Growing an edible garden is a very rewarding labor when it’s time to harvest all of the beautiful fruits and vegetables that you spent weeks (months) caring for. When you have tomato plants taller than you and zucchini leaves larger than your head, you can’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment and pride. However, sometimes getting to that point can be incredibly difficult and frustrating when you’re facing extremely hot temperatures and buggy pests who would love nothing more than to devour your plants before you get a chance to. Pesticides can be really gross and harmful to your body, so it’s best to go with organic if you’re needing to protect your leafy babies from pests, mites and fungus. I admit, I was so scared the first time I grew a vegetable garden. It was two years ago and I knew I didn’t want to use funky pesticides, but I also started to see pests pretty early on, so I had to think fast. There were caterpillars so large, I could literally hear them crunching on my leaves. Not cool.
I went to Lowes and probably spent a good 20 minutes in the garden section staring at the different pesticides that all said they were “organic”. I came across neem oil extract and did a little google search, only to find out that it’s very safe for people to come in contact with. Not only that, but neem oil is a triple benefit spray! I’ll explain in a minute…
That first year, my garden was bountiful. I had great success using neem oil extract and harvested more tomatoes and peppers than we could stand. We harvested from Independence Day until Halloween! I’d call that a success.
The second year (last year), we ran into some major trouble with our garden. Actually, everyone in the south did, so it wasn’t just me. Something about the air, rain pattern, and pests last year caused a major stunt in everyone’s tomato growth. My plants ended up really sick with yellow leaves and more spots than we could count. They didn’t grow very well at all. When I noticed they hadn’t grown a single bit over the course of two weeks, I started researching more. I had neem oil left over from the previous year, and come to find out, it can save sick plants. I started spraying my plants weekly and before I knew it, they were healed ~ thanks to the neem oil. Any leaves (and stalks of leaves that were severely damaged) I pinched off so they wouldn’t suck nutrients away from the rest of the plant. That said, because so much damage had already been done, we didn’t have nearly the harvest that we did the previous year and we had some pretty thin plants. I decided to use last year as a learning experience, and this year we hit things hard and aggressively very early on.
Here is how we use organic neem oil now:
- After transplanting the starter plants into the ground and into our buckets, we let them sit and take root for one week. Spraying neem oil directly after planting isn’t a good idea because the plants need a chance to get over the shock of the transplant. It’s best to just water daily and pick off any yucky looking leaves before they have a chance to get yuckier and potentially spread.
- For 26 plants (12 tomato, 12 pepper and 2 zucchini), we mixed 2 teaspoons of neem oil with warm water into a 24 oz spray bottle (follow the bottle’s directions and just do the math when using less than 1 gallon like I had to do. I really had to guess). One bottle covered everything this first time. I waited until sunset to spray the leaves of all the plants. The reason is because the sun can be pretty harsh and you don’t want it to burn the neem oil onto your leaves and cause damage. Considering it has already been nearly 90 degrees in May in Tennessee, this was crucial.
- The morning following, before the sun rose too high, I watered all the plants, rinsing the leaves thoroughly of any remaining neem oil. It had a good chance to soak over night and I didn’t want to have any leaf burn, so again, this was very important.
- Two weeks later, I repeated the spraying, and I will continue every two weeks until harvest time. By the second time I needed to spray, I had to mix two bottles of the spray to cover all the plants.
Why is neem oil so beneficial? It serves as a pesticide, miticide and fungicide! All three things in one little bottle ~ it truly is a miracle for the garden. Not only that, but neem oil only negatively impacts true pests, not beneficial bugs like bees and butterflies. That second year of gardening, my tomato plants had some kind of disease or fungus that was healed up with neem oil, so I stand by this stuff. So far, this year has been phenomenal! My plants look amazing, healthy and big. For more information on neem oil extract, check out this great resource: Helping Your Plants with a Neem Oil Foliar Spray
In addition to the neem oil, I follow a few other rules for feeding and nurturing the plants:
1. Now that the plants are 2 feet tall, and now that it’s nearly 90 degrees in Tennessee almost daily, I only water the base of the plants. Why? It’s hot, ya’ll. The plants can get burned from the water, they can get mildew and sickly as well. I’m obviously not concerned about rain (they LOVE the rain and grow quite a bit after just one rainfall). I read online last year that part of my problem was watering the entire plant every day, leaves and all. I know that’s not the main culprit but it didn’t help my case, so this year I’m doing things differently.
2. The days that hit 85 degrees and hotter, I water the plants twice a day. I do early morning before the sun has gotten very high, and right at sunset.
3. Epsom salt. This is something new I threw into the routine this year. Every two weeks, I add epsom salt to the soil and water profusely. Apparently, tomatoes and peppers require a high level of magnesium sulfate for optimal growth. So far, I’m seeing great results in my plants and no harm, so I’d say it’s working, but we won’t know for sure until we start actually producing fruit. So far, I only have one pepper. 🙂 To read more about why epsom salt is your vegetable garden’s friend, check out Gardening with Epsom Salt.
That’s it friends! I love neem oil extract and highly recommend it. Consider trying it if you’re looking for a safe pesticide, and keep in mind that this little oil will protect your growing babies from mites and fungus as well.
Do you have any other gardening tips? This is my third year and I feel like I still have so much to learn! Year one: success. Year two: meh. Year three: so far so good! I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for a successful garden. I’ll be sure to let you know when we have our first harvest!