Growing your own vegetables allows you to put the freshest food on your family's table. Fresh vegetables often taste better than those purchased in the store, and you can control the type of fertilizers and pest control used on your garden. Raising your own vegetables can also save you money at the grocery store. You can freeze, dry or can extra produce for use in the winter, when fresh vegetables are most expensive. Educate yourself about common problems with vegetable gardens and you will save yourself trouble and insure a good harvest.
Failure to Thrive
Transplants that looked healthy in the nursery wither and die in the garden. Or they remain alive but grow slowly and are weak and spindly. Seeds sprout, but those plants, too, don't do well. One cause of this problem may be not enough sun. Most vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight a day to thrive. Another cause of poor plant growth may be inadequate water, or too much water. Vegetables like moist but not soggy, well-drained soil. Water when the first half inch of soil is dry. If water stands around the plants, the drainage needs to be improved by added compost and peat to the soil.
Warm-weather crops such as beans, corn and okra may fail to thrive if planted too soon. These plants need warm soil and warm days to do well. Likewise, cool season crops such as broccoli and peas won't do well if planted in the heat of summer.
Finally, plants will fail to thrive if they don't receive enough nutrients. Plants need nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium along with other trace minerals to grow. You can feed plants a commercial all-purpose plant food or add organic fertilizers such as composted manure, earthworm castings or kelp. You can purchase an inexpensive soil test kit to test the makeup of your soil to determine what nutrients might be lacking in it.
Failure to Set Fruit
Sometimes your plants will grow well, but they won't produce any fruit. Plants either fail to blossom, or they bloom and the blossoms fall off. Inadequate sunlight could be one cause, since plants need sunlight to bloom and produce fruit. If the plants are blooming but the blooms are falling off, maybe the weather is to blame. Most plants won't set blossoms if the weather is too cold or too hot. Tomatoes, for instance, need temperatures consistently above 60 degrees Fahrenheit at night and below 90 F during the day to produce fruit, while cool-season plants like sweet peas stop producing once temperatures rise into the 80s.
Some plants need pollinating to produce fruit. If you have only a few plants of, for example, squash or corn, that may not be adequate to insure pollination. You can help things along by using a small paintbrush to transfer pollen from one plant to another. Avoid using pesticides that kill off bees, wasps and other natural pollinators.
Split or cracked tomatoes, spotted peppers and wormy corn can make home gardeners despair of enjoying the fruits of their labors. Insects such as corn borers and cabbage worms can help themselves to your crops before you do. Inspect your plants for signs of insect damage and treat with an appropriate remedy. Avoid chemical pesticides if possible, since these often destroy beneficial insects as well as harmful ones.
Cracking, deformed or stunted vegetables may be caused by a lack of nutrients in the soil. Soil testing and amending the soil with compost and other nutrients can help solve this problem.