QUESTION: Dear KD Elizabeth - We just installed a deer fence last summer, so I am enjoying my first full summer of raised bed garden. I have a strawberry bed that is 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep. The soil below was rototilled last summer, and the raised bed was filled with commercial potting soil. My long awaited (25 years) strawberries are soon to be here. But as you can see, there is a problem with the leaves of the strawberries. I also see spittle bugs in the strawberries and on carrots. The leaves started out a deep green and now are getting pale. I don't know if that is due to a need for fertilizer or due to bugs. My husband composts food waste, and grass clipings, but the clippings have lawn chemicals, so I don't want to use that compost on strawberries. I have a neighbor with aged horse bedding (straw and manure) but there would be oat and hay seeds possible there. I have "Miracle Grow" that I can spray, but really want to address this more organically. After waiting so many years to have a vegeble garden, I am feeling a little defeated with the bugs eating lettuce, overwinter carrots are woody, overwinter beets are going to seed and the bulb is still very small, etc and etc. I look forward to having a forum that can help me be sucessful. The 9 raised beds and deer fence were a gift from my husband for my 60th birthday. I feel that I have 20 good gardening years left, but I am also 30 years behind (my two daughters have started previously) I live in Oregon.
ANSWER: Dear Stephanie,
Diatomaceous Earth is a must in organic gardening. It is a wonderful natural pesticide, as well as providing a certain level of pH balance to the soil. Raised beds are wonderful, but soil nutrition is an issue. I would recommend horse bedding or just ask if you can pick up some manure. I always surround my strawberries with straw, though, so even if you didn't use it directly, that would be great compost for next year, and you could break down any potential growth of oats or hay by turning the compost. Manure is definitely the best organic fertilizer going. I use chicken litter, goat, and equine, but they are here on the place. If you are fortunate enough to be able to obtain the manure without having to feed the critter, that is a blessing.
Get some Diatomaceous Earth and sprinkle it generously on the leaves and plants. If it gets washed off by rain, apply again, but usually one good dusting takes care of quite a few pests.
I wish you well and I'm sure you will be a success in your strawberry endeavor.
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QUESTION: Would Diatomaceous Earth be safe to put on my lettuce leaves as well? Something is surely eating this, I have not been able to get even one head. But the little critters do not like spinach as that is growing well.
DE is safe on the lettuce, but it may not be effective, depending upon what is nibbling. If it's insects or worms, it should take care of the problem, but if you have little bunnies helping themselves, you might be better off using ground cayenne pepper or placing human hair around your lettuce patch.