Well, it was bound to happen. My unfaltering, magical, no muss, no fuss vegetable garden finally decided to give me a hard time. July 2015 will forever go down in history as the month that the garden stopped being low maintenance and started stirring up trouble.
THE CRISIS: Last weekend, I awoke to a startling development in the garden. Nearly all of the leaves on my zucchini plants were covered in strange looking white spots and I could tell right away that something was amiss. After dashing back inside to consult with the Internet, I quickly surmised that the odd white splotches were most probably powdery mildew.
What is powdery mildew? My online research tells me that it is essentially a mold that develops on the leaves of certain plants when conditions are very wet and humid. (So, for anyone living in the greater Montreal region – basically June through August.) My man worked in landscaping in another lifetime and had already taught me that it’s important to avoid watering the leaves in the vegetable garden, so I have always made sure to water only the soil at the base of each plant; but we’ve had a somewhat rainy season followed by some fairly humid days (thanks, Mother Nature). Powdery mildew develops on the top and bottom of leaves but it can easily spread down the stem and into the entire plant, which can ultimately impact the yield and quality of fruit coming off of the plant.
THE SOLUTION: There are apparently a few different ways to handle a powdery mildew crisis. A lot of the articles I read suggested spraying the leaves with a homemade concoction of water and baking soda (or in one case, water and milk); others implied that the entire plant may need to be scrapped if the mildew has spread too much; but nearly all of them recommended cutting the sick leaves as soon as possible to hopefully prevent the powdery mildew from infiltrating the entire plant (or worse, garden). I decided to go for the most basic solution and cut off all of the leaves that were covered in the white stuff, as well as any other leaves showing signs of mildew growth.
By the time I got through one of the two zucchini plants, there were only a handful of leaves left! It also became glaringly obvious that the second plant was patient zero – the entire thing was COVERED in white splotches and even the stems were blanched. So, with a heavy heart, I tore the entire plant out as gently as possible. (The Internet also told me that powdery mildew spores travel by air so it’s important to be really careful when extracting the infected leaves.)
As I completed my crisis management mission, the zucchini corner of my garden was looking pretty sad and forlorn. The remaining plant toppled over as I was cutting back the leaves so I awkwardly tried to replant it. There were already a few zucchini babies at the base of the plant and I’m not sure if they will make it after the great leaf purge of 2015 since they really depend on the leaf shade to develop. That said, last year’s zucchini harvest was wild and the plants seemed to grow on an infinite trajectory, so I’m cautiously optimistic that what’s left of the plant will somehow flourish and deliver despite the crisis.
THE UPDATE: Just a few days after cutting back, I was pleased to find healthy green leaves sprouting up in the space their sickly sisters and brothers previously occupied. The zucchini babies at the base of the plant were looking a little withered but a few new ones were starting to grow in as well, so things were looking to be moving in a positive direction…until yesterday…when the white stuff came back. Blerg.
I cut those trouble-makers back as soon as I spotted them, and did the same this afternoon when 2 more leaves appeared to have caught the mildew, and now I’m beginning to think I may need to try out that baking soda-water mix to see if I can get my poor zucchini plant back on track. To be honest, the saddest part about this entire crisis is that I’ve spent the last 12 months finding zucchini recipes on Pinterest in preparation for a zucchini explosion in the backyard. Oh well. Adventures in gardening!
On a happier note, my cucumber plants are spectacular – I plucked my first little cucumber on Sunday morning and upon close inspection of the leaves, they do not appear to be bound for the same fate as my zucchini plants. There were a few suspect leaves that looked a little questionable, but I cut them back and everything looks to be in order…for now…
To be continued!