TOMATOES #1: ANOTHER WEEKEND BINGE

We got home late Sunday afternoon from a wonderful weekend in the Hamptons and of course the first thing I did was check my garden. Specifically, of course, I looked at the tomatoes. And what I saw made my blood run cold, not to be too dramatic. Ashy spots! Yellowing! All the tell-tale signs of the dreaded blight. True it was just a few leaves, all of them on the bottom of otherwise healthy-looking, towering vines, heavy with fruit. Why worry? Then I think about coming home from a similar weekend at the shore last summer and finding a garden like a graveyard—39 plants, all in various stages of death and decay, black with fungus and heavy with mold.

If you don’t already know, last year ‘Late Blight’ decimated the entire tomato crop of the Northeast and much of the Midwest. This same disease hits related vines, like the potato, and in fact was responsible for the great Potato Famine of Ireland in the last century. Carried by spores, like all fungi, the Blight thrives on cold, wet weather, which is why it was so devastating last summer, which was unusually rainy and cool. Not coincidentally, tomatoes, which are tropically-inclined, prefer it as warm as possible. Of course, this summer has been a completely different story, with record high temps and low precipitation. No matter, this year I wasn’t taking any chances. Today I pulled out all my potato vines. They weren’t looking too healthy anyway. I harvested about ten pounds worth of ‘new’ potatoes which isn’t too impressive but enough for a few servings of potato salad (recipe to follow).

I then did my best for the tomatoes: first stripping away all the diseased leaves below and bagging and disposing of them, and then spraying them thoroughly with organic, copper-based fungicide, which I bought this spring for just such a purpose. I’m not sure what sort of affect these small steps will have but at least I feel proactive. Sometimes it’s necessary to piss in the wind and hope for rain, uh, I mean sun…

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