The first and most important thing you can do for your garden is to keep it clean of weeds and plant debris, and to treat the soil if you need to, which is where a lot of pests come from.
I purchased a very strong organic pest spray (EcoSMART), which really does a good job on pests, ants, etc., but it does burn the leaves on the plants. So prep your plants by using as strong a spray of water as you can to knock the majority of pests on the ground, then immediately treat the lower stems and surface of the soil with the spray.
You don't want to kill beneficial insects or earth worms — so try to be very careful how you use sprays, even organic sprays.
For fungal diseases, I've been reading how cornmeal has been shown to organically correct soil-borne fungal diseases in crops.
An article on the website of the Dirt Doctor, a member of the Organic Club of America, tells us that, “Horticultural cornmeal or whole ground cornmeal is the natural disease fighter that is especially good for use on fungal diseases. It's also good to use for cleaning up algae in ponds.” For a full report on the use of cornmeal in the garden, go to www.dirtdoctor.com/Cornmeal-Uses-and-Reports_vq18.htm.
You can purchase the horticultural cornmeal product at garden centers or feed stores. If you do try this, do not use toxic chemicals as well, because any benefit the cornmeal had will be lost.
In the past, we've talked about using cornmeal as a natural weed killer, but actually what it does is to prevent the weed seed from germinating. This brings up another thought — if you use cornmeal on the soil under your plants to prevent fungal diseases, it will do double-duty and prevent weed seeds from germinating.
Just remember that chemicals are manufactured to get the job done quickly. Natural methods take longer but, with patience and persistence, you can accomplish the same results and know your food will not harm you, your family or those with whom you may share your produce.
The idea is to have safe food to eat. The final fruit may not necessarily be big and beautiful or perfect looking, but it will have all the flavor and nutrition that has been lost over the years.
My grandmothers' garden always thrived and offered huge amounts of food for eating and canning. I don't remember that she sprayed it with DDT or any of the chemicals that were being used at that time. She would let the chickens loose in the garden, and they would fill up on aphids or whatever other pests were there and leave natural fertilizer at the same time.
As a child, I had the unhappy task of hoeing and pulling weeds and cultivating the soil around the plants when it became compacted by hard rains and hot days. But being sent out to do this taught me that keeping a garden “clean and neat as a pin” (a quaint, old-fashioned phrase she often used) would make all the difference.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to email@example.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.