Top Gardening Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Get solutions for common organic vegetable gardening challenges, including pest control, soil fertility issues, weed control and summer drought.

| April/May 2014

The perfect garden — free of all pests, weeds and weather surprises — does not exist. Nor does the perfect place to garden, because every climate is friendly to some crops and hostile to others. Thankfully, tackling gardening challenges, while frustrating at times, is part of what makes growing your own food such a lively adventure.

Smart garden troubleshooting is often crucial to successful food production, and working out the best solutions may require years of trial-and-error experimentation. To help you get a jump-start, we asked more than a dozen longtime organic gardeners to share their expertise on tactics for solving common organic vegetable gardening problems. Following is a roundup of their collective wisdom.

Organic Pest Control and Critter Control

Dealing with insect pests, rabbits, deer, voles and other critters is perhaps one of the most frustrating and ubiquitous gardening challenges. Organic vegetable gardening can make this issue trickier in that you’ve wisely opted not to use harsh chemicals to keep such troubles at bay. In the case of critters, good fences can make for good harvests (and offer the kindest solution), and diligent monitoring for pests will prove well worth your time.

Irritating insects. An hour north of St. Louis, in New Douglas, Ill., Carol Lentz aims to check her plants for insect pests at least every other day. “Check the whole plant for signs of trouble, especially the leaf undersides,” she says. Squish any eggs you see, and handpick adult potato beetles, squash bugs and Mexican bean beetles and put them in a pail of soapy water to reduce their damage to plants and prevent a second (or third) generation.

Those darn rabbits. In Fargo, N.D., Joe Calvert says rabbits are second only to his short growing season on his list of gardening challenges. “Even in an urban environment, if you don’t have a fence around the garden, you may as well not even plant because the tender young plants are too tempting to rabbits,” he says. To keep rabbits out, add inexpensive poultry wire around at-risk beds or around the bottom of a perimeter fence. Folding 6 to 12 inches of the wire out from the bottom will also fend off critters that may try to dig under the fence.

In the piney woods north of Covington, La., Carrie Lee Schwartz says containers are sometimes safer than an open garden. “I hang delicate crops, such as lettuce and strawberries, in planters on my porch to keep them close to the kitchen and away from rabbits,” she says.

4/16/2016 12:49:41 AM

Monofilament fishing line makes a good deer fence. 10-14 lb line seems to work well and it can be the cheap store brand it doesn't need to be name brand. three strands about a foot apart above 18-24 inch poultry netting keeps out both deer and rabbits. Corn can be started as bedding plants to avoid germination problems. I have done that for several years and my yield is the same as it is with the corn I start later direct sown. I also start my Okra as bedding plants.

7/11/2014 2:17:55 PM

Lois, I think that your problem is likely cabbage worms. these pesky worms are the same shade of green as the broccoli making them hard to see. Check the underside of the leaves in the evening and hand pick them off.

6/7/2014 1:38:31 PM

I am attempting organic gardening in a 6'x8' area of my yard. Most of the plants are doing well, but my broccoli is being eaten away by something that is making little holes in the leaves. I don't want to use a chemical pest killer. Can someone please tell me what to do about this. I'd rather lose the broccoli than give in to chemical pest control. Lois

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