Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Late blight hits my organic tomato patch!

One of my favorite parts of coming home from vacation is seeing the magic that happened in my garden while I was away. This homecoming, however, only gave me disappointment.

The day I left for Cape Cod started with me finding my beautiful and healthy tomato patch (to the right) stricken with late blight, the fungus that caused the famous Irish Potato Famine.

It literally happened overnight. One day the plants were beautiful and green and the next half the stems were black and the leaves were starting to wilt. I harvested the few fruits that were ripe enough, packed the car, drove to the Cape and crossed my fingers. Some farmers would spray with chemicals, but being organic I can not. It was a risky bet I chose to take to protect my family's health. And I lost.

When I returned a week later the tomato patch looked even worse. There was barely a single green leaf left.

Peering out from my back window I thought the fruits could at least be salvaged, but on closer inspection it was a total loss:

So now my tomato patch looks like this, the tangled, dead branches in a pile waiting to be carted off to the town's leaf dump. And I have only myself to blame. I've been hearing the news of the devastation for two months now and I've been very careful with my own garden quarantine. Usually I only wear my garden clogs from the front door to the tomato patch. But I slipped up a few weeks ago and lazily wore my flip flops in there to do some extra staking. That's when I must have tracked the deadly spores in.

So the fruit are in a sad pile waiting to be composted. I couldn't bear to count how many tomatoes I could have had, I'm sure it would have been at least fifty if you count the fourteen I managed to harvest before the blight hit.

From what I hear late blight has completely ruined all of Massachusetts' organic tomato crop with the exception of a few farms. Green Meadows Farm in Hamilton, where we get our farm share, was spared but not without a fight. They managed to run a strict quarantine and we received a few tomatoes every week, but not the usual two to three pounds I'm used to from previous years.

I need to do some research to figure out if I should throw out the stakes I used, disinfect them, or let them over-winter outside hoping the cold kills the fungus. I hope throwing the decaying fruits in the compost pile doesn't infect the compost for next year. If anyone has any advice on this it would be much appreciated! And I promise next year to be more careful....


  1. It has been a difficult summer for a lot of backyard gardeners. The abundance of rain promoted a fungus growth here and the cool temps gave us a late start. I did not have one fresh garden tomato this year. I hope next year it is much better.

  2. Blight got 2 of the greenhouses at our CSA in the past two weeks also. We got to enjoy a few weeks of tomatoes, though, so it's not a total loss.

  3. Well, not being a gardener means I haven't had to deal with this directly, but organic tomatoes must be hard to come by in some parts of the country. I'm sorry this happened to you. But like Rae says, we all hope next year is much better.

  4. It's horrid isn't it? I've been taking care of my neighbour's allotment while she was away and somehow felt responsible for the death toll of tomatoes.

  5. What causes blight? Is it from the moisture? I don't know a thing about it but ... I'm awfully sorry that it got your garden. I hate losing plants!

    Small Footprints

  6. Rae: If I get better tomatoes next year I will send you some! If you send me some REAL mid-west corn, nothing is quite like it out east. :)

    Beej: I hear Green Meadows is literally one of the only organic farms that was spared. They're building tomato greenhouses like crazy since they say blight and wet springs are going to be ubiquitous from now on. sucks.

    DJan: organic tomatoes aren't usually that hard to come by here in northern MA since we have so many independent farms. But this year it's a bit different. everyone seems to have been wiped out!

    Lulu: sorry you seem to have been the demise of someone's tomatoes. can you blame a cat or a garden troll or something? ;) you do have gnomes in the UK right?

    Small: blight is a fungus, and it can be wind borne or carried in by your shoes. Word is a large box store retailer with a garden center brought it in to Massachusetts (I still haven't found out who but I have my suspicions). Experts say it's here to stay, only thing us organic gardeners can do is try to literally nip it in the bud if we see it. The only up side is I might be able to squeeze in a fall planting of some kind.

    Thanks for reading everyone! I'm still playing catch-up with everyone's blogs...making progress though. -kate

  7. Too bad about the blight. Maybe you will have better luck next year. The deer ate all of mine before I got a chance. Such is life.

  8. The blight got us too, and I was so sad. I still need to bag up my plants, though. (I heard you're supposed to put them in plastic and avoid composting or else it'll spread. Do you know?) But I don't think shoes had anything to do with mine -- it's a raised garden. I'm not sure you should be too hard on yourself about the flip-flops.

    For the record, even a good New England tomato can't compare with Midwestern corn!

  9. Awwww - sorry to hear you returned to this. Those poor plants look just awful in the picture. I had no idea blight was carried so easily. We've never experienced blight (that I know of) around here. Even if you are organic isn't there a natural/organic treatment for blight?

  10. Kate, that is just awful. I have been hearing about the blight elsewhere but so far none of the farmers here have mentioned it. Maybe our dry summer climate has spared us this year.

    I hope you can come up with some solutions.


  11. Squirrel: Sorry about your deer! That's one thing I don't have to worry about. we live in a tight neighborhood in a town of mostly open space, farms and State parks. We do have a skunk that eats the squash blossoms though! He keeps the grubs down so I don't mind :)

    Abigail: I did some research and you're right: bag up the plants and throw them away. So sad. I will do that once my crazy husband returns from his overnight road race to watch Lizzie or I'll have a baby covered in late blight!

    Lisa: I've come across a few organic approved treatments. Once involves copper hydroxide. Looks scary. We use copper at work to kill invertebrate ectoparasites on fish and it's nasty stuff but the fish seem OK after. who knows. Best advice is to stay on top of the blight and remove dead leaves and stems to stop the spread.

    SQ: It seems to be a big problem out east, and in the mid west a bit too. I bet your dry weather helps. we had SO much rain this year I'm sure some fungus would have prevailed if not late blight. I'll post a garden tally and a recipe for the farmers market challenge next weekend, all was not lost!

    thanks for reading everyone! lots of lessons learned from my first year with a garden bigger than a square foot. -kate


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