Powdery Mildew Attacks Zucchinis

 The Fall of an Empire

So many great empires hath come and gone.  It is quite fitting that immediately after posting about the spread of my zucchinis, they have met their maker. At the zenith of their power, like Rome before them, a barbarian horde in the guise of a white, filthy powder has been their undoing. Powdery mildew has arrived in my garden.

The white ghost crept in during the night, and the natural defenses of my plot were not up to the task of repelling the inital attack. I’ll get a couple pictures of the devastated plants up in my next garden update. The powdery mildew hit the zucchinis first. But it has since spread over to and devastated my cucumbers as well. Apparently powdery mildew is the bane of any zucchini farmer’s efforts for a healthy crop in Southern California.

Powdery Mildew

Zucchini Powdery MildewPowdery mildew is a fungal disease that affects plants belonging to the Cucurbita pepo family; vegetables like zucchini/squashes, cucumbers, peas, melons, etc. A very good, detailed article on the topic may be found here.  This wikipedia article on powdery mildew is also good but over the top. Powdery mildew is very prevelant in Southern California gardens. It occurs most frequently in late Summer, just in time to ruin your harvest, when things are getting really hot. That’s what happened here in the past couple weeks finally. Each day has been hotter than the one before, with temperatures hovering in the 90s. This heat wave has really allowed the mildew to spread quickly.

I first spotted the signature dried out white lines a couple weeks ago. I should have immediately pulled up my zucchinis, or at least cropped the leaves, to keep the powdery mildew from spreading. Alas, perhaps I waited too long and now the leaves of both my zucchinis and both my cucumbers have wilted, yellowed, curled, browned and now fallen off. I don’t know if it has affected the taste of the cucumbers, but I also harvested my first cucumber last week, and it was very bitter, almost tasted soapy.

 Battling Powdery Mildew

All is not lost however. I have been trying to combat the powdery mildew with a home made solution. I mixed one table spoon of baking soda, a half teaspoon of dish soap, and one gallon of water. Then I put it in a conventional sprayer that I got on Amazon. A couple hand pumps, and I get the leaves with a quick coating of this mixture. It sounds pretty nasty, to be eating soap. But think about it, you wash your plates with dish soap. This is about the safest natural fungicide one is going to find. Other options include neem oil, chamomile tea, and skim milk. I have not tried these options but would love to see anyone’s thoughts in the comments.

The key is to not overspray the leaves because that will cause run off of the solution. If too much of the solution runs off the leaves and into the base of the plants and seeps into the soil, it will start killing off the beneficial bacteria in the soil, compounding problems. So take care to only lightly coat the leaves with the spray if you are faced with this same problem. Also, it is important to realize that the spray will not just wipe out the powdery mildew but also beneficial bacteria from the leaves themselves. Assuming you successfully combat the stuff, you should get some helpful bacteria and lightly dust the leaves. Paul’s worm castings or compost would be perfect for this purpose.

The Results

I am starting to see positive results already. I finally got rid of some of the deadest leaves, and have reclaimed some territory from the powdery mildew on the leaves that were not too far gone over to the white side. It is really good to see this working and to harbor hopes of getting a few more zucchinis and cucumbers this summer.

I will continue to update everyone on the great Powdery Mildew war of August 2012, and the zucchinis battle for garden supremcy. Wish me luck.

Cape Mayhem Gardens Update – Vermicompost, Beans, Corn and Lady Bugs

Agridude - VermicompostSorry for the uber late post…This was from 2 Sundays ago after I did all that worm work.  It was my birthday last Friday and the celebration started on Thursday which didn’t leave a lot of time to post.  I ended up going to the nursery for a few supplies and ended up buying a 6 pack of pole beans and an edamame plant, a bunch of lady bugs, and 2 giant stakes to tie the tomato plants to.  The picture on the left is the vermicompost that I harvested from my Worm Factory 360.  I bought the lady bugs to eat the catepillars that were eating the tomato leaves and fruit.  After learning that legumes put nitrogen back into the soil, I decided to buy some bean plants to help put some nutrients back in the ground.  I also want to experiment with the Native American method of the 3 sisters garden, except I’ll only be using corn and beans.

Agridude - Holes for VermicompostThe directions from the Worm Factory 360 say to dig holes near your plants and then fill them in with the vermicompost that was harvested.  To the right, you will see a hole next to my green zebra tomato plant.  By placing the vermicompost in the whole, when I water moving forward, the water should pass through the compost and bring the nutrients down to the roots.

Here is a picture of me filling in the whole with my vermicompost:

Agridude - Applying Vermicompost

Agridude - Corn GrowingTo the right is my corn growing.  I think it is doing pretty good for the late planting it received.  The three sisters garden is a Native American technique of growing corn, beans, and squash or pumpkins together.  The corn acts as a pole for the beans to climb, the beans put nitrogen in the soil for the corn to grow, and the squash provides ground cover to retain moisture.  You can’t see the beans in this picture, sorry, I’ll get a better picture next time.

Agridude - Lady Bugs on CornIn the picture on the left, you can see some lady bugs crawling on the leaves.  I noticed some holes in our tomatoes and on leaves on many different plants.  We have had this in the past and we used to look for the caterpillars by hand, but I learned last year that lady bugs will eat them.  I bought a pint size container of them from my nursery and dumped them on plant leaves in the evening.  They will stick around the garden as long as there are bugs for them to eat.  I saw some on Saturday so I was happy that they are still hanging out.

Here are two pictures of my tomatoes.  I am trying to show how bare the bottoms of my plants are.  Do they look normal?  Seems kind of bare to me…but there is tons of fruit so I’m not sure…

Agridude - Spindly Tomato VinesAgridude - More Spindly Tomato VinesIn the above picture, notice the one ripe tomato, it’s a Crnkovic Yugoslavian’s, we used this tomato for a topping on our burgers that night.  Here is a picture of Mike and I near the grill, and the second is of  kelly cutting the tomato into slices for the burgers:

Agridude - Mike and Paul Grilling BurgersAgridude - Kelly Cutting Tomato for BurgersNext post Ill update you guys on the beans, how the new cucumbers are doing, if I still see lady bugs around, and if I see any noticeable difference in the plants after using the vermicompost

Worm Factory 360 – Adding my 3rd bin

Agridude - Finished Vermicompost TrayOn Sunday, it was time for me to add the third bin to my Worm Factory 360.  I have had this bin up and running for the past 3 months.  The picture to the left is my bottom tray aka the processing tray.  One of the reasons I bought the Worm Factory 360 was because it’s supposed to be easy to harvest the vermicompost when it’s ready to be used.  The worms are supposed to migrate to the higher bins where the food scraps are being put.  This would mean there are no worms in the processing tray and I could just take the compost and use it easily…but this is not the case in my tray.  As you can see in the photo, there are quite a few worms in there.  I have read online that the way to harvest is to put the processing tray on top of the working tray (top tray), and then scrap the compost into piles which will ‘force’ the worms to move down in the bin and allow us to collect the compost.  Agridude - Build Pile to HarvestI tried doing this but was limited in time so I only took out half a gallon or so of compost.  You can see my attempt in the picture on the right.  I will add another post when I do the full harvest and show you what i mean.  One exciting thing that I noticed while doing this was that there are tons of worm cocoons which means the worms are comfortable enough in this environment to be able to reproduce.  I have also noticed that the worms are much bigger than when I initially purchased them.

Agridude - Cleaning the Worm LadderWhile trying to harvest the vermicompost, I looked in the collection area for the leachate and where the worm ladder sits for worms to climb their way back into the bin.  It was full of castings as you can see.  I put this in my ziploc bag along with the other compost to take to my garden and apply as side dressing to fertilize.

Agridude - Take Two Scoops from Top BinOn to the new bin preparation.  Take a couple of scoops from your processing tray and throw it on the bottom of the new tray.  This is supposed to ‘jump start’ the new bin by providing some beneficial micro organisms and a few worms.  You can see I just used the rake that came with the bin and took from the middle of the bin.  I took some bedding and compost for the base layer of the new bin.

Agridude - Put in New Bedding - Moist Coir and Shredded PaperYour next step is to put in enough bedding to cover the bottom layer of the tray.  I still have some coir from when I first bought the bin, and I have been collecting shredded paper scraps for a while now so I put some of those in too.  You are supposed to soak the bedding for 24-48 hours but I’m not sure why.  I have not done this and will do it the for the next tray or when I have to add bedding to this tray again.

Agridude - Food Scraps on top of BeddingI then added a bunch of food scraps that I had saved over time.  Some of it was really ripe and that’s why I was wearing those sexy yellow gloves… You can see some pepper scraps, tomato pieces, banana peels etc.  They eat mostly anything, but we’re not supposed to put dairy, meat, greasy things, too much citrus, or a lot of grains.  You can also see that I took bedding out of the 2nd tray and moved it up here just so that this tray wouldn’t sit on all that stuff.

Agridude - Egg Shells and Coffee GroundsOnce I covered the food scraps with the bedding, I added a lot of coffee grounds, egg shells, and the pumice that came with the worm bin.  I am not sure if I’m supposed to put these things on the food scraps or not… so I decided that I should mix it up the contents of the bin with the rake.   I was still careful to keep a lot of the bedding on top of food scraps to keep down the fruit flies.

Agridude - New Processing TrayThis is what the processing tray looks like now.  The new tray I just prepared will sit on top of this one.  You can see there is still quite a bit of work for the worms to do before this is useable.  That’s ok though, I’m not in a rush to use it since I have a whole other tray of compost to use. Below is a picture of a lot of dry bedding on top to keep out the flies as well.  Hope you enjoyed the post.  I have another one to make for what I did with the harvested compost…coming soon!

Agridude - Finished Working Tray

 

 

 

Worm Factory 360 – Updates from my bin on the patio

Agridude - Moving Food Scraps AroundSo it has been WAY too long since I last posted about my worm factory 360 bin on my patio.  After I added my second tray, I learned that I was putting too much water into the bin.  To wet the bedding, I was pouring water from my watering can into the worm bin.  This was adding way to much water in the bottom tray and the drainage reservoir. I was pouring out tons of leachate from the spigot which isn’t supposed to happen.  I lifted the bottom tray and noticed that I had a pool of water there.  So I drained the leachate into jars and have been diluting it and using as a fertilizer.  I have read mixed opinions online about whether or not to use this.  Anyone have an opinion?  Leave a comment and let me know.

Here is a picture of Agridude - Tray Way too Wetthe lower bin to show how wet the compost had become.  It looks like mud and that is not what you want your finished compost to look like.  In order to fix this, I mixed in a ton of shredded dry newspaper to absorb some of the moisture.

 

Agridude - Worms Hanging between Trays

Here is a picture with the working tray being lifted off the processing tray.  You can see some of the worms dangling in between.  I have found that it takes a LONG time to move out of the processing tray.  It has been over a month and I continue to find worms in the bottom tray.  When I add my 3rd tray, I’m going to put the bottom tray on top of the 3rd tray and force the worms to move down into the new working tray.

Here is a close up of the processing tray with quite a few worms hanging out on top:

Agridude - Worms in Bottom Bin Near the TopAgridude - Food Scraps in BinThese next pics were taken last week when I decided to give the worms a large feeding before I went up to San Francisco to visit my friends Matt and Eric.  You can see that I just cut up these scraps with a knife versus my food processor.  I read that if you blend the food too much, it can be a barrier for the air and create anerobic zones that are lethal to the worms.

Agridude - Cover with BeddingAfter I put the food scraps in, I covered them with some moist bedding.  I am using cleaning gloves here because the food scraps had sat outside for a few days and were pretty ripe.  Not exactly the most agridude ish type of clothing, but I didn’t want to get that nasty smell all of my hands.

 

Agridude - Finished Working with BinHere is the final picture with a nice top layer of bedding over the food scraps.  You can see that the working tray is pretty full now.  I will be adding the third tray this week and when I do, I’ll take pictures so I can make another post.  Again, sorry for the month long gap of not posting any updates on this project.  It’s summer and I have been busy.

Worm Factory 360 2nd Tray Update – 6-20

Agridude - Worm Bin after initial feedingIt’s been a while since I last posted about the new second bin on my Worm Factory 360, sorry.  It took 3 days for the first worms to move up into the new tray.  This might have been because there was still a good amount of food in the tray below that was still getting processed.  When I opened the tray on the 3rd day, there were quite a few fruit flies in there.  I think this is because I didn’t cover the food with enough bedding. The picture on the left is what it looked like on Sunday.  Most of the food was gone and worms were in the bedding.

Agridude - Worm Bin with new foodHere is a picture of the tray with some new food that I put in the corners.  I put the food in the middle the last time and I decided to use new locations for the second feeding.  When I talk about feeding, I give them food and also a bunch of coffee grounds.  In California, Starbucks has Grounds for Your Garden where they will leave 5 pound bags of coffee grounds outside for composters to pick up.  Don’t forget to add crushed egg shells around the food.  This helps with the ph levels and also gives the worms some grit to process the food.  Here is a picture after adding the grounds and egg shells.

Agridude - Worm Bin with crushed egg shells

Agridude - Worm Bin more bedding

 

 

 

Since I don’t want anymore fruit flies, I decided to add more bedding over the food.  Bentley from RedwormComposting told me via email that you can never have too much bedding.  After I put all the bedding down, I had to water it down so that the worms are able to live in it.  You want it to be like a rung out sponge like everyone says.  That means it shouldn’t be dripping water when a handful is picked up, but if you squeezed the handful, some drops of moisture would come out.  Once you are done with that, you can cover the tray with moist sheets of newspaper like the directions tell you.  I will be checking on the worms tomorrow to see if they are ready for some more food.

Agridude - Worm Bin new bedding wet

Worm Factory 360 – Adding a new tray

Agridude - Starting second binThis past Saturday, I decided that it was time to add a second tray to my Worm Factory 360.  The first tray was pretty full since I received so much worm bedding when I purchased my worms.  It is fairly straight forward to add a second tray, the DVD that came with my worm factory has a special section on how to do this.  I started by taking some of the compost from the first tray and added it to the new tray.

Agridude - Starting second bin 2I took a couple scoops of compost with my hand shovel and placed it in the new tray.  This brings up some of the beneficial micro organisms that help break down food.  This will help prepare the new food scraps that I will be adding.  Hope you like my sleeveless corona shirt, it’s perfect for Saturday morning worm tasks.

The next step is to prepare the bedding that will line the bottom of the tray.  I used some of the coir that I had bought when I got the worm bin, and also added some shredded newspaper, then poured water over it to make it nice and moist.  You have to pour water over the coir for it to expand and then you can break it apart.  If you don’t have coir, you can use shredded cardboard, newspaper, office paper etc.

Agridude - Watering Coir

Agridude - Peeling Coir

Agridude - Adding Newspaper Shreds to Coir

Agridude - Watering Coir and Newspaper

Once you have made your new bedding, it is time to put it in the new tray.  I made sure to put down a thin layer over the entire bottom of the new tray.

Agridude - Adding bedding to second tray

You will put your food scraps on top of the bedding next.  I used my food processor to chop up 3 banana peels and an apple core.  I also added some pumice to the bedding since I had leftover from the bag that came with the worm factory.

Agridude - Food and Pumice

Agridude - Adding Food to Tray

After adding the food and pumice, I added some coffee grounds to the tray. I should have also added some egg shells, but I didn’t have any so I will do that when I get some eggs.

Agridude - Adding Coffee Grounds over Food

Once your food layer is done, it is time to add more bedding on top of that and then you are finished.  Be sure to lay some newspaper over the top to cover everything and wet it down pretty good.

Agridude - Covering Food with Bedding

Agridude - Putting on Newspaper Cover

I’ll try to take some pictures soon and let you know how the migration from the first bin to the second bin is going.  I also should let you know that I opened the nozzle to see if I had any leachate (liquid that collects in the bottom of the bin and is used as fertilizer), and I had quite a bit.  I will dilute this and use as fertilizer at the garden and in my potted plants on the deck.

Agridude Brian also purchased a worm factory 360 and is going to start posting his experience as well.  Looking forward to it!

New Food Processor to Help with Chopping Up Food Scraps

Agridude - Food ProcessorI used to chop up my food scraps with a knife on an old cutting board to make it easier for the worms to process the food.  After chopping the food up, I would put the pieces in a 1 gallon freezer bag and freeze it.  This also helps the worms out since freezing it makes the food softer when thawed.  Next to the food processor is my food bin that I keep in the kitchen and throw the food scraps in.  I would wait til it was full, then chop up the food.  Sometimes this could take me up to a half hour depending on how much food and what type of food I had to chop.  I finally got sick of this and decided to look for a cheap food processor on craigslist.  I found this one for 15 bucks and it looks good and works.

Agridude - Food BinThe other problem that I ran into was that the food was taking up way too much room in my freezer.  I had 4 bags full of food scraps and was running out of space to store steaks, chicken, and other meats that I buy in bulk from Costco.  I figured that if I blended the food to a pulp, it would allow me to maximize the bags while also getting the food into a more eatable form for the worms.  I decided to do test out the processor before work this past week. To the right, there is a better picture of the food bin that I keep the scraps in.

 

Agridude - Food Bags Not BlendedTo the left are the bags of food when I was just cutting them up by hand. You can see the worm bin and today I will be adding a second processing tray for the worms.  I decided to do the food processing outside since I thought it was going to get messy and nasty.  I haven’t used a food processor before so I had no clue what was about to happen.  It was pretty easy to do.  Just load up the food, put the lid on, and let er rip.  For some of the food, I had to add a little water to get it to a nice pulp, but other foods still had some moisture and didn’t need any extra liquid.

Agridude - Me Processing

Here is my attempt at taking a picture of myself processing the food.  No showers necessary for this type of work.  I am going to be leaving the food processor outside.  It wasn’t too messy of a process, but the food scraps are pretty gross after a few thaws and refreezing. Below is a picture of the final product.  The food processor made 4 bags of food fit into 2.  It’s nice to have more room in the freezer now.

Agridude - Processed Food Bags

 

Vermi Composting with the Worm Factory 360

I had seen worms (red wigglers) for sale at my local nursery, Walter Andersen Nursery, and had heard that worms were good for the garden so I bought some two years ago to throw in.  The worm castings are some of the best fertilizer you can use.  Compared to topsoil, tests have show that worm castings are 5 times richer in nitrogen content, 7 times richer in phosphate content, and 11 times richer in potassium content.

The first year that I threw them in the garden was not the best environment for them.  They survive on eating decaying organic matter which wasn’t prevalent in my garden soil.  This year when I turned over my soil, I found a few huge worms that were eating a rotting tree stump, but not that many others.  I was told that they would aerate and provide the nutrient rich castings, but they most likely ended dieing.

After seeing my Uncle’s farm in Hawaii, I started doing some research into vermi composting aka worm composting.  I found out that the city of Encinitas and Carlsbad subsidize compost bins, both regular and worm bins. Jude and I went to a two hour composting class at the San Diego Botanical Gardens.

Agridude - Worm Factory 360Between the class and my online reading (RedWormComposting.com – here is his blog post on setting up the WF360), I felt like I had a enough knowledge to start a worm bin.  I found someone who was buying a bin, and asked if she would buy an extra for me and she did! It is called the Worm Factory 360 I also bought some coir for the bedding.

 

Agridude - Worm Factory SetupThe bin is pretty easy to set up.  They pretty much give you everything you need, including your own coir so what I bought was unnecessary. The bin has a leachate (the liquid that may drip to the bottom and can be diluted to be used as a fertilizer as well) catcher  I thought it would be stringy like coconut hair, but it’s like rotted cork and crumbles into tiny pieces.  I started moistening it in the sink, but quickly realized that it was going to be a nasty outcome.  I decided to put the coir in a glass baking dish and slowly pouring the water over that.

Agridude - Coir SinkAgridude - Coir Glass Dish

As you do, it will turn into what basically feels like dirt.  The worms apparently love this.  You could use moist shredded paper, newspaper, and cardboard (ripped into smaller pieces and pretty wet) too.

Agridude - Empty BinHere are the trays that come with the bin.  There are four of these and they make it a tiered system.  You start with one bin, and when it fills up you add another.  The worms will move up through the holes and begin feeding in the new bin.  This makes it easier to collect the compost by not having to go through and pick out the worms.  In the bottom bin, you put a layer of newspaper down so that the worms don’t fall through the holes.

Agridude - Bin Newspaper Bottom Lining

Agridude - More Picking through WormsThe worms I bought came with 10 pounds of worm bedding that contained 200 worms of all ages and worm eggs.  I was initially going to try to pick out the worms and leave as much bedding behind, but they said that it was easier for the worms to adjust to their new environment, so I ended up throwing most of it in the bin.  Agridude - PumiceI added some pumice, small lava rock pieces that came with the bin.  Once everything was in the bin, I added some food to the corners.  I cut my food into smaller pieces and freeze them to break down the cell walls so it is easier for the worms to eat.  Also be sure to add crushed egg shells for the calcium (to help with the acidity) and provides some grit for them while eating since they have no teeth.  They also like coffee grounds with or without the filter, same thing with tea bags (you will want to Agridude - Cutting Foodremove the staple).

After all that, it was time to put a top layer of moist newspaper on and close the lid.  This was 3 weeks ago.  The worms have grown much bigger and they are all over the food.  Ill continue posting my results. I will be adding a new tray shortly so I will post those pictures and more detailed instructions. Here are all the pictures from the setup day:

 

Agridude - Adding Food

Agridude - Putting First Tray On

Agridude - Paul with Knife and Fork

Agridude - Placing Newspaper on Top

Agridude - Worm Closeup

Agridude - All Set Up