It seems I spoke too soon: my tomato plants have been infected with late blight. The fungus, which has been all over the news, is decimating the tomato crop in the Northeast and is likely to move on to potatoes next. As heartbreaking as this loss is to my little back-deck garden (15 plants and counting), I cannot imagine how area farmers feel: my CSA (Ryder Farm) has been hard hit, with her 700 heirloom tomato plants producing less than 10% of last year’s harvest; I’ve heard that Stoneledge Farm, which supplies many Westchester CSAs, has lost over 700 plants to date, and friends up and down the Northeast are emailing me with tales of their own CSA farm blight problems.
Late blight is cruel. One day, your plants all look fine; healthy, green, lots of green tomatoes growing away. Then, just about the time that you are checking the plants daily for that first tantalizing glimpse of red… you see it. A few browning leaves, a generally limp and sad appearance, and the death knell – brownish black splotches on the stems. Shortly thereafter all the beautiful little proto-tomatoes start rotting on the vine and you have no choice but to destroy the entire plant. You don’t even get to compost the plants, or in my case, the carefully cultivated compost-container mix that they are planted in: it all has to go into the trash, carefully bagged, in order to try our best to slow the spread of the disease and hope (with fingers crossed) that it doesn’t return next year.
To date, my three Matt’s Wild Cherry plants are unaffected, as are a single Silvery Fir and a Roma plant that are down in “Tuscany” (along the rock wall in my driveway). That spot is much sunnier than my deck, so perhaps it tipped the balance in keeping those plants free from disease (so far). Since my potatoes are also down in Tuscany, I am hoping against hope that the area remains blight-free.
As for the mound of green tomatoes I collected before throwing out 15 plants… I’m thinking green tomato chutney. I’ve heard on various sites that the fruit is still safe to eat from infected plants, as long as it is green & healthy fruit (not that I’m hankering to eat any of the blighted, rotten buggers), but I have yet to find a reliable source for this info. If any has one, please feel free to share it in comments.
The effects of late blight were all too apparent at market this past weekend. Although heirloom tomatoes have begun appearing, their prices have increased to compensate.
At $5 lb., they’re not cheap. Not horribly expensive however, as I had feared, although it’s early in the season. Still, I bought a couple of pounds. Some went into a raw uncooked sauce, the rest will go into a stufato or maybe bruschetta.
Now — more than ever — is when people should support their local farmers.