How to Maintain a Healthy Garden

Updated on May 21, 2020
Chidimma Eunice Eneye profile image

I love to help others green up their thumbs and keep their garden healthy and thriving.

This article will break down four key elements to maintaining a healthy garden.
This article will break down four key elements to maintaining a healthy garden.

A Healthy Farm

Having a healthy farm or garden is every agriculturist’s dream. The key to having a healthy farm or garden is to diligently carry out certain practices to ensure that pests and diseases do not destroy your beautiful garden. This article is going to discuss a few of these techniques in such a way that even an amateur gardener can follow.

In this article, we will consider the following techniques:

  • Seed Dressing
  • Calibration of Sprayers
  • Sanitation of Farm Tools
  • Pest Management

Seed Dressing

Seed dressing is a process whereby seeds are treated prior to planting. This can be done manually or industrially. It can involve the use of chemicals that might be antimicrobial or fungicidal.

Seed dressing can also be referred to as seed treatment. It is considered to be environmentally friendly, since the chemicals used in it are small compared to when such chemicals like pesticides and fungicides are applied directly to the soil and environment.

The Importance of Seed Dressing

  • Seed dressing protects germinating seeds against pathogens in the seed and in the soil, which would otherwise prevent successful growth.
  • It protects the seeds from being eaten up by insects in the soil.
  • It ensures prompt and uniform growth amongst the plants.
  • It prevents the spread of crop diseases and the introduction of foreign diseases into a garden or farm.

Types of Seed Dressing/Treatment

There are several types of seed treatment but the ones easily carried out by a farmer or gardener are:

  1. Seed dressing with insecticides or formulation easily bought from an agro store
  2. Thermal seed treatment

Thermal seed treatment, as the name suggests, is the use of heat in seed treatment. It is one of the earliest methods of seed treatments known to man and it requires minimal skill.

Thermal seed treatments can be done in three ways:

  1. soaking the seeds in warm water (45°C) for two hours,
  2. soaking the seeds in hot water (52°C) for 10 minutes or
  3. by using hot air or steam treatments. (Thermal treatments have been shown to be almost as effective as chemical treatments.)

Chemically treated seeds are poisonous; therefore, they cannot be consumed and should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.

Seed dressing helps protect against pathogens during the germination process.
Seed dressing helps protect against pathogens during the germination process. | Source

Calibration of Sprayers

One reason for an unhealthy garden could be due to a lack of calibration of sprayers. In rough terms, calibration is the process of calculating the exact amount and method of spraying needed to effectively cover an area of land. It is done with water, never with chemicals. It requires a certain degree of skill, which is not exactly difficult to learn. Therefore, consider having an expert guide you through the steps involved in calibrating your sprayer.

Calibration helps determine the quantity of water to use per area of land, it helps determine the quantity of pesticide to use and it helps to ensure total coverage of target pests while minimizing wastage.

Overall, the calibration of sprayers is essential for a healthy garden and should be taken seriously. If you spray your garden yourself, make sure you learn how to calibrate your sprayer from a professional. If you do not have the time to calibrate your sprayer every time before each spray, make sure you leave it to the professionals.

Sanitation of Farm Tools

Apart from preventing wear and tear, regularly cleaning farm tools prevents infections from repeatedly breaking out in the garden. Spores of weeds and fungi could cling to farm tools and reintroduce themselves to the garden when we use them without proper cleaning.

Materials for Sanitation

  • clean water
  • detergent
  • sanitizer/disinfectant
  • brushes, sponges etc. for scrubbing
  • containers

How to Sanitize Tools to Avoid the Spread of Pathogens

  1. Gather used tools and equipment and brush them with an iron sponge to dislodge dirt before washing with soap and water.
  2. Wipe dry with a clean rag.
  3. Disinfect to kill pathogens. You can get disinfectants from the supermarket, or you can make yours by combining 70% bleach with 30% water. Soak tools for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly to prevent corrosion. Use fresh bleach for each set of tools.
  4. Sharpen the tools that need sharpening and coat metal parts with protective oil to avoid rusting. Linseed oil works well for wooden and metal parts.

Proper pest management is essential to a healthy garden—insects such as weevils can cause significant damage to your plants.
Proper pest management is essential to a healthy garden—insects such as weevils can cause significant damage to your plants. | Source

Pest Management

The first step to maintaining a healthy garden is to keep pests under control. To do this effectively, you need accurate pest identification. The type of damage done to your plants will help identify what kinds of pests are present.

Bite marks and chewed off parts on leaves, stems and roots might indicate an infestation of caterpillars and larvae. Other insects like aphids have suction mouthparts and suck saps in plants, transferring diseases to the plants in the process.

Pesticides are usually a solution to an infestation. But because it is often used without identifying the exact kind of pest in the garden, it is not always effective. Sometimes your garden might be suffering from a disease caused by a microorganism—in such cases, pesticides are useless. So, it is recommended that you study and identify the exact cause of damaged plants in your garden.

Tools and Materials Needed for Proper Identification of Pests

  • notebook
  • magnifying glass
  • camera
  • jar (for collecting samples)
  • insect field guide

Signs That Point to an Insect Attack in Your Garden

  • Droppings and odor: Most insects and pests leave a tell-tale indication of their presence with their droppings. An unusual batch of droppings in your garden should alert you of a possible pest infestation. The cluster of these droppings also develops a strong odor. Whenever you notice this, quickly follow up by looking for a nest or a trail.
  • Holes, crevices and tracks: Any gaps in the foundation or access points to your garage or home make it easy for pests to come and go from the garden into your home as they please. Even a small existing hole might be an invitation for a pest to dig a little deeper and burrow straight into your home. Such activity may create smaller piles of dirt or other materials, so pay attention to both the exterior and interior of your home and garage for these warning signs. Additionally, as insects and pests move around in search of water, food and mates, they may also leave tracks that show their movement. These tracks can also be helpful in identifying how pests may have entered or exited your home.
  • Sounds and activity: Sounds such as whining, squeaking, scratching or scurrying characterize rodents like rats, mice and raccoons. Since they tend to be most active at night, you might notice these sounds after the sun goes down. Listening for such sounds might help you identify a rodent pest infestation in your garden as early as possible.

Steps to Identify Pests in the Garden

  1. Examine the plant: If you suspect an insect infestation, check the leaves (top and under) and look for insects, caterpillars and egg clusters. As you touch the leaves, watch for scurrying or flying insects. Take down notes, take a photo or collect a sample, so you can research the possible culprits using a field guide or gardening reference. Delay spraying until you have made a positive identification. Many insecticides will kill not only pests but also beneficial insects, including predatory insects that eat the pests and pollinators like honeybees.
  2. Identify the Type of Pest: Entomologists (insect specialists) often categorize insects by how they feed. Chewing insects eat leaves. Symptoms include holes, ragged edges, and "skeletonizing"—eating the tissue between leaf veins. Examples include weevils, caterpillars, flea beetles, and Japanese beetles. Look for the droppings of these pests. Sucking insects pierce a hole in plant tissue and suck out the fluids. Signs include stippling on foliage or silvery bronze leaves and discolored blooms. Examples include spider mites, aphids, thrips and leafhoppers. These pests often leave behind moltings—the outer skin they shed as they grow. These signs, as explained in steps 1 and 2, should be carefully assessed as warning signs of the presence of insect pests.

Note: These insect warning signs are different from nutrient deficiency signs and disease symptoms.

References

  • Renz, M.J; Craig, M.E and Ludwig, G.E.(2006). Pest identification. College of Agriculture, New Mexico State University, Mexico.
  • Alejandro, Ortega C. (1987). "Insect pests of maize: a guide to field identification." International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Mexico. 112 pages.
  • Field Guide to Non-Chemical Pest Management. (2009). Pesticide Action Network (PAN). Germany.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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