Friday, August 28, 2009

How-Not-To #1--Dealing with Tomato Blight

I suggested that there might be some how-not-to's included in this lovely journey, and while, after working more seriously on our gardening this year, I have a few tips of that nature, this is likely my first big How-Not-To. I've not been faced with tomato blight of this nature before. Last year, I think some of our tomatoes were, in fact, blighted, but it was late in the season, and our plants weren't doing all that great anyway. This is primarily, I am convinced, because we planted them in the same spot two years in a row. They were fantastic two years ago, and last year, not so much. Having learned that, we put our tomatoes in a new place this year with new soil. We also added a lovely layer of leaves to the top of our old bed last fall, and threw a new layer of compost and topsoil on top when we brought some in to fill our raised bed. We left the leaves, not completely rotted, in the mix. That bed, holding corn, sunflowers, melons, and one lone cuke plant, has done quite well this year.

When one discovers their tomato plants are blighted, there should be no delay in removing as much of the blighted parts of the plants as possible, possibly applying a fungicide (organic if you feel the need). The blight is an external thing, not internal, so I am thinking that a fungicide might keep it from spreading, even on the same plant. I did not do this. I had a ton of green tomatoes, and practically no ripe tomatoes. But, if you look at the pictures I took the day I figured out they were blighted, the plants looked pretty good. If I were going to choose not to treat the plants, it might have been good to wait a few more days while the green tomatoes were growing nearer to ripe, then remove the green tomatoes and layer them in newspaper to get them to ripen. I might also see if I could find a few green tomato recipes so that I could get the best out of the crop.

However, I did neither of those things. After a lovely escape to the beach early this week, I came home knowing I needed to do something about those tomatoes. I don't really know (and won't ever) whether faster action might have saved more tomatoes, but, anyway... Yesterday, I took all the tomatoes off the plants, pulled them up, and threw them out. I threw out the worst affected tomatoes, kept any ripe ones without too much blight, wrapped a number of mature, apparently unaffected green tomatoes in newspaper, hoping that they will ripen (will have to let you know how that goes). I also kept a number of either apparently unaffected or only slightly affected nearly ripe tomatoes which I placed on my kitchen windowsill. I also have a bucket of slightly affected green tomatoes for which I am seeking out recipes.

I probably have 15-20 lbs of ripe, lightly affected tomatoes, and we'll have to see how the rest go.

I have not done anything with my container plants, and did not do anything preventative when they looked good when I saw the blight on the other plants. I should have. They are now infected. I pulled lower leaves off the plants, and have been unable to bring myself to pull them up as yet. I am pretty sure that the one cuke in the bed is infected, as it is pretty close to dead. I think I saw somewhere that they are prone to this disease.

So, today I am trying my friend Val's Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe to see how everyone likes it. One article I read advised against water bath canning blighted tomatoes, though, because the acidity level in the tomatoes may not be the same as that in healthy tomatoes, so if we like it (and have enough tomatoes ripening up), I will either pressure can it or freeze it. I am also seeking out green tomato recipes to use up the portions of the green tomatoes affected by the blight not likely to make it to ripe before they are overtaken. Most people seem to agree that it is safe to eat a blighted tomato with the blighty (I made that word up) part cut away. Some suggest that the healthy part of a blighted tomato doesn't taste as good, but I haven't noticed that.

This weekend, we are putting up another raised bed (constructed last weekend by my dear husband with very little help from me) and planting some fall/winter veggies--carrots, peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, radishes. I will also add a bit of compost to the area where the tomatoes stood and plant there. So we go on....

Another thought--our tomatoes were a bit too close together, even with cages. We planted them about a foot apart, and they were lush, crazy plants, so they were crowded. I don't know if that really was a problem, except that when disease hit, it spread quickly and easily.

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