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Soil Association expert Ben Raskin on mould, mildew and more

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Ben Raskin Ben Raskin | 13:00 UK time, Friday, 14 May 2010

This week, Ben Raskin of the Soil Association takes over the task of answering your questions.  He's got masses of experience of growing vegetables using organic methods, so if you've got any questions about organic growing, he's the man to ask. Send us your questions by using the Q&A form.

Jo Dalgleish asks: Last year all my courgettes, indoors and outdoors, had terrible powdery mildew.  As I am not happy using chemicals to control it, what can I do to prevent it?

Courgettes will nearly always succumb to mildew at some stage in the season, so the trick is to delay it for as long as possible. Look out for mildew resistant varieties (they will still get the disease but usually hold out for longer). The other key is good

ventilation, so try to give the plants enough space that there is good air movement around them. And of course a strong healthy plant will resist mildew better than a weak stressed plant - so a good rich soil with plenty of organic matter and regular watering.

Finally you can try doing a later sowing of courgettes, you can then replace the early plants when they start showing signs of mildew.

Katie asks: My compost bins contain garden waste, paper, card and veg peelings - and rat droppings! Can I still use the compost for veg?

If the rats are not causing any other problems then I wouldn't worry. I have rats in my compost at the allotment and on the plus side they do a good job of aerating and turning the compost. they tend to go for the fresher compost that still has edible stuff in it, so I would suggest putting the more rotted compost into a separate heap for a couple of months before putting on the soil. You probably won't get rid of them  but making sure there is no bread / rice / meat in the compost may reduce their numbers a bit.

Kirsti Hughes asks: We have planted the Basil (and other Dig In veg seeds) in pots, and put some in the plastic greenhouse, and others on the windowsill indoors.  The problem is that the soil is getting green on top.  Why is this?  Will it stop the seeds working?

It sounds to me like you may be overwatering the pots. It certainly could cause problems with germination, and if the compost is too damp that too is likely to rot the seeds. I would suggest germinating the seeds indoors, as it is still quite cold to germinate basil in an unheated green house at this time of year. You can then plant them out into pots and pop then into your glasshouse.


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