I Don’t Like Nature Anymore (Powdery Mildew Happened)

Remember how the other day I posted this little piece about the glory of Nature? Well, I take it back. Nature is a jerk.

Powdery Mildew aka Big Stupid Mess

This, friends, is Powdery Mildew. I woke up this morning to discover that this had settled all over my squash and peas overnight. I researched this mess and found some pretty great info through Colorado State University.

The vegetables that it hits are usually your peas and cucurbits (such as squashes, melons, and cucumbers). It spreads quickly and leads to distorted leaves, plant tissue death, and diminished vigour. I did what that link advised:

  • All affected plant parts were removed and disposed of in the trash (not compost), so that this gross fungus will hopefully be stopped in its tracks. My pea plants are completely gone. My squash and courgette vines are sad straggles.
  • I sprayed the sorry remains of my squash plants- as well as my (so far unaffected) cucumber plants- with sulphur, a fungicide. I bought it cheap in powder form and mixed a bit of it with water in a spray bottle.

Here are some tips to prevent fungal spread to the peas and cucurbits in your garden from Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver:

  • Limit overhead watering to early in the day
  • Thin plants to let in sun and air for improved circulation
  • Plant resistant varieties
  • Don’t fertilize until the mildew is controlled
  • Do not work around the plants when they are wet
  • Apply a sulphur or copper-based fungicide every 7-10 days
  • Disinfect any gardening equipment you use for the plants with a bleach solution (1 part household bleach to four parts water)

Take THAT, Nature!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: surely it is impossible for one garden to have this much drama. Perhaps you watch a lot of Dr. Phil and even believe that I am creating all this garden drama because I am addicted to crises.

Well, here’s one more crisis just to prove how right you are: some mysterious force has been cutting off my little lettuce seedlings where the base of the stem meets the soil. I suspect cutworm. I did a little digging around the crime scene and couldn’t find any of the bugs, but I still made anti-cutworm protective cardboard collars for some seedlings (buried 1-2″ below the soil and covering 1″ above the soil). If the protected seedlings die, at least I can rule out cutworm.

This summer, Nature has brought my garden the mysterious tomato wilt apocalypse, a swarm of disease-spreading cucumber beetles, an infuriating and absolutely grotesque horde of vine borers, a Stage 2 Drought, unsightly catfacing, greedy cutworm, and now the pouffy stupidness that is powdery mildew. What’s next? A tsunami? Terrorist rabbits with eyes that shoot lasers?

OK, OK, I’m frustrated today. But overall, I’m still grateful for Nature and all of its gifts and beauty and lessons. Unless it actually does send that tsunami.

Hey I Found Out What This Is: Tomato Catfacing

Remember this picture?

When I first saw these, I thought that my tomatoes had some kind of rabies. The good news is: they don’t. The lumpy, malformed black scars on the underside of the tomato are called Catfacing. There is a great article about catfacing at Veggie Gardener.

NOT A BIG DEAL: Catfacing is harmless. Affected tomatoes are gnarly, but totally edible unless it’s severe enough that it’s gone all the way through the tomato. And, at least you can safely compost what’s not salvageable.

WHY IT HAPPENS: Catfacing is the result of environmental stress during blooming, which causes developing fruit to produce too many cells. Other fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, can be affected, too. Stresses that cause catfacing are common in lower Hardiness Zones (4-6 in North America; I’m in Zone 6): drought, high winds, and especially temperatures below 13 degrees C (55F) or above 29C (85F). This makes sense, seeing as we’ve had a Stage 2 Drought here. Heavy use of fertilizers can cause catfacing, too.

MANAGEMENT: According to Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver (1988), the best way to avoid catfacing is to plant resistant varieties. You can also take climate/ exposure control measures for your tomato plants (floating row covers, cold frames, planting indoors, etc) but my thought is: I don’t mind so much if my tomatoes look like they lost a bar fight, as long as they are still delicious!

LESSON LEARNED: I shouldn’t have prematurely picked and wasted those poor, unsightly tomatoes. I’m going to let my straggle tomatoes keep growing, and only pick them if they’re looking severely catfaced. Those ones will just get frozen for future tomato sauces. (Still) Delicious!

My Beans Are Looking A Lot Like My First Car

Ah, the First Car. For the rare few of us who were lucky enough to have had a car in high school, yours was probably like mine. First off, it probably had a name. Mine was called “The Ogremobile”. Next, it likely had an array of quirky problems which varied in the degree of humiliation they caused for your 17-year-old self: The Ogremobile shook violently if you drove over 60 km/hour, the passenger side lock was duct taped on, and my friends were already out on their driveways waiting for me when I’d come to pick them up because they’d heard my engine coming from 5 blocks away. Your First Car was probably unique, but there is one quality that almost all First Cars share- with each other and with my bush beans:

RUST.

Image

Friends, high school was long ago and so are the days of The Orgemobile. I am so over rust. So imagine my frustration when I noticed dapples of rust-coloured spots on my Ferrari green beans. Will the drama never cease?!

According to The Gardening Manual for Canada, “rusts are fungal infections, encouraged by moisture and characterized by orange or brown pustules, streaks, or blotches”. The good news: plants often recover. Here’s what they recommend:

  • remove affected leaves and debris- dispose of the waste in the trash, NOT your compost or garden
  • improve air circulation around the plant and between its stems by reducing overcrowding (definitely needed to be done in this case)
  • Spray with fungicide. I am considering picking up some sulphur but I will wait and see how my guys manage now that I’ve removed the rusty bits
  • Do not overuse high-nitrogen fertilizers

More good news: according to these science nerds (aka more legitimate sources of information than my blog), the pathogens that cause rust are not transmitted on or by seeds- which to me sounds like it’s OK to save seeds from your affected beans. They do, however, promote crop rotation (i.e. plant your beans somewhere else next year) and choosing seeds of resistant beans in future. Wikipedia also says that rust affects other plants, such as roses, wheat, apples, pears, barley, onion, leeks, and garlic.

I will let you know how it goes!

(Also, for the record, I loved The Ogremobile and realize how insanely privileged I am to have had access to a car back then, and now. And let’s not kid ourselves: my “grown up car”- The Toaster- is only a step up from my high school days. My new beauty screams- yes, screams!- as I drive it, much to the joy of my poor neighbours).

The Time I Defeated All The Cucumber Beetles

BEFORE

AFTER

The first morning that I went out on a mission to rid my garden of these stripy pests, I spotted and killed 50 of them. At first I assumed that this was a hopeless endeavor, but three days of hunting-n-squishing later, I could only find ONE lone cucumber beetle. Success! Success! Finally 🙂

THEY LOOK LIKE: Thinner, yellow ladybugs with black spots or stripes.

WHERE TO FIND THEM: Hanging out on your melons, cucumber, zucchini and squash- especially around the flowers, but also check the leaves and the foliage/soil around the plant.

THEY SUCK BECAUSE: Adults attack the plants’ leaves and their larvae destroy the stems and roots. Even if the chewing damage is not significant, they are spreaders mosaic virus, which causes mottled leaves and often curled/stunted foliage- infected plants have to be immediately uprooted and destroyed.

HOW I DEFEATED THEM: Scoping for them in my plants and then squishing them by hand or knocking them into a bowl filled with soapy water.

TIPS:

  •  They are next to impossible to catch if they escape your Fingers of Death and fly away. The beetles are slower (and therefore easier to catch and kill) during the early morning and evening when it’s cooler. I do most of my beetle-hunting then, but if you’ve got a big problem I might suggest several trips throughout the entire day/evening for the first couple of days to bring the numbers down initially.
  • They are poor clingers and are easily knocked off plants, so I simply hold a bowl filled with water and dish soap and under a leaf/flower and I shake it so the critters fall to their doom. If I have to, I’ll pluck them by hand but I try to avoid this because they easily fall and get lost in the soil if you’re not careful.
  • Your soil may contain eggs from the adults- cultivate in the fall to expose and kill any eggs before winter sets in.
  • If you’re intensely serious about your melons/squash/cucumbers/zucchini, you might want to consider keeping them under floating row covers (a propped-up special blanket around the plants that still allows for sunlight and ventilation), especially early in the season. Once the plants start flowering, though, the covers need to be removed so that pollinating bugs can get to the plants.
  • While the thought of Jimmying up some kind of trap might be tempting (especially if you’ve got a serious cucumber beetle problem), it’s not recommended. This is because the features you’d use to lure your cucumber beetles would catch your Good Guy insects, too. Not worth it, and kind of a jerk move, besides.
  • There is lots more information at Garden Harvest Organics if you’re looking for ideas to get rid of these suckers without using harsh chemicals. Check it out!

I AM THE CHAMPION MY FRIENDSSSSSS / AND I’LL KEEP ON FIGHTING ‘TILL THE END

I AM THE CHAMPION! I AM THE CHAMPION! NO TIME FOR LOSERS (cucumber beetles) ‘CAUSE I AM THE CHAMPION

(DUNT DUNT DUNNNN)…

OF THE WORLD

Squash Vine Borer

Honestly. My garden has more characters creating drama than the cast of The Young and The Restless.

It’s been hot here. Really, really, haven’t-even-towelled-off-yet-from-that-cold-shower-and-I’m-already-sweating hot. So, when my (previously thriving) zucchini plants started to wilt, I chalked it up to the fact that the plants probably felt the way I was feeling in the heat.

NOT SO!

Today, I decided to take a casual garden stroll in the incinerating afternoon sun. Why I decided to wait for the paralyzing heat to really investigate what’s going on is a mystery, but nevertheless I decided to have a closer peek at my droopy zucs. Here is what I noticed, right at the base of the stem:

  • crusty, mealy yellowish-green grainy deposits
  • white/grey lesions that looked a bit like cracks

This new observation immediately unleashed “Saul 1.0”- my obsessive-compulsive alter-ego. She is an irrational, impulsive honey badger (<– warning: swear words!)- but she gets the job done. So Saul 1.0 got a sharp knife, went back out into the sweltering heat and- whilst sweating profusely- and cut some small incisions where the grey lesions were. And

LOOK.

WHAT.

HAPPENED.

Squash Vine Borer

Can you see that?! Can you see that little jerk in there, peeking out at me, as if to say, “Hey! Look! I just chewed myself a condo inside your plant!”. Well, not for long, buddy. This guy got stone-cold evicted by Saul 1.0. What’s worse? I checked my other zucchini plants and ALL SIX OF THEM had the bugs. One plant had FOUR borers inside of it.

I looked for info in my usual books, and they all talk about this pest but their only recommendation is chemical sprays. No thanks. Then I found this interesting post at gardens alive and followed its advice.

IF THE BORERS ARE ALREADY THERE: Cut a small incision in the stem where you see the yellow sawdust-like deposits, remove and kill the bugs, and bury the damaged part of the stem under compost and hope that it spreads new roots. This is what I’ve tried, but I’m not very optimistic that my zucchinis will bounce back, seeing as the stems were so mangeled after the borer/Saul 1.0 combo was finished with them.

Sadly, waiting for the wilting is leaving it a bit too late. So, Future Saul 1.0 will be more proactive next year:

… maybe it will bounce back?

  • STOP THE EGGS: adult moths (they look like red-bellied wasps) lay TINY eggs at the base of the stem in the spring. One way to prevent this is to “cut little pieces of row cover and use them to just wrap the vine itself. Do this before you plant, so that the covered section of the vine extends below the soil line; add more wrapping as the vine grows larger”.
  • KILL THE EGGS: You may not be able to see them, but a weekly spray of the vine with insecticidal soap should smother them.
  • BTK: “one of the oldest organic pest controls… Sold under brand names like Dipel, Thuricide and Green Step, this form of Bt ONLY kills caterpillars that munch on the sprayed plant part; it affects nothing else. So spray the vines once a week… Or just wipe the stems every five days vigorously with a damp cloth.”
  • CHECK YOUR SOIL: If you’ve already noticed the borers, chances are that even MORE of them will be waiting in the soil there for next year’s crop. Make sure you hoe up the area before you plant next, and kill and cocoons you spot- they should be about an inch deep.

So, my friends, I shall keep you updated. Keep your fingers crossed- not just for me, but for Gabe, too. He has been sulking since I gave all of our ripe zucchinis to our landlord last week. I was able to stop his pouting by promising him that soon enough, we’ll have more zucchini than we’ll know what to do with. Just wait ’till I break this news to him tonight. Hopefully these zucs are as resilient as they are delicious, and hopefully I managed to find all of those little buggers…

SAYONARA, BORERS!