This Saturday a reader was asking about Cucumber Blight. The most disease-ridden plants in the garden are vine crops and tomatoes. What steps can gardeners take to postpone the inevitable takeover of diseases on our plants?

Start with purchasing seeds or plants that are more disease resistance. On plant tags or seed packets look for the information describing the plant’s resistance to diseases. When planting, give them ample space for proper air flow to keep the plants as dry as possible. A hill/group of seeds should have at least a 4-foot-by-4-foot space.

Have you ever seen beautiful cucumber plants in late August? Thought not. The wetter the summer, the quicker disease will take over. When you water, if that is ever needed this year, avoid wetting the foliage as much as possible.

Trellising or fencing is a great way to keep cucumber plants drier by getting them above the soil level, but be aware that you can be casting shade on other plants. Behind a trellis is a great place for summer lettuce that likes is cooler. In our area, it’s best to place trellises on the north side of the garden to maximize sun.

Using straw mulch will also help reduce soil splash and contact with soil borne diseases. A larger problem with growing cucumbers is the striped or spotted cucumber beetle. As soon as you see them, apply garden dust. By the time you see the adults chewing the leaves and stems with disease in their mouthparts, they have already laid a family or two of eggs at the root zone. The eggs will hatch and the larvae will feed on the roots. Get them while you can! The dust is only effective on them when they emerge as adult beetles, so repeat applications as needed.

Yes, there are organic chemicals that are effective, such as Sabadilla dust and Rotenone. These insects are also pests of other vine crops, such as cantaloupe and squashes. I have seen them on watermelon, but they prefer the other vines best. Even by taking all the preventative steps you can, some garden variety of virus/disease will likely get your plants before the season is over. Naturally, the final solution is to just get your cucumbers at the Mankato Farmers’ Market!

What about tomatoes and all their issues? Ditto the cucumber advice. What about caging tomatoes? Determinate tomatoes, AKA bush tomatoes, grow to a determined size and often ripen their fruit about the same time. These are smaller plants that will still benefit from staking or caging.

Indeterminate tomatoes are vine plants, engineered to sprawl. We put them in cages to force them upright for our picking ease and pleasure. Indeterminates will continue to grow until the growing conditions are no longer favorable. This would occur when the days become shorter, nights become cooler, there is less sun and less intensity when fall begins to arrive.

There are advantages and disadvantages to caging or allowing to sprawl.

With cages, plants stay cleaner and dry off faster after rainfall. Plants take up less space than sprawling. With sprawling, studies have shown that — because this is their natural habit — they produce more fruit. Fruits can be easier to see when picking, but rodents and other pests may come a-nibblin’.

Sprawling also takes up more square footage of garden space. If you have enough room, try it both ways and compare. I am using both systems this year — but not on purpose. The cages that of course have tipped over, are now sprawlers! For sprawling plants, you will definitely need straw to keep plants and fruits off the soil. Yes, I just answered that question … The tomato is botanically a fruit and so is the cucumber!

Flowers gone wild!

You might be noticing all the light purple/lavender flowers in the ditches this year. Thankfully it isn’t the Canadian thistle; they are already going to seed.

It is Monarda fistulosa L. This plant is commonly called Bee Balm, Horsemint or Wild Bergamont. Monarda is from the mint family and its leaves can be used in herbal teas. Long ago, Monarda was used to treat respiratory ailments. Varieties of Monarda can be purchased for the garden, with a color range of pinks, purples and reds. The flowers are tubular and are great for hummers and butterflies.

The Mankato Farmers’ Market is now open for 2019, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays in the Best Buy parking lot in Mankato. The Tuesday market is held 3:30-6 p.m. at Best Buy. The Thursday market will be held 3:30-6 p.m. at the Food Hub in Old Town, 512 N. Riverfront Drive.

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