Sunday, August 2, 2009

It's Looking Pretty Blighty 'Round Here!

Oh those elusive tomatoes!  Why is it that I grew tomatoes as a kid with no apparent problems (and absolutely no gardening experience!), and now that I've been learning about how to garden, pampering my soil, growing companion plants, encouraging the good insects, blah-blah-blah, tomatoes are about the only thing I haven't been able to grow so far!  (Well, tomatoes and charentais melons, but that's another story!)  What's the deal??? I've heard that "other" people grow such of a glut of tomatoes that they actually . . .  gasp . . . GIVE them away!! (Unfortunately I don't know any of THOSE people!)  Either my plants are beautifully green and lush with no fruit (too much nitrogen, I KNOW), or if they do have tomatoes on them, just as that brandywine is ripening some creature decides to taste it, then leaves it on the ground!!! If I'd have had a shot gun and caught the bugger in the act, I don't care HOW cute, it would have been TOAST! Tomatoes bring out the true beast in me!  I think the only brandywine tomato that actually got to ripen on the vine last year had a bite mark on it!   I ate it anyway!  All I can say is, thank goodness for the farmers' market and for tomato-growers much more talented than me, or the taste of home-grown tomatoes would be a just a childhood memory!
This year was SUPPOSED to be different! But then,  . . . THIS!  It's blight, alright, and it looks like I'm not the only one at the garden with some awfully sick-looking tomatoes!  Those ugly brown blotches on your tomato leaves and green tomatoes that turn brown instead of red are sure signs of tomato blight.  It's caused by a fungus that can live as spores in the soil that can then infect your plants if they get splashed up onto the leaves.  It's certainly been present at our community garden since tomatoes are grown there year after year, but this year is particularly bad.  One major reason is the cool, wet weather we've been having, which tomatoes don't appreciate but is ideal for blight.  Another reason may be that tomato seedlings purchased from some of the "big box" stores (Wal-Mart, Lowes, KMart and Home Depot) were already infected with blight right at the start, according to this New York Times article.  Whatever the cause, it's pretty heart-breaking for us tomato lovers!  

Is there anything we can do to save our tomato crop?  That depends on how far along the disease is on the plant.  If you have enough healthy growth you can remove the diseased leaves and fruit (don't compost these--get rid of them or you'll just spread the fungus.)  There are organic fungicides that can help, but they may be a bit pricey.  I found a recipe for a home-made solution here.  This site suggests spraying the plants and soil with compost tea.  The organisms in the compost will help fight the fungus, and the compost will fertilize the plants at the same time.  I'm going to try some of my worm tea since I have this on hand.  The best overall way to fight blight is prevention:  make sure your plants are healthy from the start, make sure your soil is healthy, and don't plant tomatoes for at least 3 years where there has been blight in the past.  That last bit is pretty tricky for those of us with small gardens here in a community of gardens.  I'm guessing a three-year moratorium on tomato-growing at our garden wouldn't go down very well!!  I'm not quite ready to yank out my plants just yet, and we are forecast to be getting some hotter weather, so I still have a little bit of optimism, for now anyway.  Though I must say, I was glad to see heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' market this morning, just-in-case!


Craftiness said...

I'm very sorry about your loss. I am a novice gardener in Austin and I lost my tomato plants more than a month ago. I mistakingly thought it was the heat that killed my tomato plants and that was the natural run of the plants. But now reading about blight and seeing the brown spotted tomatoes I realize that's what I had. It was hot and humid when i lost the plants, not cool like late blight is suppose to thrive in. Live and Learn. I love your blog:) Did you listen to the latest GFL?

Jeannine from Pittsburgh said...

Thanks Craftiness! My plants look much better after the trimming and worm tea, but I'm still not counting on getting any tomatoes from them other than maybe a cherry or two. Oh well! Sorry to hear about your loss too!

Yes, I heard the latest GFL--I'm excited for them but sad too. Hopefully they'll keep podcasting from Down Under. I'd still be interested in hearing what they're up to even if they aren't farming for the moment.