Small Space Gardening: Blight, Mildew, And Mulch. No, They're Not Lawyers, But Just As Intrusive

Part 11 in Diane Dryden's series on gardening in small spaces.

Small Space Gardening: Blight, Mildew, And Mulch. No, They're Not Lawyers, But Just As Intrusive

Small Space Gardening by Diane Dryden is a series of garden articles that will run the entire summer with information for both new and experienced gardeners. Every two weeks the articles will update as the gardening year progresses; from picking out a site up to harvest in the fall.

Previous Small Space Gardening Articles:

  1. Sun Patterns And Soil Types
  2. Learning How To Read Seed Catalogs And Packets And The Difference Between Perennials And Annuals
  3. Plot Planning, Bulb Starting, Crop Rotation, And Saving Toilet Paper Tubes
  4. Seed Starting Using Grow Lights, Heat Pads, And Toilet Paper Tubes
  5. Seed Starting, Determining How Much Of Each You'll Need, Soil Types
  6. Growing Herbs And Starting Potatoes
  7. Early Crops, Container Tips, And Creating A Successful Compost Pile
  8. 3 Sisters, Watching The Moon, And Finally, Planting Your Garden
  9. Garden Update, Berry Bugs, Annuals Vs. Perennials, And Trees
  10. Ponds And Water Features, Wild Flowers, And Garden Update

Small Space Gardening - Article #11

Small Space Gardening: Blight, Mildew, and Mulch. No, They're not Lawyers, but Just as Intrusive.

WASHBURN COUNTY -- Now that it's midsummer, it doesn't mean the gardener takes any time off. Whether your garden takes up half your backyard or in several containers on your deck, now is the time for vigilance. It's also the time for mulch.

If you don't have access to straw, but you do have a paper shredder, you've got mulch. Mulch is anything that lets the rain thru and keeps the soil moist. Especially if you're talking tomatoes

The word is blight, and it is the tomato gardeners' worst fear. You can have early, mid-season, or late blight, but it's all the same. Your crop has blight when the lower leaves turn yellow and brown and fall off. Unless you remove these leaves immediately, the blight will somehow climb to the top of the tomato plant, taking every leaf hostage. It doesn't seem to affect the tomato, so some people don't worry about it.

I worry, So I mulch the tomatoes with straw to keep the rain from splashing back up off the soil onto the plant.

Bizarre theory, right? But consult just about any expert, and they'll have to admit that no one really knows what causes blight. Or the common cold, for that matter.

Even if you've mulched, cut them off if your lower tomato leaves start to turn yellow or brown. Keep cutting as the blight continues up the stem, hopefully slowing down the progress of the disease. It's recommended that tomato plants are rotated every year into 'new soil' so there are no old pathogens in the soil.

According to thirty-year container gardener Sue Hagen, that's not necessarily true. She's planted her 60 to 80 tomato plants in the same containers yearly for years. Some blight, some don't.

Sue lives in the town of Spooner, and her backyard is full of containers. Everything she grows, with the exception of cucumbers, is in 40-gallon containers she gets from a farm friend who gets protein in them. Her secret, she says, is cow manure, also from the farm. She uses half regular soil and half cow manure in her containers, and even though she might get some blight, it's not enough to worry her.

Every two years, she boosts the amount of manure in each container to renew the soil. This is her secret for getting excellent crops like peppers, which she plans four to a pot. She plants 2 tomatoes per pot and grows Swiss chard, beets, carrots, and bush green beans also in containers.

Her neighbor has a lot that adjoins hers, and they grow their squash and cucumbers in his raised beds. Sue says vines do not do well in containers because when the vines 'spill' over the sides, the tender vines will often crack from the weight of the vine without support.

Between them, they have such an abundance of garden produce that they give it away and take much of it to the nursing home so the residents can have fresh vegetables.

Sue also grows her herbs, basil, rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme, and oregano in a container. One plant each produces enough to use fresh during the summer, and she dries the rest for winter use.

Sue works full time but is in her garden daily, appreciating the fact that with containers, she doesn't have to bend over so far to tend her crops.

Her advice to new container gardeners? "Start small."

Now, back to the summer garden.

Powdery mildew is caused by high humidity and low airflow. Over-watering can also cause mildew. When a white or gray dusting or spots appear on the tops or bottoms of leaves or stems, that's mildew. It can appear on just about anything growing, and the good news is there are several ways to get rid of it.

You can make a solution of 1 Tablespoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of liquid hand soap in a gallon of water. Spray it liberally on the affected plant every couple of days. If you've got some mouthwash you're not using, put it in a spray bottle and use it straight.

Believe me, it works!

If this is your first garden or container planting, I hope everything is looking good. Maybe you've even gotten to eat some of your first crops like radishes, spinach, or lettuce. It's always fun to go into the garden and harvest your lunch.

This year our pea pods have outdone themselves by growing way past their usual 2 to 3 feet height. They are almost 6 feet tall and seem to have no plans for stopping or even slowing down. We're getting lots of pea pods too. Their growth is testimony to the benefits of compost because they were planted around the former compost pile.

Okay, back to tomatoes. Many plants, especially those purchased full-grown and ready to bear, are starting to produce fruit. If you thought blight was the only problem tomatoes have, you have been living under a rock. It gets worse.

The fruit itself can suffer from cat's whiskers, blossom end rot, or a myriad of other reasons for the deformed tomato.

Deformed tomatoes are often a watering problem. As in too much water.

Sunscald, or a white patch on the side of the tomato is just what it is; way too much sun. Hanging old sheets or garden cloths in front of the plants can help, but next year, pick a less sunny location for your crop.

Gardening is a constant challenge, and the reason I didn't mention any of these problems in the first article is because I didn't want you to be discouraged before you even planted your first seed.

Epsom salts are a friend of tomatoes, and it is available in many stores, especially the salts that are highly perfumed for soaking body parts. It's great for tomatoes due to its high calcium and magnesium. As soon as your tomatoes start to set fruit, pull the mulch away from the tomato stem and apply several tablespoons in a circle about three inches away from the stem. Do this once a month, and it will help the plant produce beautiful fruit.

For our final topic, bee hotels. If you have a wood pile, you already have an insect and frog hotel. Multiple tunnels and bark make ideal spaces for all sorts of little guys, even wasps. It's also deep enough for bees and bugs to tunnel way back in and keep warm for the winter.

If you're looking at buying a bee hotel, make sure you have a place to put it for the winter. Unless you read the instructions, you wouldn't know this.

“Mason bees are solitary, native bees which are the most prolific pollinators. Mason bees are not aggressive like honeybees because they do not have a queen or make honey. Instead, each female Mason bee has one job in her life: To lay as many eggs as possible. Once a female Mason bee establishes her home in a bee house, she will lay her eggs, fill the tubes with nourishment and seal off the entrance with mud so her young can safely grow for next Spring's hatch.

Your bee house should be placed near a garden and hang 5-7 feet high on a wall or a fence that gets morning sun and under an overhang, if possible.

Creating moist patches of soil near the bee house helps them use the resulting mud to seal off the tubes. In the Fall, store bee houses in an outdoor shed or covered location for winter. Do not store it inside your house.

In the early spring, return the house to its original location. The young male bees will emerge from the tubes, followed by the females a few days later.

The females will return to the house to lay eggs, and the cycle will continue.”

Between July 3 and August 11, the Dog Days plague the area. Heat and humidity increase, and lakes bloom. This is usually the time of the worst of the summer's heat.

The reason they are called the "Dog Days" is due to the rising of Sirius, the Dog Star. It's part of the constellation Canis Majoris, or the "Greater Dog." This is where Sirius gets its official name, Alpha Canis Majoris. Not including our own Sun, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky.

Thanks to the dark of the moon, weeds will be easier to pull between July 20 and August 5.

Next time we're talking about seed saving and second cropping, and recipes for some of your summer bounty.

If you have suggestions, comments, or wisdom, let me know. It's always appreciated. Let me know if you'd like your garden included in the following few summer articles. I'd love to meet you. 715-468-7648 or dieldryden@gmail.com.

Last Update: Jul 10, 2022 12:36 pm CDT

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