Fight or blight

Rainy day tomatoesPretty safe to say that it’s not going to be a great tomato year. If we’re very very lucky maybe we’ll get some honker waterlogged fruit with split skins but conditions are apparently favorable for something even less delicious. Late Blight is all over the news and typical of the media we have been primed for panic and widespread tomato mayhem. Truth be told, I am generally irritated by the culture of fear promoted by the press – it’s one of my pet peeves – but the more I read about Late Blight, the more I think “eeu”.

Phytophthora infestans (- can’t you just tell that this is something disgusting?) is the same disease that wiped out potatoes during the Great Famine in Ireland and could do (has done) the same in any monoculture of tomatoes or potatoes here if we don’t keep a keen eye out. The recommendation for anyone growing tomatoes is to check for infestation daily and bag up, throw out, Do Not Compost any plants that show any signs of the disease (for pictures and info, click here). But what really scares the daylights out of me is that we’ve collectively been advised to spray fungicides with clorothalonil – a skull & crossbones carcinogenic – as a preventive measure. Now, I can understand commercial growers doing this to protect their crops and livelihoods, but homeowners? Come on. We’re not growing a monoculture in our gardens – are we? How about we just enjoy something else this year? I for one will gladly pay a ransom especially for an organically grown, disease-free tomato if I have to and would be much happier and probably healthier if my neighbors upwind choose to do the same. And it seems to be a terrific Swiss chard, cabbage and lettuce year…3 rows to watch in the vegetable bed - and cabbage consolation.

So far, Blithewold’s tomatoes are clean. The fungus, which overwinters on living tissue, must not have found any errant potato tubers left in the garden. And since we grow our own tomatoes from seed, we haven’t imported it either. But the weather isn’t on our side. Cool-ish days and nights (60-80°F) coupled with humidity and rain – we’ve had plenty of that – are ideal for spreading infection from garden to garden and as long as that continues we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled. (A stretch of stupidly hot weather, if we ever get the summer blaze we’re used to, will knock the disease out of contention.)

How are your tomatoes? Have you sprayed – or will you?

6 thoughts on “Fight or blight

  1. tomatoes OK, spray NO… I try to avoid carcinogens except in my studio. I need a project maybe it is time for a chartreuse piece.

    Carcinogens in the studio are a totally different thing! Just make sure to wash the cadmium yellow off your fingers before snacking… -kris

  2. There was a Monarch in the North Garden on Sunday, one of the first I’ve seen this year…was wondering as I haven’t noticed any milkweed at Blithewold, is there any?

    Marilyn, We have a lot of Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in the gardens. It’s more elegantly ornamental than milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). -By late August/September you’ll be seeing scads of monarchs here! -kris

  3. Yep, I’ve heard about that, too, from Craig’s post. Guess it has come up North from imported tainted fruit. We had some early blight–leaf spot–but can’t see how late blight would get to our patch. Still on the lookout though. It isn’t going to be a great year though, and our one pink tomato got eaten by a bird 🙁

    Lynn, The box stores are being blamed too – or their tomato plant suppliers are – for bringing it to regions where it doesn’t usually survive. I’m glad it hasn’t found your garden. And you’ll have to teach Buddy to chase those birds! -kris

  4. The tomatoes have two choices, they can live, or they can die! No spraying of chlorthalonil will take place here.

    Layanee, I’m glad to hear it – and not a bit surprised! Fingers crossed that it doesn’t find your garden. -kris

  5. Kris, thanks so much for your response…I can’t find the Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) on the plant lists…can you tell me where it can be found?

    thanks again,


    Marilyn, Any plant lists kicking around are woefully outdated. Must get on that… The butterfly weed self sows pretty freely and has been blowing around the gardens since long before I started here, I’m pretty sure (I don’t remember planting it). Have you checked your favorite nursery for plants? – Plant lust is a great excuse for a browse! Or you could start it from seed. A quick google search brought up Park’s and they sell a few varieties. -kris

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *