Solving and Researching Garden Problems

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Solving and Researching Garden Problems

When confronted with a gardening problem I've never experienced before, my first course of action is to turn to the internet.

I realize anyone can post anything they want on the internet, which means there is a lot of really bad information to be found there! There is also a lot of great advice from people with fantastic technical knowledge who can explain the all of the biology behind every answer they give. The variety in the answers you find when you turn to the internet can make searching for answers to garden problems similar to trying to diagnose your own health problems. You know, you go looking for possible causes for your twitching eye and by the time you're finished with Google, you're either chuckling at reading that you have a microscopic bug in your eye that can be smothered by wearing an eye patch soaked in castor oil while you sleep (but only if you lie on the same side as the twitching eye), or you're dialing your lawyer's number because you have convinced yourself you have a rare form of cancer and 2 weeks to live.

So what are we to do when we are trying to solve a gardening problem and our research, even after weeding out the castor oil answers, still leaves us with conflicting choices? Fortunately, the task of trying to solve our garden problems allows us a significant amount of wiggle room when compared to diagnosing health problems. If we choose to follow the wrong advice, we may lose a plant or a crop, but we still come away with something valuable. We come away with knowledge. Sometimes we learn what to do, sometimes we learn what not to do, and sometimes we learn that what we did may not work for the problem we were trying to solve, but it might for another.

Gardening - January turning soil 1

(This is a photo of a tobacco hornworm found in our garden. They feed on tomato plants, just like tomato hornworms do, and they look nearly identical, so I refer to these as tomato hornworms in this article.)

I'll share an example of how my husband and I had to choose between conflicting solutions when trying to solve one of our own garden problems. We have grown tomatoes every year for 20+ years. We've lived in 4 different homes during this time and have done battle with the tomato hornworm at each home. But the problem was far worse in our current home than any of our 3 previous homes. We always found hand picking them off the plants to be sufficient, until the summer we stood in our garden one evening and picked over 100 of them off of our plants. The next night we picked off over 50.  The damage to the leaves of our plants was so severe that we lost most of our tomatoes that year to sunscald. We had been diligent about hand picking them the previous summers, but the problem was still getting progressively getting worse.

Tomato hornworms burrow into the soil, pupate, and overwinter there until the following summer when they emerge as a moth and begin reproducing. Our soil already gets turned in the fall during garden clean up. My husband's solution to our problem was to also turn our soil in January, exposing the hornworm pupae to the frigid temperatures that would kill them. If you search the internet for information about turning your soil during the winter months, while you'll find some general suggestions that yes, you can do this, you'll also find there are adversaries to it. And the adversaries have some good points. The cold temperatures are detrimental to earthworms and beetles and good fungi living in the same soil. It also causes nitrogen that your future plants will need to be released.The science says we probably should not turn our soil in January. The fact that we were losing all of our tomatoes left us choosing to ignore well-founded wisdom and we turned our soil in January. In the 3 years since we started doing this, each year we have picked only a handful of tomato hornworms off our plants. And since we amend our soil with composted cow manure every spring, the crops we plant in those beds still thrive.

While we should always do thorough research with the goal of finding solutions based on the most educated advice, sometimes we have to realize that our circumstances may necessitate choosing to go against that advice. If doing so gives negative results, lesson learned. If not, we are reminded that in gardening, there rarely absolutes. Many times, there are multiple ways to achieve successful results!