Late Bloomer Lesson #1 for Garden Issues

| July 26, 2013 | 3 Replies

Late Bloomer Lesson #1 for Garden Issues covers a problem that has arisen in July in the Late Bloomer Garden. If you have downloaded my free ebook, “10 Steps to a Great First Garden,” (sign-up box on right), you will have heard of my LBL’s, or Late Bloomer Lessons.

The beautiful, wondrous and sometimes frustrating thing about gardening is, it is ever changing. In June, all looks perfect, stunning, green. Seeds are fairly jumping out of the ground, flawless leaves reach for the sky, blossoms are opening, the first fruits of the harvest are gracing your dinner table, and you’re lulled into thinking you will enjoy this sight all summer long.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, melon leaves

Healthy Melon Leaves with Raindrops early June

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, hatful of cukes

Hatful of Sumter Cucumbers early June

Then comes July. Issues arise. Even though you are harvesting more cucumbers and squash than you can eat, there are things happening on the microscopic level to the leaves, and you’re not even aware of a problem, till it’s a PROBLEM.

LBL #1 – Don’t Overcrowd Your Plants

Over here by the West Coast, with frequent “June gloom,” that old friend (NOT!) powdery mildew made it’s first appearance on the pumpkin leaves today.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, pumpkin leaf

First Stages of Powdery Mildew on Pumpkin Leaf late July

Cucurbits include any of various mostly climbing or trailing plants of the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes squash, pumpkin, cucumber, gourd, watermelon, and cantaloupe (in short, 2/3 of your summer garden) and they are particularly susceptible to mildew. And there’s more than one kind! There’s Powdery Mildew with white spores, and Downy Mildew with black spores. And often, you have them both, and it easily spreads with wind or water.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, shriveled leaves

Cucumber and zucchini leaves infected with Downy Mildew

I had been feeling swell about my zucchini this year, after the non-stop war with mildew last year. A complete beginning gardener, I had overcrowded my raised bed with 10 seedlings, all of which but one, the cherry tomato, were overtaken by the two zucchini plants. Still, a 4’x8′ planter is not big enough for two zucchinis and a cherry tomato. By August, I’d pulled out all the zucchini, and kept pruning the cherry tomato branches till there wasn’t enough green to support making fruit and pulled that out, too.

I read that unless you have a frost (which we don’t), mildew can overwinter in the soil, so you should wait a year or two before planting cucurbits in the same location. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of not using the space, with only 300 square feet to work with, so after a winter of carrots and chard, back in the bed the zucchini went (with some fresh biodynamic compost and organic fertilizer).

According to The Ohio State University Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources fact sheet “Managing Downy Mildew in Organic and Conventional Vine Crops,” rule #2 is “select growing sites with good air drainage, full sunlight, and low humidity.” This year, I had the good sense of planting only two zucchini seedlings in the bed. And I have been careful to not get the leaves wet when watering.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, June

Late Bloomer Garden early June with 2 zucchini plants in raised bed facing West

Unfortunately, I broke LBL #1, and planted several cucumber plants within six feet of the planter bed, a 10’x5′ bed of 20 double stalks of corn two feet away, THEN, pumpkin seed four feet from the cucumbers! So, what started out as a zucchini showroom became a crowded subway platform!

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, July

Late Bloomer Garden mid-July facing East

First, it hit the lower leaves of the zucchini. There are lots of healthy leaves above, so I trimmed them and it’s still producing.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, zucchini leaf

Lower zucchini leaves infected with Downy Mildew

Then, it hit the cucumbers, severely. Within two weeks, there was a major infestation of fungus.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, cucumber leaf 1, first stages

Downy Mildew on cucumber leaf mid-July

What started out as an endless supply became a handful of shriveled cucumbers, with wretched-looking leaves.

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, shriveled cucumbers

Sumter Cucumbers from plants infected with Downy Mildew late July

Late Bloomer Lesson #1, back of cucumber leaf

Underside of cucumber leaf infected with Downy Mildew

Yesterday, I pulled all the cucumbers out. Today, I found the powdery mildew spots on the pumpkin. There’s a host of fungicide products on the market, but I have an organic garden, so, I reached for my sprayer with a fresh solution of raw milk (my only line of defense last year) and water and gave them a good spray.

These pumpkin plants have just gotten started! I have two pumpkins the size of small apples. There is a LONG way to go, so I have to get on top of this or our crop of pumpkins will be severely restricted. I may actually buy a commercial preparation to kill the fungus, if it is safe for organic gardens. I’ll keep you updated.

I have now learned in my short year and half of gardening, that prevention is the best medicine. I will not crowd my cucurbits next year!

Next up, LBL #2 – Be vigilant. Eyes on the ground.

Thanks for reading! If this article has been helpful, or you have been successful against mildew on veggies, please leave a comment! – Kaye

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Category: Late Bloomer Lessons, Plant Diseases, Urban Gardening, Warm Season

Comments (3)

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  1. It’s hard to resist the temptation to fill the available space with as many plants as seem possible. Overcrowding is easy, especially when planting from seed or with young seedlings. Nothing seems very crowded in May or June. And it would be a shame to under-plant.

    We moved our squash plants to a separate, spacious and sunny part of the yard. The vines were clean through June and most of July. At the end of July, however, the first white spots of powdery mildew appeared. With our humid summers, it seems to be inevitable.

    Sorry to hear about your cucumbers. Good luck with the squash and pumpkins.

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