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Powdery mildew and basil

In my herb bed, the basil is now about 2 feet tall, but as I was driving home one night I heard an NPR report saying that downy mildew had been claiming basil plants on the east coast and into Ohio. Indiana wasn't mentioned as being hit yet.

Apparently this fungal disease turns leaves yellowish on top and has black spores on the bottom side of the leaves that spread it. You can spread it just by clipping off affected leaves, and it spreads by the wind, so if you get it, you can transfer it to other gardeners' and farmers' crops.

Inasmuch as basil leaves are what you want for pesto -- which, when it comes to taste, is the best thing on earth, in my opinion – this potentially poses a really big problem.

After hearing the report, I didn't even shut the garage door before I took off to check my plants. They seem fine, but, by being so tall and in a raised bed, I'm wondering if they might catch spores more easily.

Margaret McGrath, the scientist from the report, suggests making pesto early and freezing it before this disease strikes. OK, but the flavor is never as wonderful.

But I guess I've got another gardening project this weekend. I think I'll compromise and only cut down two plants. That way I can save the others for fresh tomato sauce and my favorite summer appetizer – fresh tomato slices with basil leaves and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and seasoned with a little bit of garlic salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Journey through gardening season with Rosa Salter Rodriguez (feature writer) rsalter@jg.net, Anne Gregory (Web editor and writer) agregory@jg.net, Frank Noonan (copy editor) fnoonan@jg.net and Cathie Rowand (photographer) crowand@jg.net.

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