As our fields at Stearns begin to ripen, I can only imagine what all of your gardens look like! We’re moving on from the crops that favor cooler weather – lettuce, spinach, bok choy, cabbage – and finally seeing significant progress from our fruiting crops such as eggplant, cucumbers, and squash. And while I love the diversity of vegetables coming out of the fields, it takes a lot of work to make sure we are able to harvest enough of these crops for any length of time, because the hot, humid weather presents the perfect conditions for bacterial growth. 

The most common bacterial pathogens that we see at the farm (and ones that you may also see at home) can affect tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, and melons. They are susceptible to things like bacterial wilt, powdery mildew, bacterial leaf spot, and black rot. If you see some odd things on your plants, including discoloration of the leaves and stems or fruit that is misshapen or discolored as well, you may want to look up what could be causing it. 

Disease and bacteria are almost inevitable in our climate, but there are some helpful tips to try and reduce the spread. For gardeners, it’s always good practice to sanitize your pots before using them next season because the pathogens can survive on surfaces and infect next year’s crop. Bacteria can also come from the soil, so it’s important to reduce the chances that soil touches your plants’ leaves as they grow bigger. Trellising cucumbers to keep them off the ground can help significantly, as well as pruning (removing) the bottom leaves of your tomato plants to reduce the possibility of soil slashing up onto the leaves during watering or a summer rain storm.

Another strategy is to grow successions of things to guarantee a good harvest. At Stearns, we put in three separate plantings of cucumbers and summer squash because we get only a few weeks of harvest from each one. The plants often get to a point where they can no longer produce good fruit so we move on to the next planting. For example, some bacterial pathogens are capable of entering the plant’s vascular system causing a symptom known as vascular wilt. Plants suffering from this will show symptoms of wilting even when soil moisture is good. At this point, the plant is past the point of recovery and we cut our losses. 

Be curious about your plants. Take a closer look to see what’s going on and if there is anything you can do. Sometimes the crop can push through the effects of the bacteria and other times it can’t. But don’t let this discourage you – it should only solidify the fact that there is always more to learn and that you still can have a green thumb even if you lose to bacteria every once in a while! 

Until next time,