Saturday, July 28, 2012

Problems (and Pests) in Paradise

I've been meaning to get to my garden since it rained on Tuesday, and it's now Saturday and I finally made it (for a little while, James was with me and had to rush back home to get ready for his soccer jamboree--I'll need to return this afternoon).  What greeted me was joy at seeing my lovely garden after a busy week, and then feeling my heart fall as I realised that this beautiful plot is no longer immune to gardening problems and its level of perfection has definitely plummeted.

I knew that this had started:

But didn't know that it had spread so much.  Actually, I was hoping that it hadn't spread so much. It's powdery mildew, and is caused by overly wet conditions (what?!) or high humidity.  It has been humid here this summer but nowhere near as humid as usual, and it certainly hasn't been wet.  So a little surprised and not so happy to find this little problem in my garden.  It especially affects squash plants, and none of my zucchini, pumpkin, and two precious butternut squash plants escaped unscathed.  So I pulled off the most affected leaves.  I left some of the others because I didn't want to take away all of the plants' photosynthetic ability, but I am worried it will spread.  I put the diseased leaves that I removed into a plastic bag and brought them home to our waste bin.  I pulled off extra leaves around the base of the plant where they were pretty bushy to increase air circulation, and I tried one organic-gardening-friendly home remedy:  I sprayed them with a 50% water 50% milk solution.  I used this solution on both affected and unaffected leaves, and I think I'll have to do it every few days, but I am hoping it will help.  I have also heard that a baking soda solution is helpful too--and if I need to do that, I will as well.  I'm only watering the base of the plants, and only early in the day so they have time to dry.  If you have other suggestions regarding powdery mildew and how I can fight it without using anything toxic in the garden, I'd be very grateful.

My ever ready and willing garden helper sprays the leaves too.

So now those leaves that aren't turning grey have white drips all over them. :)
Next on the list of troubles:  Colorado potato beetles.

I knew it was only a matter of time before they found my eggplants, but I thought that I would discover them as adults and get rid of them before they could reproduce in my precious patch of veggies.  Unfortunately, that was not the case:


Get off there, you!
I found them in voraciously-feeding-squishy-gross larval stage.  I didn't notice any egg masses, so I would be thrilled if the ones I found were the extent of it, but I'm sure that would be dreaming.  I picked off every little goober that I found and threw it (provided I didn't accidentally squish it) into the same plastic bag as the mildew-y pumpkin and squash leaves.  Next time I'll bring a mason jar with soapy water in it to collect them, I wasn't expecting to encounter these dastardly little leaf-chomping demons today.  Thank goodness for gardening gloves, is all I can say.  Yes, I'm a biologist, and yes (Johanna!) I am a little squeamish about bugs.  Not all bugs, just certain ones, but I still don't like touching most of them with bare skin.  It's my first year vegetable gardening, so I imagine I'll get over it.  Not yet, though.  Of additional concern are the following:

  • I naively planted my peppers, eggplant and tomatoes all together.  Well, there is a little buffer between the eggplant and tomatoes in the form of cucumbers and a couple of barely producing peas. But I found a little guy in the cucumbers and I am sure they will discover the tomatoes later on.  I really hope that they don't take to them, my prized crop!
  • The guys sharing the plot next to mine have a LOT of potatoes planted.  I saw the horrid little creatures in there too, and plan to email them to warn them about it.  I really don't want them to decide to relocate to my plot!
I know that Colorado potato beetles have a strong preference for eggplant, so I am hoping that at worst the vast majority of them will be drawn to those plants and I will have to fight the good fight in that part of the garden.  Even if I lose, if it keeps them away from the tomatoes, which I am just crossing my fingers hoping they don't enjoy nearly as much, it will be worth it.  I've mentioned before that I have only eaten eggplant once, so as disappointed as I would be, I think I could handle it.

In other, more exciting and happy news, James and I discovered this little friend rapidly crawling around in the pepper plants:

It's a lady bug larva.  And although it would be rare to hear me refer to any insect larval form as cute, I think this little dude is seriously cute.  Especially when I saw how fast he/she/it could go.  Not only do they turn into pretty ladybugs, which are a favourite of all small children and most people in general and are considered good luck by many, but it will eat aphids.  Lots of aphids.  AND, I discovered today upon my return from the garden, they eat Colorado potato beetle egg masses.  Wahoo!  So I hope that this little friend has a big clan just hiding out in the leaves ready to bring destruction on the pest population of my garden.  But even just one is pretty nice to find. :)

Shared with the Garden Life Link-UpLHITS Friday Link-Up, and Homestead Barn Hop #72 at Homestead Revival.


  1. Sorry to hear about the garden problems. We have big problems in our gardens too. Our zucchini were eaten up by squash bugs and now they are making their way to all my beautiful cucumbers.

    I've heard that planting horseradish is good for keeping Colorado potato beetle away.

    For the mildew, Neem oil might work really well.

    I loved seeing your little helper in the garden, does he enjoy finding all the different bugs? :)

    I often wonder if all the squash bugs we have here are due to the fact that we don't use any kind of sprays and everyone around us does. I think we've become the buffet of choice for them.

  2. I'm sorry for your mildew situation. But I feel your blog is becoming a place filled with too many pictures of gross bugs! Icky.

  3. Oh I feel your pain!!! I am sorry about the pests and mildew. I find it terribly frustrating when it happens here! I hope your able to hold them off to get a harvest.

    1. Thanks Tamatha! I am hoping that the milk will help with the mildew. I was back today to water, weed, pick and spray (with milk) again and I don't notice a big difference, but it doesn't seem to be spreading as much. (I hope.) As for the little bugs, I only found three today on my eggplant but there are still a lot munching on the potatoes in the next plot. I did discover though that my son is a champion potato bug picker, fearless and enthusiastic so I think I will have to develop that skill in future! :)

  4. Ugh - powdery mildew gets my zucchini every year and with all the rain we've had, this year was certainly no exception. In fact, we didn't even get more than one run of squash before the mildew was killing the plants and they had to be pulled.
    As far as the bugs - yuck. Unless you didn't mind it to begin with, I'm not sure you can reach a stage where you don't mind pulling them off without gloves. I certainly haven't and I've been gardening for years. Especially things like hornworms - ewwwww.

    1. Sad to hear that your squash plants had to be pulled! I am really hoping that I can prevent it from spreading that much. I removed more leaves today and sprayed some more milk on the remaining ones so I'll keep my fingers crossed. I really, really want that butternut to come up for me this year, and I'll be so incredibly sad if it doesn't work out! I'm not sure I'll get over the ickiness factor either, but I did find out that my little boy loves to pick bugs off plants and put them in the jar, so I will be sure to recruit him more for that little job!

  5. I hate the beetles, they ate my tomatoes last year and tried again this year. I'm so glad you identified the lady bug larvae - I've been seeing them all over my yard but not been able to figure out what they were. Yay!

  6. Gardening is always a challenge, but so rewarding as well. Powdery mildew is such a common problem w/squash. Unfortunately, any fungal disease is difficult to treat. This is one area where I don't plant heirloom, but rather look for a variety that is resistant. I know that doesn't help for this year, but true gardeners are always thinking about next year. Despite the fact that this is your first garden, I KNOW you are a true gardener!

    It's taken a lot of years, but I'm at the point where I (not happily) squish insects with my bare hands. All except slugs, although I will step on those. Have you tried diatomaceous earth for the beetles? Such a shame about the eggplant. I adore the stuff.

    1. Oh thanks, Susan! I am definitely thinking about next year. I am sure I am thinking about ten years from now, really. :) I'm hoping that the mildew doesn't completely ruin my squash crop for this year, as I have organic butternut that I would love to get even 2 or 3 squash from. If it didn't produce any, I'd be quite sad! But I appreciate your tip about getting resistant seeds. I want to grow heirloom varieties of vegetables but am quite open to other varieties that we can expect some success from because it just gives you that little bit of encouragement, and it's easier to plant resistant varieties than to figure out how to treat (without harmful substances) these pesky problems once they arise. I didn't even think about using DE for the beetles. What a great idea! Will try it!!


I love to get comments and questions, and particularly suggestions!