Don’t sweat the small stuff

It seems to me that many of us are obsessed with perfection – we want to live in the perfect house, have perfect lives …and have perfect gardens.  Perhaps I am just looking at it from a skewed view point – I have never been a girl with perfect hair, can never wear white without staining it, can’t keep my kids looking clean in their clothes because I encourage them to play and interact outside, and I am never finished in the garden as there is always a new project I am dreaming of and working to create.  It appears to me that this obsession with perfection can lead us to frustration, comparison (which always leads to unhappiness), and in the garden it can lead to the obsessive need to nuke everything, thus harming yourself and the environment.

Every heard ‘Don’t major on the minors’ (which insinuates that you major only on majors) and ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’?  As I write this, these two sayings seem to capture it all.  Getting your soil right in the vegie patch is a major and worth getting right, but most of the pest problems which people ask me about in the garden, are just minors and small stuff.  I have often repeated the gardening wisdom which says ‘Plant a $1 in a $10 hole’, however recently I have been thinking that when it comes to the veggie patch, it should actually be ‘Plant a $1 plant in a $100 hole’.

Getting your vegie garden soil right is an ongoing process and it varies from property to property, depending on the state of the soil, the site and the conditions.  However, many vegie patches I see could do with a lot more organic matter added to make that delicious chocolatey brown soil in which veggies are naturally productive and bountiful.  The soil in my vegie patch certainly needs improvement and while some beds are starting to get ‘there’, many need extra help.  Having good soil in the vegetable garden means that the plants stress less, especially during our hot dry summers, and it has a profound effect on decreasing pests and disease problems.  Tori Moreton from the Magic Harvest Program, inspired by Lolo Houbein’s wonderful book, One Magic Square, suggests it takes at least three years to get your vegie garden soil reasonable, and until you do you are likely to be hit with lots of pest and disease problems, which will decrease as your soil improves.

So what do you do when you get a few holes in your brassica leaves at this time of year?  Don’t stress – just wash thoroughly, and cut it up fine so no one will see?  Lolo once told me that “You can eat holes – they cook up really well”.  Love it!  Firstly understand that the moths are most active in warmer month of autumn and spring, so if you have brassicas in at this time your options are to exclude the pests with something like veggie net which stops the butterfly laying its eggs on the leaves in the first place, spray your crops with Dipel an organic bio-insecticide, or work to deter the butterflies with something white which they mistake for another butterfly.  Being territorial the butterfly can be fooled by cubes of white Styrofoam threaded on fishing line and hung around, or white plastic butterflies cut from plastic containers and hammered on to the end of garden stakes.  Also encourage biodiversity in your veggie patch with assorted flowering plants and herbs as birds, bats and parasitic wasps are just some of the creatures that will dispose of the caterpillars for you.  Ultimately, create this biodiversity and get your soil right and you will have less holes.

One common cause of concern for gardeners is psyllids on lilly pillies.  Although not as widely grown in the Hills as they are on the plains, gardeners who do see the lumps and bumps on their plant’s new foliage often get anxious.  Firstly understand that psyllids will not kill your plants and in fact they only attack certain varieties of lilly pillies, just like some teenagers get acne and some don’t.  Psyllids love Syzygium species and cultivars while Acmena species and cultivars show resistance to this pest.  How is this relevant?  If you want a lilly pilly hedge and the lumps and bumps bother you, simply grow the varieties that don’t get affected.  And what to do if you have an existing plant or hedge which does get affected?  Don’t worry about it, please don’t spray, and instead encourage ladybirds into your garden as their larvae love to eat psyllids – see the featured picture with the ladybird larvae scooping out the psyllid.  How do you encourage ladybirds, stop using insecticides, especially chemical ones, and start planting flowers which bring ladybirds and other beneficials into your garden.  Make sure to google ‘Where have all the ladybirds gone?’, by Marilyn Steiner and Stephen Goodwin.

Lawn beetle is the other topical problem at the moment and people are drenching their lawns with insecticides to kill the beetles, but surprise, surprise, they will return and you will probably be treating next year and the year after.  Why so?  Because until you deal with the underlying cause of the problem, you cannot cure it.  Lawn beetles attacks lawns under stress, usually lawns which are too lush and soft, over watered, over fed with chemical fertilizers, soft and sappy.  Lawns which are in optimal health and watered deeply and only as required, tend not to get lawn beetle.  What do you do if you have it?  Rather than nuke the soil with chemical insecticides which may affect the other living creatures in the soil, flood (ie water heavily) your lawn in the morning and let the birds come in a devour the pests, while working out what you can do to correct the lawns health.