Our GardenPlanting

Failure to launch (a.k.a. the importance of sunlight)

Sunlight. The one, most important ingredient for a bountiful harvest like the one you see in the picture.

This may seem like quite an obvious statement, right? But how many times do we tend to forget the tacit, implicit – obvious – things in life?

And today, this applies to us.

We are in our garden. We notice, like every morning while watering, that all produce is growing abundantly.

But today, we see a series of zucchini and cucumber plants that are not.

They are starting to grow leggy. The male flowers are blooming, but then dry up and fall off the vine. Their leaves are full of white spots and, although discoloration is common in this family of crops, something looks off.

Curious, we look closer to see if there are any pests bothering the plants. But there aren’t.

The soils is healthy, watering is just right and companion plants are attracting pollinators. Plus every other plant around them – tomatoes, eggplant, marigold – is doing great.

So what, exactly, is the problem?

Sometimes, if you look at an issue too closely, you miss the overall picture and – maybe, just maybe – the overall solution. So we take a step back and wait.

And, in fact, there it is. We see what’s going on more clearly now.

All of the plants receive full sunlight for about 6 hours a day. The zucchini and cucumbers in question, although in nearly the same position as the other crops, are not getting the same amount of sunlight. The sun hits them for about 4 hours a day. Then, as it gets higher, its light is blocked by our extremely tall magnolia tree.

Now we understand why the leaves are spotty. It’s not the common discoloration in zucchini and cucumbers. It’s powdery mildew, a fungal disease which hits plants that live where humidity is very high. And when the plant receives water but doesn’t have enough sunlight to help it absorb it, fungi grow.

Unfortunately, this fungus also affects flower growth, the stem’s health and the roots. Basically, the plant fails to launch by not producing fruit – and slowly rots.

We read up on the issue and see that, even though there are several methods to use, the disease spreads fast to the whole plant. We learn that prevention of the disease is the best method. There are several natural solutions to it (cleaning leaves with milk, mulching, et al.), but elimination this is never quite a given.

Therefore, since we really don’t know what to do, we give in to cowardice.

We pull the six plants out of the ground.

While doing so, we feel terrible. We are condemning something still alive to an early death. Ripping roots out of a seemingly perfect home.

But we also don’t really see any other solution, since all of the plants are infected.

We sadly set the green victims aside. And we know we will never plant these crops in that spot again.

At the the end of the day, what have we learned?

And, especially, how do we manage to never come back to this again?

  1. By always talking to local farmers for information on crops before sowing them. Each crop has different requirements for sunlight, water and feeding. This spring, in fact, our beets were doing great in the exact same spot our zucchinis and cucumbers are now not.
  2. By checking the land’s exposure to sunlight before sowing. This way, we make sure the amount of sunlight for each crop is just right.
  3. By making sure crops with similar needs (little watering, lots of sunlight, etc.) are sown close to each other.
  4. By checking on plants every day (for legginess, light spots, drying blooms, etc.) to ensure growth is taking place properly.
  5. By only using natural remedies in case plants are hit by a disease.
  6. If worse comes to worse, by uprooting a few plants to save the rest of the crop family.
  7. By keeping a journal of our experience. This is useful to the future us as well as to anyone else trying to succeed at planting goodness in life’s soil.

“Failure is the only opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely”. – Henry Ford

Michelle Calcatelli

Michelle Calcatelli

Hi there! My name is Michelle. I'm an American living in Italy, mom of two girls, a lover of travel, music and good food shared with loved ones. I am a freelance grant writer and a former agricultural development practitioner, having worked mostly in rural Africa for 18 years. I look forward to creating a space here - with your help - where we can exchange dreams, ideas and kindness to start shaping a better tomorrow.

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