Are you enjoying those warm, juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes yet? If so, give thanks. For some people, mostly in the Northeast, this could be a tomato-less year.
Tomato crops–both home and commercial–have been hit with “late blight,” which has caused damage to harvests as far south as South Carolina and as far west as Ohio. The result: Fewer tomatoes on the local market for Northeasterners and higher prices as farmers lay on the spray. Some crops will have to be destroyed altogether. (For a more complete report on the problem from the Washington Post, click here.)
So far we haven’t heard any reports of late blight in this area. But unusually cool and moist weather conditions lately have seemed favorable for this highly contagious fungal disease to spread, so it’s probably not a bad idea for home gardeners to keep a watchful eye out.
Late blight affects tomatoes and potatoes, and is cited as the cause of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. So it’s something we should take seriously.
There’s a lesson, though, for planting next spring. Some of the disease was transmitted from seedlings bought in big-box stores. Those seedlings were found later to be infected with late blight. Unfortunately, the plants may not have shown signs of blight early in the season (late blight becomes more common in late summer). This is yet another reason I like starting my own plants from seed in January or February.
When I read about the blight in yesterday’s New York Times, I felt a sick knot in my stomach, because something is up with my hybrid Celebrity tomatoes that I haven’t been able to figure out yet. About a week ago, a couple of plants seemed a little droopy, but I attributed it to the midday sun. But when we got back from our trip, we’d lost one, and it’s neighbors all seem to be affected. Could it be late blight?
Here are a few symptoms (you may want to shield the eyes of small children in the room. This is not for the squeamish):
And–phew–we have nothing that looks like that. In fact, my tomato problem looks more like spider mite damage than anything else, which is weird, since I always think of spider mites as a mostly hot and dry weather problem. But the green beans next door to the tomatoes seem to be suffering from the same thing and I can just barely make out some tiny things attached to the underside of the leaves. So I’m off to the store today to find an insecticidal soap that might work. I’ve used pyrethrin powder in the past, but hate to do it now because we’re in the midst of picking. I’m also not crazy about the dust falling on the basil between the tomato rows, which is perfect right now for pesto.
Also in the Times yesterday: A “Curious Cook” column from Harold McGee on cooking with tomato leaves. Yes, you read that right. McGee questions the conventional lore about tomato leaves being poisonous, and even provides a recipe for tomato sauce to which leaves have been added. He provides his sourcing on his blog.
Mmmm…I don’t know. I guess I can be excused from trying it. I doubt spider mites or insecticidal soap will taste very good.
Christmas in July–Now that the tomatoes are ripe, it’s time to assess our experiment with the Christmas ornaments we hung a few weeks ago. One of Mike’s column readers wrote in that hanging the red globes early would teach the squirrels that those red things hanging off the plants are nasty and inedible.
So we put a few out
And so far it seems to be…working?
Well, maybe not perfectly. We’ve found a couple of half-eaten tomatoes displayed on our deck railing–a rodent form of gang graffiti–but nothing like in years past. So that could be the ornaments doing their magic. Or again, it could be because a church in our neighborhood has knocked down several mature trees as it buys land for expansion.
In either case, it doesn’t look like it will be necessary to set out any live traps this year.
Posted by: Roxie