I'm sad to say that we lost 98% of our garden this year to a combination of fungi--the tomatoes rotted on the vine, the pumpkins and all the other squashes succumbed to powdery mildew, and everything else was more or less just pitiful...except for the cucumbers which flourished up the fence, producing a huge fruit at least every day!
My question is...now what? What can we do to the soil to prevent all this chaos next year? We are planning to burn everything, including the copious grass that also flourished, but I thought the fungus comes out of the soil. This particular plot is new to gardening--it's always been a not-too-healthy lawn, having had a pool on it for a few years, then a tent for a few weeks for a few summers. This year we has a truckload of loam brought in, along with some commercially purchased "compost"--which we had had delivered last year and since it looked more like finely ground and dark-dyed wood chips, we left it in a pile in the back yard to compost into something a little more useful. We mixed it with topsoil and filled pots with it and a few wheel barrows of it went on top of the garden before we had a tiller to it and mixed everything in well. The soil there was heavy with clay, so I thought all that good stuff would help. Silly me!
So, any suggestions? It's really the only sunny spot we have for a garden.
It's not the destination, but the journey!
I haven't followed Connecticut weather so I don't know whether or not you experienced drought, a normal summer, or a wet summer.
My gardening friends in Michigan experienced drought and multiple problems with their crops, not unlike those you experienced. I've found the best thing to do to counter drought is to really, really enrich the soil before planting (anticipating a drought), and turn all the compost and mulch under so that the roots are protected from drying out.
If you've had a rainy summer, that could account for the powdery mildew, as could the spacing of your plants and the wind patterns in your yard. Crowded plants allow the retention of moisture much more easily. Wind which doesn't help aerate the yard also would contribute to conditions ripe for mold.
The fact that your trellised cucumbers fluorished, while its relatives the pumpkins and squash did not, suggests something - more aeration. Did you grow vine pumpkins and squash or the bush varieties?
How large is your garden? Were the crops so close together that there was no room to walk inbeteen them? Is there any wind ventilation in the garden at all? Is your yard surrounded by large shrubs, deciduous or evergreens which affect the wind flow patterns? All of these can be factors which allow moisture to build up in the garden and create a situation conducive to mold growth.
As to prevention, I think you're taking the right steps. Get rid of all the moldy vines and plants and don't compost them. (I assume that you're allowed to burn in your area; if not, pack the moldy stuff up in the yard waste bags; just don't keep it or leave it around.) If you are allowed to burn, usually ashes can be added to the soil but given that they're from moldy plants, I think I'd dispose of the ashesin the trash.
You could plant a cover crop to enrich the soil, which I think is part of the problem, specifically, the "not-too-healthy lawn." Plants grown in unhealthy soil have less of a chance of success, particularly against environmental challenges such as drought and/or heavy rains. You might need to build up the soil for a few years before planting a full garden again.
A pool on a lawn would I think tend to compact the soil beneath it, and it might need another year or more of soil enhancements to become less compact, particularly if since was already clay (which is really inhospitable to a vegetable garden).
Do you drink coffee? If so, spread out the coffee grounds on the garden and let the worms help enrich the soil. They aerate it, and their castings act as natural fertlizers.
If you like hard work, you could double dig your garden. It's time consuming and hard work, but well worth the efforts. I double dug almost all of the 6000 square feet I once had under cultivation and it was well worth the effort.
Next year, definitely try crop rotation and a smaller garden. If you haven't already, make a diagram of what crops were planted in which areas, and next year plant crops of different families...i.e., don't plant any of the cucurbit crops in the same area as pumpkins or squash were planted this year.
If you grow pie pumpkins and small squash which aren't as heavy as say field pumpkins or butternut, try to find a way to trellis them. It will keep them off the soil, allow the vines to get more air and allow the fruit to get more sun and ripen more thoroughly.
Don't chastise yourself for thinking all your efforts went to nought - you did the rights things. I just think there were other factors that came into play and the clay soil just wasn't ready to host a garden.
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