My new gardening tip: Got milk?

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Early morning — sun shining, birds singing and out I go to milk my garden. That’s right — I said milk.

After years of frustration trying to grow veggies in highly acidic soil containing no nutrients, we have a raised bed. My husband, noting my frustration, constructed the bed before planting time arrived. It looks wonderful and is a testament to hours of work on his part.

Once he finished, I took over and did what I heard you should do — planted my seeds on Good Friday. In little more than a week, green sprouts poked their heads through the rich dirt.

Then the rain came at the right time and the garden took off. Every day the squash looked taller and the green beans bushier. The tomato plants are giants compared to what I had in the past. My cucumbers are running up the fence and the bell peppers look great in the planters with the marigolds.

All was well as I harvested squash, picked beans and watched tomatoes growing fatter and fatter. Then it happened, the scourge, the dreaded killer of happy vegetables — powdery mildew arrived, riding in on the humid air.

I knew this nightmare because I had it in the past. First it’s a spot here and there. Next thing you know plants swivel up.

I was not going to let this happen to my beautiful garden, not this year. So I went to the Internet — that great source of knowledge and how-to advice on everything from powdery mildew prevention to sinus pressure relief (a column for another day).

I found Web site after Web site, pages and pages on the subject of powdery mildew. Some suggested a concoction of baking soda, dishwashing soap, vegetable oil and water to alleviate the problem. I’ve been there, done that and it didn’t work, made the squash kind of greasy, but the mildew remained.

Then I stumbled on an interesting cure, one recommended by experts like P. Allen Smith and Paul James, the garden guy (legends among those who till the soil).

Milk was the treatment for powdery mildew. And I read testimonial after testimonial declaring how well it works.

Heat from the sun activates something in the milk and it breaks down the spores or the cells, some scientific thing. No one really understands exactly what happens or why it works.

Of course there were a few negative posts. Like the woman who said the milk smell coming from her garden attracted the neighborhood cats, creating a whole new set of problems.

Still for the most part, gardeners agreed on the positive effects milk has in doing away with powdery mildew. So I mixed a 1 to 10 ratio, one part milk to nine parts water (I was so proud of myself for understanding the math).

So far it seems to be helping. I’ve sprayed twice and I think I’m at least holding the problem at bay.

However, one thing occurred to me as I was milking my squash. Who came up with the idea of putting milk on plants to get rid of powdery mildew? Did someone see the garden dying and suddenly think milk? Why would that thought occur? I mean milk sprayed on plants to kill mildew seems a strange thing to think up.

But there is always that first person, a great mind boldly going where no one has gone before, and I’m grateful to that person if my powdery mildew problem is indeed solved.

Now, I’m wondering about applying the milk idea to the sinus pressure problem. Could this be the next great idea on the Internet …