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The Rewards and Challenges of Growing Your Own Vegetables

Many home gardeners are in the early weeks of the vegetable growing season. Vegetables from the garden offer home growers a fresh product that can enhance the nutritional aspects of their diet. Many people also find the added exercise and personal satisfaction of growing their own vegetables rewarding. Additionally, some home gardeners enjoy sharing their bounty with others.

However, if you have ever grown a vegetable garden, you know that some things go right, and some things go wrong. Dr. Rosie Lerner, former Purdue Extension horticulture specialist, authored Purdue Extension’s “Home Gardener’s Guide,” which can provide some valuable recommendations through the growing season.
For most gardeners, the current struggle is dealing with the “daily grind” of the vegetable gardening season: weeds, watering, and pest management.

Weeds can get out of hand in a hurry. Mechanical methods of weed control (hand-weeding, hoeing or roto-tilling) are often effective but require persistent and consistent action.

Mulches can help suppress weeds. Plastic mulches can be used at planting time, but gardeners can also use organic mulches, such as straw, crushed corn cobs, bark chips, and other materials. Mulching also conserves soil moisture and moderates hot summer temperatures.

For larger plantings of specific vegetables, herbicides may be used for weed control. They are usually not very feasible for the smaller home garden.

Watering is a must for most vegetable gardens. Hopefully, when you planned your garden plot, you located it close to a water source. Otherwise, watering can be a real chore. If we don’t get 1 to 1½ inches of rain per week, supplemental water is needed. If we haven’t had rain, a deep watering once every several days is much better than frequent light, shallow waterings because roots go where the water is. If they stay close to the soil surface, as they would with frequent shallow waterings, they are more susceptible to drought damage.

Watering methods that avoid getting leaf tissue wet, such as soaker hoses or drip irrigation, are generally preferred to overhead watering because wet leaf tissue for longer periods is more susceptible to diseases. If overhead watering is what you have, do so early in the morning so that leaf tissue dries by mid-morning when the dew evaporates.

Pest management always begins with scouting, so inspect plants daily. Most of the time, you are out of luck if you notice insects or diseases already heavily infesting garden plants; you need to catch them early. Identify the exact problem first, then select a management strategy. Sprays or dusts are available for pest control, but be sure to read and follow the label directions.

Keep in mind that some insecticides will be harmful to bees, so choose a product with low toxicity to bees if possible. If necessary, avoid applying insecticides during bloom times and during most daytime hours. For bees, the safest time to apply insecticides is right after sundown.

Non-chemical insect pest management strategies can also be employed. These may include row covers, companion plantings, hand-picking insect pests, and practicing good garden sanitation at the end of the year. Gardeners may experience varying degrees of success with these methods.

Disease control strategies include selecting disease-resistant cultivars, rotating crops to different locations each year, spacing plants for better air movement, and removing all plant debris in the fall. During the growing season, most available fungicides protect the crop from further infection rather than curing the part that is sick. This is another reason to inspect often and catch the very first signs of disease.

Sometimes you can do everything right, only to find that a wild animal such as a rabbit or raccoon has taken an interest in your gardening project. Consider fencing (traditional fence or electric fence), netting, trapping, or other methods that will discourage animal damage. You may need a permit, or you may be required to follow a specific protocol when dealing with wildlife damage. Refer to Purdue Extension’s publication addressing this subject at You may also wish to consult the Indiana Department of Natural Resources website on living with wildlife at

Access the aforementioned Purdue Extension publication, “Home Gardener’s Guide,” by B. Rosie Lerner, at

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