Saturday, November 17, 2012

Milking swedes


A lot can happen in the garden over a week, and so you find there's never a really good time to take a week's holiday. Still, I prepare as much as possible, pack my bags and hope for the best - and here I am, a week later, assessing the damage. At this time of year I tend to worry most about getting a scorching hot week and returning to a patchwork of dead and wilted hopes and dreams. However what I got this round was a warmish week of light rain, cloud cover and humidity - and while that might seem like a better deal, my crop of swedes copped the raw end of it.

I planted these guys at the end of August, and as a winter crop, that's about as late as you want to plant them in my neck of the woods. It's the first time I've tried growing swedes, and up until now they've been entirely self maintaining - and thus quickly working themselves to becoming a regular winter staple of my garden. But the powdery mildew currently spreading across the leaves is a pretty big first problem.
Pumpkin is still in the clear.
Mildew is sort of like your annoying third child (and I say this as someone who has ongoing mildew problem, and as an annoying third child): You could have done a lot to prevent it, but now it's here, it's kind of hard to get rid of. I think a lot of my problem here, aside from untimely absence, is that they're growing in a slightly shady position, at a time of year that tends to be warm and humid, and possibly a little too close together. However, they're getting pretty close to being ready to crop, so while my chances of eradicating the mildew are almost zip - all I really need to do is keep the plants alive long enough to get them over the line.

Zucchini in the eternal cherry tomato bed.
So to start, I stalked around the garden bed with a pair of secateurs picking off all the leaves that were far beyond saving, and removing any dead material out from around the base of the plants. All this ended up straight in the waste instead of the compost, in what can only really be called a symbolic attempt to prevent further spread of the problem around the yard - removing mildew from the yard is the horticultural equivalent of whack-a-mole. Beyond reducing further sources of infection, trimming back also opens up the space around the swedes for better airflow, which will also hopefully make for a less inviting place for mildew to grow.

Then its time to start with the heavy artillery, using a little trick known by cows ever since bovine-kind began intensively farming cucurbits. So armed with a pressure sprayer, I covered the foliage with a full-cream milk spray, mixed one part milk to six parts water. Milk has some awesome anti-fungal qualities that should help to prevent further spores getting a new foothold on the leaves - but you don't want to go overboard with the milk in the mix, because that will open the door to other problems. I've also chosen to spray in the morning so the plants have the full day to dry out again. It's also a good opportunity to spray the pumpkin and zucchini with the leftover milk mix, because if there's mildew anywhere in the yard, it'll only be a matter of time before its everywhere.

The final step is to sit back... and hope.

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