Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Rebel Yellows

There's the famous "going rogue," the video game Rogue, the X-Men character Rogue, a creamery, a river, a brewery, and likely hundreds of other institutions and people who have chosen the name because they are attracted to the idea of independence, originality, and naughtiness that follows the word.

But there is no rogue as roguish as disease. Disease is fascinating. Even under conditions that seem so healthy, so free from risk, disease can pop up, a stealthy rebel that distorts even the best plans. When disease strikes us, we have few choices: treat it, deal with it, or some combination of the two.

Last year, I amended my allium-bed-to-be. I added composted leaves and lots of coconut coir; I turned the feral arugula into the soil to serve as a green compost. After I planted my garlic, shallots, and potato onions, I mulched the whole bed with a lush layer of goat bedding from my friends over at Mariposa Creamery. Right now, as I dig my hand into the soil, I can pull up the most perfect, spongiest, devil's food cake soil I've ever produced. It's so beautiful it even smells good.

While the garlic bed seems to be the ideal site for my best crop ever, though I attempt to be as hygenic as possible when storing and planting alliums, and despite the fact that I rotate my crop every year so it takes four years for alliums to return to where they last grew, protecting from disease that accumulates in the soil, a rogue virus struck this year. I'm not sure whether this year's bumper crop of slugs and sowbugs spurred the disease, or whether a winter full of rain allowed more opportunity for the virus to develop. Nor do I know why most of my garlic and shallots appear healthy with only a portion of the crop hit.

Last year, my Shilla looked like this.

This year, I pulled up the diseased plants a month or so from expected harvest date and found tiny plants with dead roots.

It appears to be Yellow Dwarf virus, identifiable by the vertical yellow striping that makes garlic leaves curly and shallot leaves floppy.

Compare those floppy, yellow striped leaves with the good posture found in a healthy stand of shallots.

When I pulled up the sick plants, I found something that at first I thought were dreaded wireworms, but then saw that they had lots and lots of legs, rather than just six; they're millipedes. Since millipedes eat decaying matter, I assume that they're eating the dying roots.

This leads me to one of the ways disease in the garden is different from disease in us. In the garden, we can turn the verb rogue against the noun rogue. "To rogue" means to remove and destroy sick or abnormal plants from the garden to prevent either their sickness from spreading or their defective genes from passing down to further generations. Yesterday, I rogued the rogues.

A suggestion for rogued plants is to burn them. That's exactly what I did, smeared with olive oil and salt on the grill, so the shallots were sweet slips of allium candy rather than sad losses.


the good soup said...

And those millipedes, what will they do now their virus ridden meal is in someone else's stomach? Maybe you should roast them too. Gives me goosebumps thinking of running fingers through that devil's food cake soil and coming up with all those legs. uuuh

say what? said...

We're having a cooler and wetter than average spring. I know the garlic bed needs weeding, but now I'm going to have to take a closer look at the garlic! A quick Google of your suspected disease turns up aphids as the most likely vector. I'd look for, or just treat for those little buggers. Evidently the disease doesn't spread plant to plant. It travels by insect or mechanical inoculation. I'd be breaking out some DE and dusting everything!

Christina said...

The Good Soup: Uuuuuuuuh, indeed. I shake my fist at their tiny little bodies!

Say What?: You'd be able to see if your garlic is sick--the curly leaves are a tell tale symptom. I'd read up on the disease too, and found the same results, but there are just no aphids on my alliums. And, in my fight against slugs this year, I've dusted the whole bed several times with DE. I really think that I received some sick garlic this year, and the sowbugs, slugs, or millipedes did the spreading. I hope all is growing well for you--I look forward to reading about your harvest this year.

Soilman said...

Infuriating, isn't it? Especially when you've done everything 'right'. My garlic bugbear is rust. I get it so badly I'm giving up garlic for a few seasons to see if the rust spores will lessen in my soil.

Christina said...

Yes, Soilman, it is maddening. At least I got to eat the sickos though. I hope that your garlic-vacation tempers the rust population so that you can conquer it.

Anonymous said...

clever way to 'destroy' the unwanted!