Our CSA newsletters for the past few weeks have included paragraphs lamenting the Phytopythora infestans that has been destroying tomato crops in the Northeast regions. There will be very little, if any, tomatoes from the farm this year, and for anyone who's grown their own tomatoes, or who's enjoyed the fruits fresh from a farmstand or local section in the grocery store, this is a major letdown. I had planned on using the tomatoes that I received from the farm to make jars of homemade salsa and tomato sauce. I purchased six lovely tomato plants from an organic vendor at the Northampton Farmer's Market, which I planted in my gardens and had expected to have a bountiful harvest of tomatoes for eating fresh...
On Sunday afternoon, we returned home from a weekend away to discover that the tomatoes in my garden had begun to succumb to the evil late blight. David removed two half-ripened tomatoes that had the markings of the disease; brown, dent-like splotches. Ripe tomatoes that I had picked prior to going away were also beginning to show signs. Eating the affected fruits are not harmful to humans, but the marks do make the tomatoes quite unattractive, and they rot very fast.
I've been keeping up with the information posted on the UMass Extension website, as well as information published by Cornell University. Once gardeners discover the disease on their plants, the whole plant must be destroyed, and NOT placed in the compost pile. The spores from the infected plants travel with the wind, and composting would actually help the bacteria grow; a very bad thing. The spores travel to other gardens and farms, miles and miles away!
On Tuesday, I removed 2 of my 6 tomato plants from the garden, ripping them right out of the ground, and losing the precious tomatoes that I had been caring for these past few months. I bagged the diseased plants, and they will be put out with the trash this week. It was tough to do, but knowing that farms throughout the Northeast, like my CSA farm, have had to destroy full crops of tomatoes, made me feel as if it was my duty to destroy just a little bit of the mean late blight.
I'll enjoy the nine tomatoes I harvested from my garden for as long as I can. And I've plucked a few healthy-looking green tomatoes for pan-frying (which I'd normally do in the late fall, before the frost sets in). And I'll be waiting patiently for next summer, when I hope that the sun will shine brighter and the tomatoes will be plentiful.
For more information on late blight, visit the UMass Vegetable Program. If you suspect your plants are diseased, there are contact numbers on the UMass website for you to call to confirm the diagnosis.