Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Blight of the Tomatoes (or Blame it on the Weather and Walmart)

It is a sad tale I tell. One I sincerely wish I didn’t have to tell. It’s not easy to bring myself to write about it. But for you, dear readers, I will try. For the first time, our tomatoes have the blight. I’m not sure if you would call this early blight or late blight because it seems to be right in the middle. I guess since my tomatoes are only beginning to ripen I would lean towards calling it early blight. Either way it’s bad.

I’ve heard this is a bad year for the blight and lots of gardeners are dealing with it, so I guess I’m not alone, but it’s a first for me so I’m taking it personally. I don’t know if I wasn’t diligent enough about cutting off the low hanging leaves and branches quickly ( I do have a few other things going on in my life and the tomatoes, while very important to me, sometimes want for attention). Or was it my watering technique? Early blight is a fungus that spreads from the soil and is splashed up on to the leaves. I was doing a little multi-tasking while I watered this year and left the hose on the tomatoes while I did other things. Maybe it was too much? Or is it because we planted our tomatoes in the same place in the garden? I’ve always rearranged my garden every year, but was urged (by a person I will not name) to keep the tomatoes in the same place they were last year. It’s smart pest and fungus management to keep rotating your crops. I knew this, so have no one to blame but myself.

Or maybe I can blame Wal-Mart. I was only somewhat comforted to read a New York Times article about the blight which is apparently ravaging the Northeast tomato crop this year. This particular strain of the fungus is airborne rather than soil borne so no one seems to be immune. The article sited several factors including the weather conditions which were perfect for the blight (lots of rain, cooler temperatures, high humidity). The other big factor was the increase in homegrown tomatoes (a good thing) and the consequent heavy sales by Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s of tomato seedlings grown on large industrial farms in the south. Plant pathologists (did you know there were such people?) speculate that many of these seedlings were infected and that’s how the disease spread far and wide instead of being concentrated on large farms where it can be contained as is usually the case. The weather and Wal-Mart are two of my favorite bad guys to blame, but surprisingly this brings me no comfort. Besides my tomatoes are homegrown from heirloom seeds saved from last year’s plants which were ridiculously healthy.

Most of the information I have on early blight focuses on prevention. Maybe that’s because once you have it, you’re done for. I hope that’s not the case. I don’t give up easily so we are waging a battle here. I’ve been cutting off all the effected leaves and branches, which is leaving my tomatoes looking pretty naked on their lower halves. The blight works its way up from the bottom. They look pretty ridiculous, but you do what you have to do, right?

After reading about organic tomato farming I learned that organic farmers use a copper spray to prevent and stop early blight and that this is okie-dokie, at least according to the US government. But the internet is full of dark corners where you can discover awful things caused by too much copper, so I’m living dangerously here. Still, if it’s copper laden tomatoes or no tomatoes, I’ll go with the copper ones. Several of our plants are doing better than the others so we’ll save seeds from those plants assuming they have more of a resistance and can pass that lovely feature along. I’ll update the tomato battle with pictures on the blog as we go just in case you want to see the damage. We’re all rubber-neckers, I know.

I am harvesting a few tomatoes and hopeful that I’ll get some more, but it won’t be anywhere near the number of tomatoes we require. Last year we put up nearly 25 jars of tomato sauce, 15 jars of pizza sauce, and 15 jars of salsa, not to mention another 15 jars of diced tomatoes and we ran out in March. I had high hopes for doubling those numbers, but I suppose it’s only a pipe dream. So how are your tomatoes doing? Got any to spare?


  1. This is my first year for tomatoes and I had the same thing happen. A few of my other friends have had the same things. This was a tough year for tomatoes. I should post pictures of my plants. One of the plants is so naked but it still put out a handful of tomatoes. The only plant it hasn't touched yet is the cherry tomatoes. Keeping my fingers crossed for that one. Thanks for sharing this!! Kariann

  2. You might consider adopting a few homeless tomatoes from a local farm stand........