Planning for Next Year: Plant Diseases and Avoiding Them Next Time
Overall the garden was a flying success, but there were some glitches! In planning my soil amendments to be tilled in this fall, and my watering strategy for next year, I'm finding that it's very useful to analyze what didn't go so well this year. The Gardener's Supply site has a helpful picture catalog of plant diseases for use in identifying what went wrong in this year's garden.
We had big trouble with powdery mildew in the cucurbitae, especially the summer squash. This was partly susceptibility and partly my watering practice. To conserve water, I was watering at night, and watering very deeply but only every 3 or 4 days. Unfortunately that made the still-clayey soil much too moist for the squashes, and they'd develop big powder spots on the leaves within a day of watering. I sprayed with a light sulfur spray from Safer Naturals, which helped keep it in check, but the real difficulty was that I should have been watering lightly and frequently, first thing in the morning so the plants could dry out by the end of the day. Now that it's getting below 65 at night, the powdery mildew has mostly vanished, since it needs high temps to flourish, but it really played havoc with my summer squash crop and the late peas.
Let's talk about watering briefly. I wanted to adjust the watering to favor the squashes, but hadn't considered that when I built the temporary beds this spring. Since my watering system was two soaker hoses on a Y-connector that threaded through ALL the beds, there was no way to water more in one area and less in another. I hadn't even used a Y-connector that had valves, which would have let me close off one side. I didn't get one and retrofit it, though, because it wouldn't have done much for me-- the hoses snaked along the beds in a way that maximized hose use, but didn't take into account any kind of zones of types of plants. Wups!
I also learned about 'drought farming' of tomatoes, where they are watered very little, possibly not at all, once the fruit sets and gets of a certain size. It's supposed to make the tomatoes denser and more flavorful. When I tried to adjust my watering to make the squashes happier, and quasi-drought-farm the tomatoes, my cucumbers and melons stopped setting fruit, since those fruits are MOSTLY water. I was busy and not paying attention sufficiently to notice that for a few weeks, by which time my melons had given up, despite some hand-pollination, and most of cucumber season had passed by. I am now getting 'normal' fruit set on the cukes, since I stepped the watering back up to a higher level.
More planning coming soon: raised beds! The right way, this time!