Tomato Blight: It Coulda Been Worse
We got a really early start on the maters this year–and almost lost them to frost, then heat and drought. Others of our neighbors were not so lucky–especially if they bought sets from a big-box store garden department.
You’ll find lots of recipes for green tomatoes online this year, because many only have unripened fruits on the withered vines, victims of “late blight” apparently widely distributed on commercial vegetable sets but also dispersed all along the way, so that even many of the tens of thousands trying to have a garden this year for the first time, met with yet another gardener’s disappointment.
But this year is turning out to be different – quite different, according to farmers and plant scientists. For one thing, the disease appeared much earlier than usual. Late blight usually comes, well, late in the growing season, as fungal spores spread from plant to plant. So its early arrival caught just about everyone off guard.
And then there’s the perniciousness of the 2009 blight. The pace of the disease (it covered the Northeast in just a few days) and its strength (topical copper sprays, a convenient organic preventive, have been much less effective than in past years) have shocked even hardened Hudson Valley farmers.
According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.)
As if we needed one more force working against us. I guess we are fortunate we put away several dozen quarts of tomatoes and salsa this year. Next year, we’ll try to be better prepared do deal with the blight–whose spores now are in our soil for the long haul.