I have seen the blight

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You know how the Golden Raspberry Awards honor the worst movies of the year? We need something like that to recognize the year’s most egregious gardening blunders. The Fungies, maybe? The Cutworm Awards?

Whatever they are, I’m in the running, having displayed, over the past month or so, bubonic horticultural stupidity.

What's at stake

What's at stake

You probably know – I mean, everybody knows – that the Northeast tomato crop has been hit with one of the worst infestations of late blight ever seen. It started in tomato seedlings sold at Wal-Mart and Lowe’s and other big-box retailers, but buying locally or raising tomatoes from seed offers no protection. Spores from Phytophthora infestans (which isn’t a genuine fungus but an oomycete) travel easily on wind currents, and once there’s an infected plant anywhere in your state, you’re screwed.

My state is that of bitter remorse. I knew the blight was here. I heard stories of people – many stories, many people – losing their entire tomato crop. But did I monitor our plants carefully? No. Did I look at pictures to make sure I could identify the first symptoms? No.

Kevin was paying more attention than I was, but he wasn’t on top of it, either. He’d seen a few yellow leaves, but a few yellow leaves is normal on tomato plants. And then, suddenly, there it was. We were blindsided.

“I was out there for a full half hour, just tying up plants and admiring the tomatoes,” he told me later. “It was relaxing. Just a man and his plants. And then I saw it.”

Unmistakable

Unmistakable

He compared it to those 3-D pictures that you have to stare at in a certain way in order to see the images. “It was just like when you hold one of those in front of your nose and then, all of a sudden, you see the camel in the desert. And once you see the camel, you can never not see the camel again.”

The blight was on the bottom sections of all the plants, leaving tell-tale gray spots on leaves and little black specks on stems.

We ran out and got the only fungicide (Daconil) that has any chance against P. infestans, but I don’t have high hopes. This is the blight that caused the Irish potato famine. It’s man vs. oomycete and, so far, oomycete is undefeated.

I suspect we are going to lose our entire crop, all twenty-six plants, some of which are ten feet tall. It’s the makings of hundreds of pounds of tomatoes. There’s a knot in my gut just thinking about it.

Daconil has a chance if you use it prophylactically, or if you apply it at the very first signs of infestation. Had we been smarter and more vigilant, we would have sprayed weeks ago. But we weren’t, and we didn’t. And so, the Silver Slug Award for worst disease management goes to …

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Comments

  1. What about using the unripe tomatoes to make some green tomato jam? It’s not the same, I know, but at least you might be able to make use of part of your crop.

  2. No, no, don’t blame yourself. We sprayed before we ever saw a single spot, knowing it was coming. But alas, we’re blighted too. We have started our fall garden and will not speak of this again. Until next year, when we plant our tomatoes in a different area.

  3. Barbara — I’m sorry to hear that you, the prudent gardener, lost your crop.

    I cut off all the blighted bits in the hope of buying some time for at least a little more ripening. And then, I’m thinking pickled green tomatoes, or some of Jennifer’s green tomato jam.

  4. We’ve lost most of our tomatoes as well. For a while I thought the cherry and grape varieties were immune. No such luck. Will whats left taste the same? Isn’t there blight every year?

    This stinks.

  5. Charles — We’ve gotten some tomatoes from our cherry varieties since the blight struck, and they taste fine. My understanding is that, as long as the blight hasn’t infiltrated the fruit itself (and you can see it — it turns black), it’s fine.

    As for blight returning next year, it’s pretty hardy stuff, and I’ve read that it can live in your soil over the winter and rear its ugly head again next season. We’ll be planting next year’s tomatoes in a different part of our property, and probably spraying Daconil prophylactically as well.

    And it does stink. It really stinks.

  6. Tamar-
    I’m incredibly sorry to hear this –I know how much work you and Kevin put into the tomatoes. My friends in Downsville, NY have the blight problem as well –I will tell her about the green tomato jam and pickles.