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Gardening Articles for week ending  3rd  February 2007
Written by Wally Richards.

COMBATING DISEASES
Gardeners can spend a lot of time and money combating diseases in their gardens. Many of the conventional chemical sprays can be likened to many medications put out by the pharmacy industry; in so much as they give temporary relief without curing the cause.
In fact it is my strong belief that many of the chemical sprays we use on our gardens cause more problems than they cure, as they can kill off the beneficial microbes and fungi, leaving our plants more vulnerable to disease attacks. Itís a bit like the antibiotics we take; they weaken our immune system leaving us more vulnerable to other health issues.
When it comes to microbes/bacteria, good or bad, many have very short life spans, some as short as 6 hours, this means that they can build up resistance to chemical sprays in a few hundred generations. (Some have over 4000 generations in 6 weeks)
In the garden we tend to find that these traditional chemical sprays lose their effectiveness, including their ability to control the diseases they are meant prevent. Instead they end up harming the beneficial microbes that are essential to the health of the plants.
Nature has developed what we call diseases, as a way to remove the weak and unhealthy plants, starting the conversion of them, back into food for other healthier plants. Thus we can say that diseases in our plants are a sign that there is a basic problem and the disease is only the cleaner, at the beginning of a composting cycle. We need to find out what the problem the plant has and if possible remedy it so the plant will grow healthy. It could be one of many things such as inadequate or too much moisture, sun light, soil condition, lack of nutrients and elements. Similarly with our own health we need to tackle the cause not the symptoms.
Annual plants only have a short life; they grow, mature and produce seeds then die. Once they mature and seed we expect diseases such as powdery mildew to attack them.
Deciduous plants such as roses, will at seasons end, be attacked to clean up the old foliage which is of no further use to the rose.
A perennial tree or plant that becomes diseased tells us the plant has an underlining health problem which we need to address.
The first step is to ensure that our gardens have a healthy soil-food-web, teeming with microbes, beneficial fungi and worms. We know that common fertilisers (General Purpose, Rose, Nitrophoska etc) harm the soil life where natural foods such as manures, organic matter, calcium etc strengthen the soil life. We also know that chemical sprays and chemical herbicides such as Glyphosate, harm the soil life too. Often the simple aspect of total avoidance of man made chemicals will over a few seasons result in far healthier plants and soil. We can speed up the process with applications of calcium, compost, blood and bone and other minerals. Also ensuring there is adequate moisture that is free of chlorine (Chlorine in tap water harms microbes)
It is easy to gauge the health of your soils by the number of worms present when the soil is moist.
No worms, very poor soil, lots of worms, high health soil.
 There never is a need to feed your plants, there is only a need to feed the soil and Nature will do the rest.
This is contrary to conventional growing where one feeds the plants, while killing the soil life.
Worms when they move through the soil create a slime that is rich in nitrogen, beneficial fungi that are attached to the roots of plants collect this nitrogen and feed it to the plants in exchange for carbohydrates (sugars) Beneficial fungi not only extend the plantís root collection area, they also prevent harmful fungi and nematodes from attacking the roots.
The microbes in the soil convert organic matter into food that the plants can use. For thousands of years this system has worked perfectly and it was only with the introduction of super phosphate and harmful chemicals, that man changed the natural order of things. Then diseases started attacking what appeared to be healthy plants.
I have a plum tree that developed brown rot in the fruit a few years back along with gum excluding from some branches and die back. Not wanting to use a chemical to try to control the problem I simply applied Ocean Solids and Simalith last season to ensure that the tree was getting all the minerals it required to be healthy. This season I have enjoyed a large crop of big plums, only noticed a couple of plums with the brown rot instead of most of them. No more die back or gum problems and very few bladder plums which the tree also had as a problem. That is without any spraying of copper or any other attention. What has also likely helped is that we had ample rain for much of the time. Having placed water filters to remove the chlorine from my tap water is likely to have assisted as well, when there has been a need to water.
I have written before about the applications of Ocean Solids and Simalith to gardens which ensure that each plant obtains every element that they may need to be healthy. I am starting to see results. It may take a few seasons in some cases but far better and cheaper than the conventional control sprays.
Silver leaf disease is a major problem in stone fruit trees and roses in some areas.
If the disease is not too far advanced, one can cut out effected branches and spray the tree or rose with Perkfection at 10 ml per litre for the first application, thereafter monthly, at 5 mils per litre till mid autumn. Start again in the spring when the first foliage appears. Perkfection builds up the plantís immune system and assists it to overcome the disease. That is as long as the tree or rose has not gone beyond the point of no return. Apply also the Ocean Solids and Simalith once a year.
Mycorrcin and Magic Botanic Liquid are also two products that can be drenched into the soil and sprayed over the foliage of plants. They feed the microbes and beneficial fungi that are in the soil or on the plants, also improving the health of the roots and foliage.
Traditional copper and sulphur sprays can still be used as an external protection against a range of diseases while you are building up the health of the soil and plants.
Liquid Copper is best for downy mildew, blights, brown rot, leaf curl in stone fruit, bacterial diseases and citrus diseases. Liquid Sulphur is best for powdery mildew, rusts, botrytis, leaf moulds or spots, black spot and spider mites.
The two can be mixed together, after diluting each separately in water and then applied to different plants for prevention or control of a wide range of diseases.
Baking soda at the rate of a heaped table spoon per litre of warm water with one mil of Raingard added for each litre is an excellent control for powdery mildew which can attack even the healthiest of plants, prone to the disease, in weather conditions, which favour the disease.
As the health of your soil and plants improves there should be less need for these sprays.

 


Problems ring me at 0800 466 464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
wallyjr@gardenews.co.nz
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