Checking the lower 40 - a daily routine

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Mon, Jun 3, 2013 - 12:34pm

In farming, the "lower 40" is the quarter-section of your farm which is at the lowest elevation. It's the most productive land you have, unless you have a swamp, because that's where the water drains toward. 

We may not have acres: in our case, it's more like square feet, or square yards of Square Foot Gardening (SFG). But checking out our "lower 40" is just as important in a suburban homestead. Maybe the daily check is even more important, because you don't have the excess to cover your shortfall if part of it goes down. If you do not check things regularly, the damage can become severe before you even notice

Here are some of the things we look for, daily:

  1. Insect Damage. if you catch infestations early you can minimize your losses. For example, on one daily garden check we found an SFG box with tomato cutworms. Because we caught it early we only lost two plants. The rest of them got collars made out of recycled plastic soda pop bottles. We also watch for grasshoppers (a plague here - we use bird netting), squash bugs (plant more later), whiteflies (made our cold-hardy orange drop its fruit - we use neem oil), fire ants (diatomacious earth), and wasp nests that will keep us out of part of the garden (when small, knock 'em down at sunset with a high-pressure water hose).
  2. Bird Damage. During our strawberry harvest we started to see bids in the strawbs, so we hung tin foil pans to scare them off the last two weeks of harvest. Another time we started to see bird damage and were able to put up bird netting to stop the birds from feasting on our fruit. 
  3. Mammalian Damage. You can watch for things like rabbits nibbling on your lettuce  (fencing), deer (tall fencing), cats and dogs getting into things (fencing for dogs, but cats seem to hate pine straw mulch and are deterred from digging by bird netting at ground level).
  4. Watering issues. Your garden can have too much or too little water. Note that most new gardeners water things more than necessary but if plants are wilting, watering usually cures it.  On top of a daily online weather check--look ahead and try not to water right before rain is forecast--a daily walk lets you know if all the plants are happy.  Tomatoes are tricky: water only when they start to droop, especially when they are fruiting: over-watering can cause the skins to crack. Certain things can lose all their fruit when you water too much (oranges)
  5. Plant Diseases. A daily check for diseased-looking plants can make a huge difference. For example, at the first sign of powdery mildew you need to used copper fungicide.  Watch for dropping leaves, dead plant sections, and spots. Go online to diagnose what's wrong, and how to cure it.
  6. Weeds: It's amazing how fast weeds can choke out our plants if you let them. We've learned to use mulch, but don't like to put it in until the plants are established, and if you are doing companion plantings the weeds can grow in between the, say, the nasturtiums around the tomatoes.  Even if you don't have time to pull weeds out of a bed today, you can plan what to weed (and mulch) next.

It's the like the old proverb, "A stitch in time saves nine." Catch things early with daily inspections that can double as a lovely walk, where you're enjoying your garden. Nipping garden problems in the bud lets the actual buds . . . grow.

1 Comment

JRB's picture
JRB
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 17 2009
Posts: 149
Nice Summary

Thanks Wendy.

- JRB

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