Friday, August 2, 2013

Rainy Friday

It started raining here on Wednesday evening; a rare thunderstorm rolled through and kicked off what's stretched into 2 full days of on/off rain. I have to admit that as an East Coast transplant, there are few things I really miss besides a good, loud, shake-your-windows kind of thunderstorm. One of my all-time favorite memories is sitting on the front porch of our house in New Jersey with my Dad, just watching a downpour and listing to the thunder. We'd laugh that it was the angels bowling... and I sure loved it when they'd get a strike! It's funny, the things that stick in my memory.

Anyway, rain in early August is an oddity here in WA. Usually you can count on July and August being dry, whereas the rest of the year is pretty much a crap shoot where the weather is concerned. On one hand, this bout of rain isn't a bad thing- most of the local farms have just finished putting up their hay, so they're in the clear. It's also kind of nice to have the dust washed off of everything. On the other hand, though, rain while it's still warm sets the stage for a fungal explosion.

Since I don't use chemical sprays, I'm anxiously watching the forecast. As of right now, they're calling for it to clear up tomorrow and get sunny again. Best case scenario, things will dry out before anything nefarious takes hold. Our apple and pear trees are the most at-risk; both fruits are susceptible to scab and that's a real challenge to keep in check without sprays. Good sanitation practices are key, but all it takes is a few warm and wet days to set the stage for a major outbreak. If one sets in now, we'll have to be extra vigilant come fall to make sure that next year's fruit isn't impacted. This means raking up and burning all of the leaves and spent fruit (whatever we can't use) as our compost pile doesn't get hot enough to kill out the spores. If you're not familiar with it, scab causes unsightly cork-like patches on the fruit and can damage the overall health of a tree. The fruit, while it won't store well on it's own, can still be peeled and cooked up or frozen.

In the veg garden, powdery mildew is a distinct possibility. Once things dry out, I'll be watching for any white fuzz to show up on leaves, so I can remove any offenders and get them down to the burn pile. Catching it early is  great control, but the key with any fungal infection is to make sure you're not mucking around with things while there's moisture on the plants. I can't stress that enough... if you get the spores on your hands, and the conditions are right (read: wet) you'll just spread it around the garden yourself. Not Good. Insects and birds can also transport the spores, which is why removal can be helpful.

I've not tried it, but I have read that milk can be used (diluted 1:1 with water) as a foliar spray to control powdery mildew. I don't remember all of the science to it, but something in the milk reacts with sunlight and as it breaks down chemically, it's anti-fungal for about an hour or so. Garlic is also a great anti-fungal; I used to use garlic tea on my roses for black spot control. A simple recipe is just to boil a cup of water, and pour it over a few cloves of garlic that you've either chopped up or squished in a garlic press. Mason jars work great for this. Cover it and let it steep until cool (I always left it overnight just because I'd forget about it) then strain out the garlic and put the liquid in a spray bottle. For bad infections, I'd leave it full strength. If you're shooting for a preventative (keeps the aphids away too) then dilute it with an equal amount of water before you bottle and spray. This will be stinky-- you have been warned.

Even with those natural options available, I still hesitate to mess around with spraying things if I can avoid it- but that's just me. In my opinion, it feels easier to just snip something off and get rid of it, rather than fight (and possibly spread) something around the garden.

What do you do for powdery mildew or other fungal issues in your garden?

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