Of Pests and Powdery Mildew

Apple leaves all Eaten

Dear Reader:

When I talked about summer vacation, you probably didn’t think I meant a vacation from writing all summer. Well, neither did I! However, that is exactly what happened. When we weren’t at the beach, my daughter and I were hitting the clubhouse pool. When we weren’t at the pool, we were shopping for school clothes, or watching the latest “Twilight” movie, or hanging out with friends, or preparing for camping, or recuperating from camping, or indulging in a marathon session of Buffy the Vampire slayer episodes via instant Netflix plays. The whole family went boating. Our truck “climbed Mt. Washington.” There was a family reunion, 4th of July up north with my parents, and a leisurely canoe trip down the Saco River with friends, followed by an impromptu lobster feed. We had sleepovers. We had company. We had BBQ’s up the wazoo.

Did I mention Buffy?

I’m going to save my diatribe about Twilight’s Bella the Girl Who Can’t Do Anything for Herself Possibly not even Tie her Own Shoes versus Buffy the Vampire Slayer who totally kicks butt for later. While we had to suffer through some rather overt teenage sexual antics on Buffy, the Skinny Blond Chic With the Wooden Stake Fetish, I’d still take that over Bella, the Girl Who Jumps Off Cliffs In Order to Hallucinate About Her Equally Miserable and Whiny Vampire Boyfriend Who Dumped her For Her Own Good and Sent Her Into A Spiral of Self-destructive Behavior Because She Couldn’t Possibly Live Without Her Man. (What are we, back in the days of the trashy 1970’s bodice-ripper novels, people? Eye-roll.)

Gardening this summer, I could so relate to Buffy. She had pests. I had pests. She slaughtered. I slaughtered. So, maybe Buffy’s pests were a little different from mine. She had vampires and the occasional freaky demon from Hades to deal with. Nothing a little stake through the heart can’t fix. I, however, had that evil spawn Powdery Mildew with which to contend. Buffy had evil hordes descending on her? I had (paranoid glance and a whisper) Popillia Japonica aka Japanese Beetles. You see what the little demons did to my crab apple leaves in the photo above? Every day I’d go out and they’d be well, you know, making like the teenagers at the Bronze if you know what I mean. Replicating.

(For those of you who do not get these Buffy references, here is a link to get you started on Wikipedia.)

They dwell among us!

According to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the Japanese beetle is a scarab beetle. They are shiny red and green, and actually quite pretty if you didn’t know what you were looking at, which is a member of a plant-chomping, invasive horde. Basically they eat, mate, and lay eggs in the turf which hatch into white grubs. They go deeper into the ground during the cold months, emerge in the spring to eat more turf, and then pupate into beetles to start all over again.

I thought about buying one of those yellow Japanese Beetle catchers, but I’d read somewhere that doing so might only manage to attract more pests. Instead I got a glass jar, poured in some bleach and water, and tried to knock as many bugs off the leaves and into the jar of doom as I could. This would help for a few days, and then they’d be back and I’d have to do it all over again. Eventually, the poor leaves were so brown and lacy I just didn’t bother anymore. Next summer, I’ll get on top of it early and mercilessly. I’ll be the star of my own show, Shelley The Beetle Burner. Ack, who am I kidding. In my own head, I’m ALWAYS the star of my own show (and so are you in yours, be honest.)


Not only did I have insectae to deal with this summer, I was also invaded by Erysiphe cichoracearum, powdery mildew. The Extension was helpful for information once again with a dry little summary entitled, “Powdery Mildew of Cucurbits.” Cucurbits are, if you can’t guess by the spelling, the family from which cucumbers sprout. Cucumbers, melons, squashes, pumpkins. Powdery mildew also affects ornamentals like the flower leaves in the picture.

I oh-so-innocently planted eight or so of my precious garden-box squares with cucurbits this summer. I had zucchini and yellow squash and buttercup squash and cukes, both pickling and eating. Everything was going fine and dandy through July. The sun was shining (but hot and humid), and the leaves of my plants were getting full and green. Bees crawled in and out of the large, yellow and orange blossoms, pollinating. Tiny yellow summer squash began to form . . .

Right about the end of July I began to notice some suspicious grayish spots on the larger leaves. Soon the mold spread. I tried cutting off the affected parts, but it was no use. The few fruits that managed to form grew only about four inches long before beginning to soften and dry up on the end. I picked a few of these small squashes and threw them into stir-fries before pulling up most of the squash plants and recycling them into the compost bin. A couple of summer squash plants at the front of the flower bed continue to produce one small fruit at a time, so I’ve allowed them to live out their life cycle in peace.

Round Cucumber in Planter

Though the eating cucumbers haven’t produced anything edible yet, the pickling cukes gave me enough for eating and salads, if not for actual pickling.

I’ve decided once again that the problem here is the canopy of trees surrounding my yard. Even though we had plenty of sun, the trees prevent air from circulating. When the humidity is high, as it was this summer, the fungus eats up the moisture and multiplies all over my poor plants. As a science experiment, this is all very interesting. From a food production standpoint, it stinks.

My garden wasn’t a complete flop, however, despite my pests and powders. The greens–lettuces, kale, arugula, mache–all were amazing. Little, bright red chili peppers thrived in the summer heat. I will need to put up some of that blueberry-chili pepper jam I made last year and then experiment with the more typical apple-based pepper jelly. I could also see about stringing them up to dry for winter-time use. We ate succulent green beans from the garden for a week or two, picking a handful or so a day. The tomatoes, bless them, offered up 68 fruits–about 63 more than last year! We ate them in salads, mostly.

A wonderful farm stand opened in the town next door, and I’m beginning to see that I’d do best to grow what thrives here–greens and beans and a few chili peppers–and buy the rest from someone with wide open spaces and ten to twelve hours of sun per day. I will become a salad and cooking-greens specialist. There are wonderful varieties out there, and I intend to try all of them in the summers ahead. Oh, and one more experiment this year.

Since we are getting on toward autumn, now would be the time to think about finally planting some garlic. I’ve heard it grows well, even in partial sun, and I enjoy the flavor in many different dishes.

Plus, you know, it discourages the vampires . . . Buffy would approve.

How did your garden do this summer? What are you eating now, in this the most bounteous of seasons? Drop me a line . . . Outside the Box.

10 responses to “Of Pests and Powdery Mildew

  1. Last year I had those beetles all over my green bean plants. I fought them daily and it did not help. They totally ruined my plants. I didn’t want to put bug spray on them because I didn’t want to eat bug spray. The wormy bugs were all over my brussels sprouts. It was depressing.

  2. It IS depressing. You plant the seeds and wait and watch so hopefully–and then something (and it could be anything from weather to pests to not enough nutrients in the soil) happens and then, well, NOTHING happens as far as food production goes.

    I think handpicking the beetles is really the best solution. It just needs to be done every single day. I wish the birds would figure out that the beetles make good eatin’!

  3. My little bit of garden stunk this year. My daughter and I planted what we could in the only spot in the back yard that got any sun and it was only about ten square feet. Soil was too poor and sandy so we didn’t get much except a couple of luffas and a handful or two of green beans. I think you can grow green beans anywhere; I always had good luck with them.
    Shelley, what you need for the beetles is a few chickens or guineas–they eat the dickens out of the grubs. When I had my garden back in Missouri I didn’t have problems with beetles. Of course, sometimes the zoning or neighborhoods won’t let you have fowl.
    Another thing, you might want to be careful tossing the mildewed plants in the compost–the spores overwinter and you have more of the same next year or whenever you use the compost. I learned that the hard way.
    I’ve made pepper jelly–we all love it–but never tried it with blueberries. I’d love to have your recipe.
    Boy, I miss my little 5 acres–just not the man that went with it.

    • Oh, if only I could have some chickens. I’ve ranted about this before, but my rural homeowner’s association will not allow “livestock.” Yikes about the compost. It will probably take a few years for it to break down, so maybe the spores will die off? LOL about the acres and the man. I will send you the recipe!

  4. Hey Shelley! I started my blog this weekend. I may need to get some tips from you at some point, but for now I am exploring bits here and there. I’m finding it easier to write about things than I thought I would. Now I need to add some pictures. As always, I enjoy reading your posts.

  5. I’ve heard mixed reports about throwing diseased plants into the compost. Usually the good microbes outnumber the bad, and your finished compost is pretty well inoculated against the original disease. My pumpkin plant (the only surviving one this year) was looking a bit like your powdery mildew pictures, actually, and has perked up a lot since I piled a bunch of homemade compost in its bed.

    For Japanese Beetles — go to your garden center and ask for milky spore. It’s organic granules that kill the grubs of those and a few other unwanted bugs. Lowe’s carries it, but they charge a fortune. I think it might be a bacteria. I spread it once or twice a couple years ago, then my cat peed in the remaining stash so I dumped it on the compost bin. I rarely see the beetles anymore, and they were BAD.

  6. My garden is fully exposed to the sun most of the day and I had the mildew as well. What time of the day do you water? I read that watering in the morning instead of later helps keep the mildew down. I was not faithful in this experiment, Scott and I watered when we thought of it (usually in the evening:() As for those beetles, I had the “Jap” beetles and a small brown beetle that lives in the soil and makes an appearance in the evening. I had more trouble with them. They ate my carrot tops, swiss chard, lettuce and artichoke. I powdered, which helped ease the problem, only after learning that was bad for the bees.
    I like Julie’s milky spore suggestion.

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