by guest blogger Beth Terry
I’ve been dedicated to living a life plastic free, and experimenting this summer with starting up a garden. This post is one of many in a series describing my successes and struggles keeping plastic out of my garden.
(If you’re new to this series, check out my first three posts about buying soil, planting and mulching, and watering without plastic. And check out my blog My Plastic-free Life, to understand the problems with plastic and to find plastic-free alternatives.)
My squash plants, which started out strong, have developed a host of problems, the first of which is powdery mildew.
A little online research turned up multiple recipes for controlling powdery mildew with a solution of baking soda, dish soap, and water. A few of them suggested adding some oil as well. I dug out an old spray bottle, filled it with water, and added a tablespoon of baking soda, a tablespoon of vegetable oil (from a glass bottle), and a teaspoon of liquid soap. Well, my own homemade liquid soap that I created from a bar of solid soap. Liquid soap, after all, comes in new plastic.
So did it work? I’m not really sure. Baking soda is not supposed to “cure” powdery mildew, but to prevent it from spreading. Before I could find out whether this solution was really working, I ended up with other squash problems.
BLOSSOM END ROT, YELLOW LEAVES, AND OTHER MYSTERIES
A month ago, I harvested a couple of beautiful zucchinis and a yellow squash. Since then, my squashes have been withering and dying, with signs of blossom end rot—rot that begins at the blossom end of the squash and works its way up.
What’s more, my cucumbers have simply not thrived. They grow a few beautiful green leaves, then turn yellow, then brown, then die.
Same with my wax beans. The plants just turn yellow. Then brown. Then keel over and die.
With all these woes, Eric suggested I get my soil tested. Yes, testing my brand new soil. So I sent a sample to a lab (in a plastic bag). And what I found is that a) the soil is very alkaline, and b) it’s extremely low in calcium, even though it’s high in everything else. Weird. Blossom end rot is definitely a symptom of calcium deficiency. I don’t know if lack of calcium is causing the other problems or not. I’m also wondering if I’m watering too little or too much.
ADDING CALCIUM WITHOUT INCREASING PH
There are various ways to add calcium to soil. I decided to try gypsum, which is calcium sulfate, because it’s not supposed to raise the pH of your soil the way lime will, and it’s a source of sulfur. Plus, it came in a paper bag. Or so I thought…
Once I tore open the bag, I discovered the plastic layer inside.
I’m not sure if the gypsum is helping, and I’m not sure if I should be watering more or watering less. As I said, the weather in Oakland has been crazy. While the rest of the country is dealing with record high temperatures, we are freezing here. Don’t even ask about my peppers. They’re not worth mentioning.
For now, I’m just going to enjoy my chard, watch my tomato plants fill up slowly with fruit, and hope my one remaining bean plant survives. It’s got two little beans on it, but the leaves look pretty yellow. Want to place your bets?