Plagues and pestilence! What a year. The blessing has been all the rain. I have been so happy to not have to water something every day. Experienced gardeners roll with the punches and anticipate what might happen when the boot drops next. New gardeners may feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Take heart. It is all in scouting, preventing, and knowing what to watch for.
First of all, don’t expect perfection from your garden. If you have lost a few yellow lower leaves because the rain has leeched the nitrogen, clip them off, fertilize and go on. Plants recover. Conventional salt-based fertilizers break soil down into finer particles, leading to crusty soil. Use organic fertilizers if you have the option, or use what is on hand to save going out in this COVID world.
Got insects? Hand pick them into a can of soapy water and squash the eggs. If you need further control, choose the least toxic options. Most soft bodied or small insects can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Larger insects are easier to hand-pick with gloves, so you don’t get a sting or bite. Recipes abound online for homemade controls but let me just point out that most use detergents, which are not the same as soaps. They have no real directions for ratios and are not labeled for such use, making them risky and technically illegal. I think it is a better use of your money to have a registered product with real directions and precautions. There are plenty of organic options these days.
Disease control is largely a function of sanitation, weed control, and air circulation. Diseases are best prevented. A protective layer to make fungus penetration less likely is a good idea when rain is persistent. Homemade and organic options range from buttermilk sprays to natural bacteria and oils. I will caution that food products on leaves can invite unwanted visitors and oils are best reserved for spring and fall when heat and humidity are not factoring. Read the label carefully. Sometimes conventional controls are actually less toxic than organic, so ask or do your homework. Buy small quantities and switch it up so you are less likely to build resistance.
Tomatoes are the most likely vegetable to be affected. The first lower leaf disease on tomatoes is Septoria leaf spot, followed by Early Blight then Late Blight. They progress up the stem and are often accompanied by spider mite damage, which causes the leaves to look flecked. Your goal is to control it late enough to get a crop. Use nature as your guide to what to expect at various times of year. If the lawns are going yellow, leaves are dropping off the trees, and everything is starting to look crispy and tired, a few bad leaves or plants in your garden are to be expected. If you lose a crop, plant a later succession crop.
Vine crops are vulnerable to powdery or downy mildew and borers. Spray from the side to get under and over the leaves of low plants. Spray late to avoid rising heat and disturbing foraging bees. Long vines should be rooted at intervals by mounding dirt over the vine at the base of a leaf (not between leaves) to encourage it to root. Borers often get in at the base of the plant so target your controls there and try to avoid spraying the flowers. If you do get a borer you can cut that section out and, if rooted, the remainder of the plant will survive.
Gardeners are disheartened this year, too, by stunting. Not so much stunting in a twisted, deformed sort of way, but in plants just sitting there. With day after day of overcast weather, they did not get the sun they need. When the weather turns and they acclimate to sudden heat and humidity plants will begin to grow. Gardeners new and old learn patience, tolerance, and the pleasure of a crop well grown. Perfection is a thing you let go of, like expecting perfection in friends and family. Moderation! Garden on and share the bounty where you can. Many are not so fortunate as to have the option of fresh produce. Relax and gain confidence knowing your food is safer than imports of unknown history.