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Dear Editor,

Every year my cukes and squash get hit with some kind of mold or fungus. I have tried new containers and new potting soil and it still happens. Is there ANYTHING I can do to stop this?



Dear PE,

Without actually seeing a picture of what you’re talking about I’m going to take a guess and say you’re experiencing a common fungus called powdery mildew that affects cucumbers, squash, melons, and pumpkins (those crops known as cucurbits). It is far more common in areas that with high humidity, are somewhat shady, or are damp.

From North Dakota State University agricultural department, here are some preventative steps to take right off the bat:

  • Use clean, healthy, good quality seed.
  • Use crop rotation. Whenever possible, do not plant cucurbits on or next to land that had cucurbits in the last three years.
  • Do not plant cucurbits near woods or brushy areas that may be weedy. Many weeds harbor cucurbit diseases.
  • Plant seed in the garden after soil temperatures are at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit, or set out transplants started 2 1/2 weeks earlier indoors.
  • Control all weeds in and near the cucurbit patch. Be sure to control perennial weeds, which can be a source of overwintering cucurbit disease organisms.
  • Plant several rows of corn around the cucurbit patch, or at least on the windward side. This helps keep out aphids that carry cucurbit virus diseases.
  • Control aphids and cucumber beetles. Begin control when the plants emerge from the soil.
  • Destroy volunteer cucurbit plants. These can harbor cucurbit disease organisms.
  • Do not enter the cucurbit patch to cultivate or pick while the plants are wet. Water helps spread disease.
  • Do not cultivate after the vines are 18 inches long. It is difficult to not damage plants once they are vining.
  • Remove and destroy all diseased plants.
  • Avoid poorly drained areas of the field and areas where water collects in rainy periods.

Now, on to some organic methods of control. These are proactive measures to try before the fungus sets in.

  • Plant in full sunlight.
  • For proper air circulation, provide enough spacing between your plants.
  • You can pass the mildew spores from cucumbers to squash just through your tools. Disinfect your tools with full-strength vinegar or a water/bleach mixture with a ratio of 9:1 (nine parts water, 1 part bleach) before moving from your cucumbers to squash.
  • Don’t water in the evenings. This dampness left overnight is an incubator for the fungus. Water in the morning.

You can use a mixture of milk and baking soda to prevent and control powdery mildew, which you apply to the top and bottom of the leaves. (The baking soda makes it difficult for the spores to survive by raising the pH levels on the leaf surface.) Milk just seems to boost the plants immune system, sometimes by as much as 90%. With all the trouble you’re having each year, you should begin using this before the first symptom of fungus appears.

Using 1/2 quart of milk, 3 teaspoons of baking soda, and one drop of liquid detergent, pour into a hose end sprayer (the ones that attach to the end of a garden hose), and spray the solution on the tops and undersides of your plants on a weekly basis.

I hope this helps!

The Editor



Dear Editor,

Hi! I would like to start my tomato plants by seeds this year. I’ve never done it before. I purchased the Survival Seed Bank last year. I received the ‘Off the Grid Garden Checklist for 2012’ and reviewed what needed to be done. I was excited until my neighbor said it is now too late for me to start my own plants. The local newspaper (about 2 weeks ago, which I must have overlooked) said indoor seeds should already have been started. I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana which means I’m in Zone 6. It stated that the last frost date is April 15th. Is it truly too late for me to start my seeds indoors?

I was also wondering if I should purchase a book for help. Not only do I want to start the seeds indoors but I want to learn how to save the seeds. Also, I am limited on gardening space. What would you recommend?

Thanks for your help!


Dear JW,

If your last frost date is around April 15th, (and you plant tomatoes about two weeks after this date), then I can’t see why you can’t still start your seed indoors. You generally start seed 5 to 8 weeks before transplanting. Of course, I’m in the South, so I’m not sure what your weather is like year-round. However, I did go to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website ( and did some searching (and if you’ve never picked up an Old Farmer’s Almanac, you need to! There is a lot of information in there about planting dates, best times to plant, etc.) I just chose a random zip code from the Ft. Wayne, Indiana area… at the end of this paragraph is a link to the section “2012 Best Planting Dates for Seeds for Fort Wayne, Indiana”…  it says you can still start your tomato plant seeds with no problem. I recommend perusing the site. There’s a lot of great information there.

If I had to recommend a book for you on seed saving, it would be Seed Sowing and Saving, which is available here… I have several seed saving books that were highly recommended to me, but they were written by biology professors or agriculturalists or people who don’t speak (or write!) common English… I couldn’t understand a word they wrote and I’m an English major! Seed Sowing and Saving however, brings the whole process of seed saving to us average gardeners with easy to understand instructions. I highly recommend it for anyone’s library.

When you say you don’t have much room for a garden, I’m not sure how much “not much” is! J Are you in an apartment, have a house but a small backyard, or some other arrangement? There is a book in the Solutions From Science store titled Garden Up!, which is a book on vertical gardening. It’s for those folks who have only a small space or want to take advantage of all usable space. Check it out at

Thanks for writing!

The Editor

One comment

  1. I’d perpetually want to be update on new content on this website , saved to bookmarks! .

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