September 10, 2015



It's true. I have what I am calling "too-late-blight" -- "too late" because it's too late for me to do anything about it, and honestly, it's mny own fault.  Many are suffering from an outbreak of Late Blight, or Phytophthora infestans again this year, and although the outbreak is not as widespread or early as the devastating outbreak of 2008, this one still had caught many gardeners by surprise.

I blame myself for this outbreak however, for as I've admitted many times before - generally speaking, I am a lazy gardener (well, aside from all of those other crazy garden projects such as chrysanthemums which might be getting more of my attention).

The season started out fine, with healthy plants and a terrific fruit set - but notice the lack of mulch. In many ways, I was just asking for trouble.

And so, my tomatoes hath suffered that trilogy of solanumatious plagues - thy early blight, thy leaf spot and now a devastating outbreak of thy late blight - and all of the strains, apparently). I've learned my lesson - even if an outbreak seems unavoidable, I should at least take precautions - if only to extend the season a few more weeks. Some plastic mulch and more resistant varieties might have helped, as well as some organic fungicide and iron.

A plate of tomatoes from our garden in late July. We entertained many with plates like this - at least until mid August when vines started to loose their foliage. That said, even without leaves, there are still tomatoes ripening on the vines, they just aren't nearly as pretty.

I did do a few things right, such as trellising my plants up high, spacing them properly apart, both in rows and in the bed, but it's what I didn't do which has gotten me in trouble. Like most any guy, I can rationalize away most anything I did or didn't do, but the truth is that when it comes to Mother Nature, there are just some things which one cannot deny. She always seems to win out. In my case? My tomato bed is embarrassingly sad - (i.e. "dead"). Not a complete failure, as I did seem to harvest many tomatoes, but the plants are a sad, sad example of what any tomato bed should never look like.

By the ends of July when this image was taken, the signs of Phytophthora infestans began emerging.

I know that I am not alone. Many gardeners in the Northeast as well as in spots around the country are experiencing outbreaks of Phytophthora infestans (according to the maps on the website usablight.org, which doesn't yet show an outbreak where I live, but once I mail in my leaves, it will change). My friend and fellow garden blogger Margaret Roach over on awaytogarden.com has a terrific post and podcast about this very subject (and a link to an interesting new app -- which maybe I should invest in for next year), you really all should go check it out.

For a few weeks, I did have an abundance of tomatoes - we still have some, but them all seems to ripen at the same time.

I should confess that I did take some big risks this year with my tomato crop. First I tried some new varieties which were intended for greenhouse culture and not for outdoor use. I am not certain, but this may mean that they were more susceptible to disease (need to check on this - so if anyone knows, please advise), but most failed before the end of July, even though I had an impressive harvest of early fruit. By early August, most of my plants were infected to a point where even the removal of affected leaves became too much to keep up with. All hope was lost. At least, I still had a good fruit set, and far too many tomatoes coming into the kitchen - a problem every home gardener should be dealing with in August. The only problem was, I knew that by early September, I would have no tomatoes at all.

Not all was lost, these newly introduced  'hybrid heirloom' type of tomatoes - this one is called 'Marglobe' which might seem a bit pricey at $20 per packet of 10 seeds, but just look at the crop of nearly 1 lb fruits. Similar to striped german types of heirlooms, this variety was bred for greenhouse culture, but I grew plants outdoors.

My list of tomato sins is long, no mulch at all ( really - none), no organic or even inorganic fungicide use, no crop rotation practiced, since I had decided to destroy some raised beds, I simply spread around old soil from some raised containers on top of existing tomato soil, (I even had some self-seeded tomatoes from last season emerge, a very bad sign) and finally - no uprooting and burning of plants once I saw the tell-tale signs of an outbreak.

This new variety, an orange tomato which is the same size and color of a mandarin orange, is  appropriately called Clementine. I still have trays and trays of them. Yummy.

I offer in my defense that I did add granular fertilizer this year, along with compost to the 'infected soil', as well as iron and lime, so hey---- never had blossom end rot!  I also watered my plants well enough. In the end, there was probably not much I could have done to avoid an outbreak, and truth be told, it wasn't as bad as the one from 2009, so I probably should not complain. We still had a rather epic year, albeit early, as my tomato pictures illustrate.   Who cares if I didn't have a single green leaf? And as for my neighbors, I don't think that there is a single vegetable gardener within 3 miles of my house so hopefully, I have not spread my spores too far.

Next year…

We've had more butterflies than any other year in our garden this year - probably due to the many pollinator plants I planted this year -- but this beauty is not one which would typically visit flowers - the Red Spotted Purple (Limenitis anthems) prefers fresh barn yard dung, and mud puddles. This one was enjoying a muddy patch under a large hosta.

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