Now is when you should begin planning and drawing up your “Battle Plans” to combat all the pests and problems that may plague you this spring and summer. One problem is getting small seeds planted and germinated. You can make your own seed tape to get your plants even when dealing with these small seeds.  Stretch out toilet paper and mist just enough to make it lay flat. While standing up you can place the seeds at the right distance.  I keep radish seeds around as they are big and strong enough to break the soil if it gets crusted over. So plant the radish seeds with your small ones that take longer to get started and space them out along the paper. Now you can fold the paper over on itself and mist again just enough to make it stay until you can carry it to the row you have made in your garden. Since the seeds we are dealing with are small, barely cover them with soil. Another helping idea is to lay a lath or light board on top of your row to keep it from drying out. Watch carefully to see when your seeds start coming up and then remove the board.

          When I plant such seeds as squash or cucumbers, I make a good sized (18 inches wide) shallow depression and then plant the seeds down in the center and place a clear pot or jar over the seeds to keep moisture in.  Sometimes I even plant Sevin Dust or Eight Dust with the seeds to keep bugs out. Squash especially have trouble with worms (borers) in their stems.  The borer adult is a little moth that lays its eggs on your plant soon after it comes up. So if you have row covers you can put those over the plants. Row covers work very well to protect until runners need pollination.  You can cut sections to fit your hills and hold it down with soil and staples. If you have scrap wood you can make small “houses” to cover your plants, then staple the row cover on the frame. Leave on until the plants start flowering and need pollination. I have a few plastic covers about 12 inches square that I push down in the soil.  The moths like to lay their eggs near the soil line so the borers can tunnel in, but by this time your plants are in a depression and you can put soil over the stems for some protection. Try not to plant your vine crops in the same area two years in a row as insect eggs over winter in the soil and debris.

          When I was working, people saved their gallon sized (3 pound) coffee cans for me.  By cutting both ends out they make excellent protections for the new plants you are setting out.  The new plastic coffee cans will also work and do not rust. However, they are not quite as sturdy. Before you put your plant in the soil, check for the cutworm larvae that spends their winter in the soil and in the plant debris. They look like grubs and the can keeps them from cutting off your new plants right at ground level.  These protectors can also be filled with water during the summer and can also keep the rabbits away from cabbage, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts until they grow above the top of the can where rabbits are waiting.            Some years I plant my ornamental kale and cabbages in whiskey barrels either with or without the plastic liners. I start them in pots on a bench and then later put them in the barrels. Since they tend to get “leggy” I can wait until later and set them down in the barrels when I remove them from the pots and fill in around their naked stems with soil.  This way the barrels have 2 crops-pansies in the spring and cabbage or kale for late fall.

          One of the first “Battle Plans” to combat disease organisms you need to consider is the use of resistant varieties. Tomatoes are a good example.  Often you will see after their name what looks like college degrees and in a way they are. You will see F, V, N, T, and other letters. (The F means the plant is resistant to Fusarium Wilt. The V stands for Verticilium Wilt, the N for nematode, and the T for Tobacco Mosaic.) Planting disease resistant varieties is especially necessary if you have a small garden and cannot plant a good distance away from where you planted the same plant last year. Other plants also have disease resistant varieties. Crab Apple trees get cedar apple rust and new varieties are now disease resistant. Remember, they are disease resistant not disease proof.

          I have seen a few people buy potting soil and fill 5 gallon buckets or whiskey barrels and grow their tomatoes in these.  Five gallons is the minimum size and a larger container like a whiskey barrel is better. Another method I have noticed is bags of potting soil on the ground and a slit made to insert the plants.  Still another way to combat disease organisms is to scrape the topsoil off that might contain the disease organism and make a tower of old tires. Fill with a good potting mix. Don’t use a cheap potting mix as this is usually not very good soil and many do not drain well. These last two requires careful attention to watering. 

Most everyone demands the taste of home grown tomatoes in the summer and some will go to great lengths to make sure the plants grow.

          When we had the big garden in the country, I divided it into six sections and planted in different areas each year just like farmers rotate their crops. One of my sections was always bare to crops. Weeds and pests were tilled under as well as a “green manure” crop. This area had my best crops the next year.  In each area when I got ready to plant, I pulled up the soil with a broad hoe (cement hoe) into rows about 3 feet across and put a leaky hose (sometimes called a soaker hose and usually made from recycled rubber) down the center and planted on both sides.  This way I did not wet the leaves. Wet leaves encourages fungous diseases so watering on the ground and keeping your leaves dry is another good “Battle Plan”. The healthier your plants are, the less damage insects and disease can do, and the fewer chemicals you need to use. Both you and the environment benefit.

Copyright 2006