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How to set up your autumn / winter garden ready for sustenance over the coming months!

Anyone who knows me or reads my blogs will know that one of my fundamental philosophies is that anyone can grow a garden……

All we need is already there in our back yard, balconies or even inside our houses! That and a MINDSET!

We are now living in very interesting times and the way you choose to think is important.

How many of you were prepared before the panic set in?

How many of you panic-bought?

Please don’t think you have missed the boat for your garden, as autumn/winter sowing and planting has just begun.

Growing food is an essential part of living now. It has been an essential part of my life since I was a young girl. My grandparents grew food for their families which was a lifeline during the war, as a garden was how you survived and fed everyone.

For those of you in a panic about your winter or summer garden, the home life couldn’t have come at a better time with the seasons. Autumn is here and it is the perfect time for growing winter sustenance and in the Northern Hemisphere, Spring is upon you.

How can I set up my garden?

If you are starting from scratch, look at what resources you have at home.

Collect all your brown leaves into a pile, pull the grass out and put it in a separate pile, keep your lawn clippings separate too. There you go – you have the start of a club sandwich garden. How easy was that!

What shall I plant?

With the moon rising now, is the time to sow seed/plants that grow above the ground.

Lettuce, Rocket, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Spinach, Kale, Micros, Mesculun, Silverbeet, Herbs and flowers, land cress to name a few.

Kings Seeds is still open and you can order what you need online – I highly recommend them for quality and service!

Below is a chart to give you a little insight into what your plants require of you. I suggest digging in your bokashi or compost in preparation for planting some of the above plants and give it a good water, sticking your finger in the soil to check that it is wetter than the surface looks.

How do I take care of my plants?

My top tip is to soak in EM (effective microorganisms) or worm juice prior to transplanting.

When transplanted, I recommend to water or spray with kelp or worm juice and then feed every two weeks with EM and Kelp.

If you are growing broad beans, a side dressing of potash will be beneficial through the growing season.

Mulch when big enough – this will protect from soil splash from the rain.

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Three things you need to know about the ‘soil sponge’ in your garden

How dry is your garden?

Over the past few weeks, I have visited many food gardens on Waiheke and in the Coromandel to discover that most of them have suffered or been pulled out due to the drought, and the lack of water-holding capacity in the soil.

Water is the new gold.

It is the essence of life and is essential in growing food. The reason that a lot of our soils dry out is because our soils are depleted and abused. The soil sponge has disappeared which in turn means our soils have no water-holding capacity. Therefore, what water we do receive is not able to be fully absorbed into our soils and just runs off.

Soil and the soil sponge are the key to holding valuable water in our soils, which will then become available to our plants in times of drought and be there for the roots to take up to produce our very valuable food.

How can I improve my soil to create a better soil sponge?

The most effective and quick way to start improving your soil sponge for the home gardener is bokashi composting.

I like to call it ‘Bokashi Gold’ as it is the gold all our soils require and it is also a great circular way to process your food scraps from seed to soil – to plate to bokashi compost – to soil…

Why?

Bokashi is so much kinder to the environment than any other type of composting.

Benefit #1

It is an anerobic fermentation process that keeps all the goodies and energy in the organic material.

It holds higher nutrient and energy levels than traditional composting due to the much lower heat that is generated – bokashi is around 40 degrees and traditional and hot composting are 60 and above.

Benefit #2

In this process, when food scraps are put in the bucket, they are inoculated with EMAS (expanded EM), which is either in a liquid or inoculated bran. This makes the organic material more digestible to the soil – providing a greater soil sponge – as it holds much more moisture in the soil and helps your plants grow quickly to maturity.

By adding bokashi to your soil, you will be saving on your plants watering-needs, thus giving you a much healthier soil.

Benefit #3

In a nutshell, bokashi can increase the water retention of soil, improve drought tolerance, provide humus, prevent the growth of weeds, boost crop yields and reduce the need for fertiliser and chemicals.

The time is now…… Improve your soil, absorb more moisture, create healthy plants and do your bit for the planet.. BOKASHI is GOLD for your soil!

For more tips, videos and advice, sign up to my newsletter!

If you’re keen to start trying Bokashi composting at home, discover the range of home composting bins available from Urban Composter, and my review of them here.

Top pests to combat this summer and how the organic way

The Guava Moth

With Guava moth rife in many gardens, I recently shared a very good article on my Facebook page on this pest. Discover it here, as it offers a really good description of this moth and how to handle it and the life cycle of the moth.

Personally, I have found it to be less on the plums this year and, from reading the article, it seems that one of the worst hosts for this bug is the Loquat tree, so be mindful of this if you have some growing near other fruit trees.

For more helpful hints on how to tackle the rampant guava moth, see one of my earlier blogs here.

Woolly aphids, black aphids and scale

The pests that seem rife in my part of the country are woolly aphids, scale and black aphids. The citrus trees seem to be inundated by these and are slowly sucking the life out of the trees.

Recently I visited a garden that had all three of these pests of the one tree!

Trying to wipe out these pests requires a continuing commitment. Some of you may be thinking ‘just give them a spray and that is the end of it’. This is not necessarily true. An oil spray is good to smother the bugs and their eggs and to release the scale from the stems and the leaves. However, remember that they don’t just drop off – you will need to wipe the tree to remove these pests and to find out which ones are still attached.

Continue to spray on a regular basis – spray the air first, then underneath the leaves and up and down the trunk. If the scale don’t slide off, they are still alive and ants are attracted to their sugar secretion.

Make sure your plants have enough moisture in the soil and are healthy, with enough food. This in turn will aid for a quick recovery in your plants. The reason for spraying the air first is to catch the whitefly that will immediately fly upwards with any movement of the plants or leaves. If you are on tank water like me I have found the best thing is to catch the shower water and use this on your fruit trees and vegetable plants. Remember healthy soil is the key.

How to protect your plants

Using Bokashi in the soil helps retain moisture and gives your plants plenty of food. Remember to side dress your tomatoes with potash and to keep feeding your plants with the banana skin recipe I shared in a recent blog.

I tend to not plant anything more in the garden at this time of year, as it will struggle to get a good start with the intense heat we are getting at the moment. If you live in an area where there have been low temperatures and extreme wind and rain, your vegetable garden could be late in producing fruit due to climatic conditions.

Nip the growing points off the tops of your tomatoes to help the fruit to ripen and to stop the energy going into the growing points – this can also be a great thing to do for your pumpkins and melons. Once you have enough fruit, count up two growing sections of the plant and nip the growing point off. This will transfer the energy into growing and ripening the fruit on these plants.

Be vigilant of your plants and check regularly – this way, you will spot pests and disease early and if your plants are beyond help, pull them out and dispose of them so as to prevent these diseases spreading elsewhere.

Happy gardening

How to combat scale infestations organically

I have received many questions on the subject of scale over the past few weeks – it appears that they’re out in force in your gardens and it’s certainly that time of year! So I wanted to address them in a practical blog post, arming you with the organic tools you need to do battle!

There are many different types of scale affecting many different varieties of plants. Scale insects feed on a wide variety of plants and can be specific to particular host plants or groups of plants.

Scale are sap-sucking insects which in turn means they are sucking all the nutrients out of your plants. In some bad infestations, this can actually cause the death of a plant.

Scale seem to thrive in dry, warm environments when the plants are particularly vulnerable. They are generally found under the leaves and on the stem of plants. A good sign you have scale is the presence of ants going up and down your plant collecting the honeydew secretions. These secretions in turn encourage the growth of sooty mould, which is a black fungus that can prevent the plant from photosynthesising properly.

Scale insects can infect nearby plants, so early control is advised. There are numerous types of scale – from soft shell to hard shell scale. The harder shell is harder to control. If you have only a few scale, these can be picked off by hand and squished.

I’m also pleased to share with you my homemade recipes for scale – using organic and natural methods to control this pest:

1. Mix 2 tablespoons of oil with 5 litres of water and spray on infected areas. This will smother the scale and then it can easily be wiped off.

2. If you have a fungus present, add 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the oil spray and shake well and spray on the plants.

3. I use EnSpray 99 oil for my insect problems, which I can happily send you if required.

With all homemade sprays, I would advise doing a test patch first to make sure there are no adverse reactions from your plants.

The biggest trick up my organic sleeve is prevention. 

When your plants are at optimal health, they will not get affected by scale.

Did you know that insects sense vibrations? Rather than looking at your plants and thinking ‘mmm, they look tasty’, they instead feel the vibration of your plant to determine whether it is healthy or not.

If your plant is struggling, weak or diseased, it will have a much lower frequency vibration than a plant that has great health and a strong cell structure. When insects feel the lower vibration, they will target that plant – they are attracted to the lower vibration. Nature always preys on the weak – it is nature’s way.

Therefore, my top tips for organic scale prevention is to look after your soil, feed your plants, give them regular water and they will really benefit from a good thick layer of mulch, especially over the summer months.

Happy Gardening!

Four reasons your garden needs banana skins and how to make banana compost tea

Here’s hoping you all had a restful few days holiday over the festive season.

I thought this week we would talk about something simple and fun to do for your garden while you have a few days of relaxation.

I want to share with you the value of banana skins and how these are a great resource for your garden, especially this time of year.

Fascinating facts about banana skins

Did you know that the skins we peel off of our bananas and discard contain such valuable nutrients for your garden? They can create a tonic that is great for all kinds of plants – I have even used it on my plants indoors.

Banana fact #1

Banana skins have a high concentration of phosphorus, which is actually becoming scarce around the world, but is a vital fuel for our growing plants. Plants rely on phosphorus for fast growth and healthy roots. This nutrient also aids germination and strengthens fruit production.

Banana fact #2

Skins are loaded with potassium, which strengthen the cell walls of your fruit and help promote healthy development of roots and stronger plant stems.

Banana fact #3

Banana skins also contain magnesium and calcium, both of which are important in the healthy development of all your garden plants. Calcium helps to make nutrients accessible to the plants from the soil.

For your reference, banana skins do not contain nitrogen, so if your soil needs nitrogen, you will need to add this with an alternative source. Check out a previous blog on this here.

Try my recipe to make a banana skin compost tea

Fill ¾ of a largish jar with water, cover with a lid and place in the fridge. Every time you eat a banana, put the skin in the water and keep doing this until your jar is full. After it has sat for a week, strain off the liquid into a clean jar and keep your skins to one side. Then start a new jar in the fridge.

Dilution for application: Mix one cup of banana skin compost tea into four litres of water. Apply at the base of your plants and watch them come to life. They are especially beneficial to tomatoes, capsicum and chillis.

If you so feel inclined and really want to be a zero waster then you can pop your peels in the dehydrator or low oven for about 8 hours then whizz them up in the blender and add to the base of your seedlings when pricking them out in the garden to give them a great start in life.

Banana fact #4

Did you know banana skins are so clever, they can even be used to combat pests and disease? Banana skins are very effective when hung on the branches of your peach trees to repel curly leaf. I am also currently trialling the tea on a big aphid problem I’m tackling at the moment, and I read in a book somewhere that aphids really dislike the smell of bananas, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

For an aphid spray, ration 5 parts water to 1 part compost tea with a few drops of oil to help it stick. I might increase it after a week, but at the moment, I am doing a month’s trial on this dilution.

Have fun with your banana skins! Become a zero waste gardener!

My top four mulch sources that are safe to use in your garden

Thanks for your many questions on mulching the garden – you have been asking what to use and, most importantly, what is safe to use out there.

To me, mulch is so important in the summer months as it helps retain the moisture in the soil and keep plant roots from drying out, enabling them to go deeper into the soil to get their moisture. The question these days is what mulch is safe to use, with the heavy use of pesticides on crops.

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I can personally recommend the following four sources of mulch:

Leaf mulch is a layer of either shredded leaves or leaves that have been collected from a previous season and allowed to partly break down. These will enrich your soil in many ways.

Seagrass – If you are lucky, like me, and live near a beach that dumps this on your shores, it is a fantastic free source of mulch. I’m not sure where the name seagrass came from, but it looks very much like fresh cut grass clippings in appearance. Seagrass has hardly any nitrogen content but is full of minerals and especially high in boron, which is great for olive trees.

Organic straw seems to be a hard mulch to get hold of these days, so when it is available I buy 5 or 6 bales, which will last me the season. Organic straw can be expensive however, if you compare it to the bags of pea straw available in the shops, it is actually extremely good value as the quantity of a bale is 10 times more than a bag of pea straw.

Home grown beans or peas – I usually let all these plants go to seed and die off in my garden and then I break down all the stems etc. and mulch around my plants.

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Why should I bother to mulch?

Mulch is such an important part of gardening as it protects the soil from drying out; it keeps the roots of your plants cool in the hot summer months and protects them from soil splashes when the rain is heavy. It also keeps the weeds down – bonuses all round!

Top tip: One thing to remember is not to mulch right up to the stem. It is advisable to leave a space around the stem of each plant – otherwise you can suffocate the air flow and create a great environment for breeding pest and disease. This is also a great space to water your plants directly in the early hours of the morning.

Remember your fruit trees too – mulch can protect them from the dreaded weed-eater nicking the trunk and also to keep their roots cool, especially surface feeder roots like lemons and citrus trees.

My advice when buying mulch would be to only buy organic. Ask yourself what the pea straw has likely been sprayed with, considering commercial peas are prone to a lot of diseases. Fungacides are used, the dreaded Roundup is used between the rows and they are probably grown from chemically treated seed!!

Your garden deserves better and so do you!

There is so much carbon around so collect it up – leaves, seagrass and dried grass are great around the plants and will help keep the soil cool.

Happy Summer Solstice and happy gardening!

How to harness the magic and power of Calendula Officinalis

This week I want to share with you the magical medicinal properties of Calendula Officinalis. Last week, we learned culinary, beneficial and sacrificial properties of Calendula. If you missed this blog, check it out here.

In my opinion, Calendula is one of the most medicinal flowers that grows easily in your garden. From this magic flower, you can make creams, balms, oils, washes, gels, compresses and tinctures.

It is antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and an antioxidant. Phew! It is gentle enough to use on babies right through to the elderly.

I have been using the petals in a medicinal way for over 25 years and I want to share with you some of the wonderful applications I have found for this miraculous flower.

How do I use Calendula for skin conditions?

The reason I started making Calendula oil and cream was because, when I first landed in NZ all those years ago, I was eaten alive by mosquitos and sand flies. The Calendula cream took away the itch and healed the scars caused by scratching. I found it was also a wonderful healer for sunburnt skin. Here began my love affair with Calendula!

When my daughter was a young baby, I would use the cream to heal nappy rash and for cracked skin and grazes. I would also make an eyewash to help expel conjunctivitis from her eyes.

Calendula will heal cuts, scrapes, burns, cracks, sores, eczema, dry skin and it is a great moisturiser when applied on the body before bed – just apply on hands, legs and face.

As a gardener with my hands in the soil most days and constantly out in the harshness of all weathers, I find my hands can get very dry and cracked. I am not one to usually wear gloves either, so I’m a real test case!

After my daily shower, I lather myself in the cream, covering my cuts and scratches from the day’s work, and my dry hands and legs too, and in the morning, my skin is totally restored like magic.

It is a great solution for skin inflammation. It helps new tissue grow to aid the rapid healing of wounds on the skin, and it increases blood flow and oxygen to wounds. Further testimonials from my elderly clients endorse its amazing properties for healing their skin, especially scars left from having skin cancers removed.

Calendula is a great addition to your first aid kit in a domestic kitchen, helping to heal burns and knife wounds. The only thing I wouldn’t recommend Calendula for is to use it on an infected wound, as it could heal the skin over the infection before it has been resolved.

How do I use Calendula for internal conditions?

Calendula petals can be used to make a fantastic tea, which can help reduce gastric ulcer symptoms, cramps and help with hot flushes. I wanted to share my recipe with you for calendula tea, so that you can enjoy some of this potent flower’s magic too.

Recipe: Calendula Tea – AVOID IF PREGNANT

Put 1-2 tablespoons of dried calendula flowers in a mug and pour over hot water, cover with a saucer and steep for 15 -20 minutes then sip slowly.

Seven ways to use Calendula tea

I have found that Calendula tea can be used for the following symptoms:

  1. Mouth rinse for inflamed gums or thrush
  2. Use for inflamed skin conditions – pour over the skin and use as a face wash, including acne and pimple outbreaks
  3. Great for itchy eyes – use as an eye wash
  4. Conjunctivitus – also use as an eye wash
  5. Can help in a foot bath for fungal infections
  6. Great as a hair rinse to relieve itchy scalp
  7. Apply to your animals if they have itchy skin or rashes

Order my next batch of Calendula cream NOW

I am well known for my Calendula cream – I have spent many years perfecting my extraction to create a cream that I see time and time again really works.

I have just released my next batch, and I always create a limited amount, so if you are keen to purchase some, I recommend you order now through my website!

I hope that you too get growing Calendula in your gardens and give it a try. Please let me know how you get on – I love to hear your feedback!

Until next time – happy gardening!

Pricing: Grow Inspired Organic Calendula Cream – 28g, $15.00

Testimonials

“I had been trying a pharmacy-recommended cream for a rash and getting no results, so I went to my faithful jar of Claire’s Calendula cream. Result? Improvement in two days! After a full time career and years of working outside, Claire’s own use of her cream is a testament in itself. Throw out your old creams, and use this all purpose wonder cream!”

MARION BRIDGE, CALENDULA CREAM CUSTOMER

“I have always had great skin, but suddenly I broke out all around my nose and mouth with a severe kind of eczema. I tried everything I could think of – nothing worked. It lasted for months without improvement and really affected my confidence. Someone suggested I try Claire’s Calendula cream. I put it on each night, and within just a few days, it had disappeared. Amazing!”

KATY, CALENDULA CREAM CUSTOMER

Calendula: The one plant your garden needs most for summer success…

This week I’d like to share with you the magic and wonder of the flower, Calendula Officinalis.

For me Calendula Officinalis is a wonder plant – it is medicinal, edible, sacrificial, beneficial and a great companion plant, as well as a deliciously edible addition to any salad. What’s not to love! I think it’s an example of Mother Nature at her most generously creative.

What you need to know about Calendula and why I love it

Calendula grows most of the year round in New Zealand and self-seeds easily in most soils and conditions. If it starts looking a little scraggy, you can cut it almost all the way to the ground and it will grow again.

Top tip: Remember to always cut on an angle to enable the wound to heal and to prevent water sitting on the cut and causing the plant to rot.

You can either choose to leave it to go to seed; harvest the flowers at the appropriate time for making oil or cream; scatter the petals in a salad; or dead head the flowers as they die off. Calendula is not fussy about soil type and is pretty drought-tolerant too, as long as your get your plants established by December.

Calendula is of great benefit to all gardens.

Calendula as a sacrificial plant

In late spring and over summer, Calendula can attract numerous pests and trap them away from your garden. The petals, leaves, and centre of the flower are quite sticky, which cleverly traps pests like whitefly, blackfly and greenfly, keeping them away from your vegetable garden. Thanks Calendula!

They also attract green shield beetles, in turn also keeping these away from your tomatoes.

When using Calendula as a sacrificial plant make sure to plant at least 2 metres away from your producing garden to keep the pests a safe distant from your plants. The pests will therefore infest your Calendula and stay away from your precious produce.

Leave the Calendula plant alone whilst it performs its martyrdom; observation is the only action necessary. Eventually the plant will lose its life force and die. This is OK.

The pests will hang on to your Calendula for the rest of the season; some living and some dead – this too is OK.

Top tip: It is best to space your plantings out for maximum effect over the summer months. Plant every two weeks or every month. Remember that you are planting for this purpose – the plant could die and that is OK. It is nature’s way of taking care of itself.

Calendula as a companion and beneficial plant

Calendula is an amazing companion plant – it’s your garden’s best friend. Calendula attracts a wide variety of beneficial pollinating insects, such as butterflies and bees, and the pests that get trapped in the flowers attract ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies.

Win-win!

I told you it was a magic plant!

Its roots are very beneficial for the soil, repelling soil nematodes and asparagus beetles, whilst opening up the soil with its vigorous root. Calendula is the plant that keeps giving, as it will produce new flowers over the whole season.

Top tip: Companion planted with carrots, chard, parsley, thyme, peas, cucumbers, asparagus and tomatoes will greatly increase the health and vigour of these plants. Healthy plants are not attractive to pests – they would rather go for the weaker ones.

Calendula as an edible flower

Calendula is a great addition to any salad, cake or muffin. Just pick a good-looking flower and pluck the petals off, then scatter them on top of your salad. They especially look stunning on the top of a beetroot salad!

Similarly in a cake or some muffins, scatter the flowers on top of the mix just before putting in the oven. It is also great as a decoration on top of a rice dish to add vibrancy and colour.

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Calendula as a medicinal plant

In the next blog, I’ll be sharing more about the true potency of this incredible plant, including the benefits for medicinal use. Many of you know about my renowned Organic Calendula Cream that I produce once a year. This wonderful stuff always sells like hot cakes, so I want to give you an exclusive chance to get on my wait list ahead of the next batch…

More next week, but if you want to beat the crowds and get your hands on my Organic Calendula Cream first (your hands will love you for it!) you can pre-order yours now on my website!

Exclusively for my subscribers, I will be offering a code for free delivery of my Calendula cream in my newsletter this week, so sign up if you want to get or gift this beautiful product for less!

You can pre-order your Calendula cream here and orders will be posted at the end of next week, in time for Christmas!

Get growing Calendula and show your garden a bit of Mother Nature’s magic.

Happy gardening!

The top 4 diseases of zucchini & how to protect from them organically

Last week, we talked about powdery mildew which gets spread across your zucchini inadvertently by ladybirds, so this is an ideal time to look at the top four diseases that affect zucchini and – most importantly – how you can protect from them organically.

Zucchini can be plagued by Downy Mildew, Bacterial Wilt, Yellow Mosaic Virus and Botrytis Blight. These four diseases can develop rapidly and once they take hold, they can be pretty challenging to cure, so the best way to deal with these is prevention!

Disease #1: Downy Mildew

What is Downy Mildew and how does it affect my zucchini?

Downy Mildew is a common problem for zucchini from spring to early summer. The disease can stunt your plants’ growth or damage your plant and it is very hard to diagnose. This disease is not the same as Powdery Mildew, so best not to get these confused. Downy Mildew is caused by parasitic organisms that are quite closely related to algae. Downy Mildew requires the presence of water to spread and survive, so if you are in a dry area, you will be less likely to experience this disease.

Downy Mildew can appear as a kind of fuzzy growth that can vary in colour from yellow to grey, white or even purple. It usually starts on the lower leaves and can appear as spots on the leaves.

The difference between Downy Mildew & Powdery Mildew

How can I prevent Downy Mildew on my zucchini?

The best way to prevent this disease is to water your plants at soil level and not on the leaves, as this disease needs water to survive.

Disease #2: Bacterial Wilt

What is Bacterial Wilt and how does it affect my zucchini?

This disease usually appears early in the season and affects melons and pumpkins and squash. It overwinters within the cucumber beetle. When spring is upon us, the beetle starts to feed on the young plants, infecting the stems and leaves as it goes. It starts with the leaves and usually spreads downwards rapidly until the whole plant is affected. It will affect the fruits of the plants, which will either be of a strange shape or wilted. When touched, they can ooze a milky substance that is quite stinky.

How can I treat Bacterial Wilt on my zucchini?

The best thing to do if your plants are affected is to pull them out and dispose of. Do NOT compost as the disease will live on and keep reoccurring. To prevent, try to catch the cucumber beetles when you see them.

Bacterial Wilt

Disease #3: Yellow Mosaic Virus

What is Yellow Mosaic Virus and how does it affect my zucchini?

The Yellow Mosaic Virus is a seed borne disease, which causes slow production of fruit, defectively formed fruit – or even stunts fruit production completely.

How can I prevent Yellow Mosaic Virus on my zucchini?

The best way to prevent this is by purchasing true organically-certified seed. This disease really has no cure and can spread quickly to other plants, so put a bag over it and pull it out to prevent it spreading.

Yellow Mosaic Virus

Disease #4: Botrytis Blight

What is Botrytis Blight and how does it affect my zucchini?

Botrytis Blight is a fungus that really only attacks the tender young parts of the plant when there is high humidity, so when summer really kicks in. The flowers can change colour and wilt and the buds can fail to open. The outer petals of the flowers start to get a browning on the outer edges. Leaves and shoots with this disease have masses of grey spores or brown lesions. Sometimes the leaves can die and even drop from the plants. Fruit will rot and drop off.

How can I prevent Botrytis Blight on my zucchini?

Remove and destroy all infected parts of the plant. Botrytis blight can overwinter in the soil. This disease can be spread by water splashing, wind and high humidity. It can infect plants in their vulnerable areas of broken stems or where a plant has been cut.

Botrytis Blight

Prevention is the key, and the best way is to give your plants plenty of space to enable airflow. Make sure you use hygienic methods with cleaning and storing your tools as spores can easily spread this way too. Clean up dead leaves from around your plants and mulch them to prevent splashes from the soil. Remember – never compost infected plants.

Happy gardening!

Friend or foe for your zucchini and pumpkin?

Illeis galbula – or otherwise recognised as yellow and black ladybirds – are bugs that eat fungi and powdery mildew on our plants. As gardeners, we look at them and they bring joy to our hearts, being the lovely ladybirds they are.

BUT did you know that these ladybirds cause more harm than good on our zucchini, squash, cucumber and pumpkin plants, all part of the cucurbitaceae family?

What’s the problem caused by these ladybirds on my zucchini, squash, cucumber and pumpkin?

They come to the plants infected with powdery mildew to feed and then they proceed to spread the fungus from plant to plant, infecting with the disease as they go.

If you have many zucchini and only one has powdery mildew, WATCH OUT! With these little creatures, they can all be infected by the end of the week!

After the ladybirds are full and sated, they travel on their merry way to the next plant, regardless of whether or not they still want to feed. As they walk along the plant, they drop a few mildew spores on their way thus infecting the plant.

Where do these pesky ladybirds come from?

The females lay small groups of white eggs on the underneath of the fungi-infested leaves, which you may observe are a pointed shape egg. From these eggs, the larvae nymphs hatch and deceptively look nothing like you might imagine would grow to be ladybirds…!

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When hatched, it attaches to the leaf and moults into a pupa. Adults hatch from the pupae and immediately mate.

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The length of time of each life cycle is very dependent on the outside temperature – the hotter it is the quicker they will multiply.

How can I organically control these ladybirds around my zucchini, pumpkin and squash plants?

Interestingly enough, birds are not attracted to these bugs due to their bright colour. More to the point, they are quite bitter, so birds are very wise to not eat an unpleasant meal.

The best way to control these pests is by preventing powdery mildew on your plants.

What is your secret recipe for controlling powdery mildew organically, you ask?

Organic recipe #1

In the early stages of this fungal disease, you can spray the plant with a milk and water mixture (recipe: 60% water to milk, shake well) on all parts of the plant. The milk has natural antibiotics which, when exposed to sunlight, can act as a natural fungicide.

Top tip: Remember to spray first thing in the morning before the heat of the sun, and then repeat on a daily basis until the spores are no more.

Organic recipe #2

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) works really well too, as it creates an alkaline environment on the leaf and increases the pH by 1 which is enough to kill or prevent all spores.

Mix 3 tablespoons of baking soda into 4 litres of water; add 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 drops of natural dishwash liquid, mix together and spray all over the plant until dripping.

Bonus tip: Cider vinegar and Effective Microorganisms work in very similar ways by altering the pH so the spores can’t live.

Next week, we will talk more about the pests and disease of zucchini so you can protect this delicious and versatile summer crop. And don’t forget to get in touch with any questions, tips or tricks of your own! I love to hear from you.

Happy gardening!