conditions that harbor disease. Following are some suggestions:

* Weeds in or near your garden plants can provide the environment that diseases and pests need, so a completely weed-free garden is a must. This includes beds, aisles, and a border around the garden. Since many plant diseases are transmitted by insects, our objective with the Mittleider Method is to make sure that everything but the actual planting area is like the Sahara Desert – a place where nothing can grow, and so uninviting that pests won't even venture across it.

* Many times diseases are introduced into a garden by the use of infected seedlings or seeds obtained from a non-certified source. No matter how good the plant may be, if it brings a disease into your garden it could cost you many times that value in lost plants for many years. Growing your own clean, healthy seedlings, or buying them from a certified-clean grower, is one of the best ways to prevent diseases from getting started in the first place.

* Make sure you are using clean water whenever possible, and avoid using water that has run through someone else’s garden – it could be bringing disease with it.

* And finally, harvesting at peak maturity, and never leaving plants to get old in the garden, will also help prevent disease infestation.

Remember: disease prevention is much easier and better than cure. Follow these tips to keep the diseases out for a truly sustainable garden!

Jim Kennard

Jim Kennard is President of the Food For Everyone Foundation, a non-profit organization with the mission of "Teaching the world to grow food one family at a time". You'll find many free vegetable gardening resources, including a gardening ebook, greenhouse plans, automated watering plans, and a free chapter from each of the great gardening books and software CD's Jim offers, at the website: www.foodforeveryone.org

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