The blighted season

Posted on | August 25, 2009 | 49 Comments

I’m so sad. My entire 40-plant bed of paste tomatoes has early blight. My schedule has been so nuts over the last week since I discovered the first signs, and I haven’t had a moment to pull plants and dispose of them. My apologies to the neighbors if it’s traveling from mine to yours on the wind. I stopped my truck on the way out of the driveway yesterday morning to survey the damage and it’s bad, but the vines are FULL of giant fruit. I must be in denial because I keep thinking, oh maybe it’s just going to effect the leaves. Silly me.

I didn’t realize blight had made it this far west. I thought I was safe because I started my tomatoes from organic seed and organic soil in my basement instead of buying plants from a big box store. I was wrong.

I know this is just one of those things that happens and it’s been a ridiculously wet summer, which makes blight thrive, but every day I read another gardener’s account of bagging up their tomato and potato plants and forfeiting their gleaming jars of sauce and salsa and it feels like the plague has hit. I suppose early blight is a sort of plant black plague. I’m going to skip photos, it’s too depressing.

I’m wondering if my new lasagna bed made the plants more susceptible to the blight, and it’s time to find out if there’s anything I can do to safely treat my soil so it doesn’t recur next year. I noticed a bunch of yellowed and browned leaves in the Matt’s Wild Cherry and Cosmonaut Volkovs last night, so it’s just a matter of time before my entire tomato crop is wasted. I should probably pull my potatoes immediately, too.

Oh, this gardening year has been the worst ever and I’m pitching a little fit in my heart. Can you feel me stomping my feet? I started off with such high hopes! Most of my beds were prepared for spring planting in the fall and I got so much in the ground early. Then I went away and the ground hogs and rabbits moved in. Now blight, which means I lost eighty percent of my summer crops. Sigh.

I guess it’s a good lesson in attachment. I’ve come to identify myself so strongly with my gardens and things are percolating under the surface of the community that is leading me towards work in gardening. I’m a little bit worried that this season just proves I haven’t got what it takes. But only a little bit worried. I can shoot out the other side of that black tunnel of fear into the stupid blinding light of my list of things to do to prevent the same scene next year. Buried fences. Soil amendments. Crop rotation. You just move forward or you stop, right?

I’m not going to give detailed voice to how much I want to stop at this moment. Amen for the winter. In past years I’ve said that — meaning how nice it is to give my body a rest. Gardening at this scale is a lot of physical work. But now? Now I’m simply hopeful that winter will heal my blighted heart and bring me back to the place of loving my garden again. At the moment, I’m thinking a bulldozer might be the answer. Double sigh.

I feel so bad for the farmers that are losing their cash crops. I’m just missing out on a freezer full of marinara and a pantry self of salsa. I can still go buy tomatoes from a u-pick (as long as they don’t also have blight). Yes, I was counting on my crops for winter. Losing 280 foot row of shelling beans when the beans were *just* about ready for the first picking, to the furry little f*ckers has put me in a space of no mercy. But I can buy beans. They won’t taste as good and I’ll spend money I don’t want to spend, but I have the option.

I don’t know, you guys. Something about this season feels like an alarm sounding. Guess I’d better make my list and get to work.


49 Responses to “The blighted season”

  1. Toni
    August 25th, 2009 @ 9:30 am

    I’m so sorry to hear that this season has been so fraught with loss. I’m not a gardener, but you inspire me so much, even now.


  2. marcyincny
    August 25th, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    Around here the problem’s been identified as late blight and while some of my tomato plants are in intensive care I’m not ready to pull the plug on ‘em. I think one reason they’re still hanging on is that I’ve reduced the number of plants I put in each bed and when I first heard blight was showing up in the Northeast I pruned like crazy to maximize the air circulation and keep them as dry as possible. I think we’re just not going to have enough warm weather to give us much of a crop this year. One lesson in all this is to can enough in the good years to get you through at least one poor year.


  3. Farmgirl Susan
    August 25th, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

    Gardening can be so heartbreakingly disappointing. Though I suppose the risk and gamble (and frustration) are part of what makes the food we do actually harvest taste so wonderful.

    I know there are strict guidelines about disposing of plants with blight (like don’t put them in your compost pile!), but can you still pick and eat the green fruit? If so, green tomatoes will ripen off the vine. They won’t be nearly as flavorful, but they’re still homegrown tomatoes. Slow roasting helps a lot, too. Or you could put up some of my salsa-like green tomato relish – no sugar, ridiculously easy.

    Hang in there – and start dreaming about next year’s garden. Or go scatter cool season seeds for some fall lettuce, arugula, Asian greens, etc. :)

    P.S. I owe you an e-mail!


  4. Kathy
    August 25th, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    Oh I am hearing that alarm! I haven’t lost my tomato crops but other things have not taken off as they should have. It sends my already close to the edge paranoia off on a tangent that thinks this is the doing of Monsanto and the likes…I just know it! Did you see Martha Stewart’s blog on her tomato crop? She had a near tennis court size crop and blight hit them hard! I honestly believe our food supply has been and is in deep trouble. I’ll feel better when I get some form of a greenhouse(poor woman’s mind you)erected where I can perhaps have better success. Deepest garden sympathy to you. Also, I am so ready to call it a day-I’m tired and ready to be frozen out of the backyard.


  5. Lisa RM
    August 26th, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

    I don’t think it’s at all paranoia. We’ve (and by we I mean this nation) been so obsessed with technology and “progress” that ecologically speaking, it had to come crumbling down some time. Instead, we don’t see the faults of Franken-fruits, and just talk about how if we just genetically modify things enough all will be well, and invasive species serve good purposes, and other tomfoolery. My only wish is that the tomatoes didn’t have to come crumbling down first.

    Oh, and your invasive dodder- IPM solution to invasive ragweed in dodder’s native range. I found that queer.


  6. Marjorie
    August 27th, 2009 @ 12:31 pm

    >>> Now I’m simply hopeful that winter will heal my blighted heart and bring me back to the place of loving my garden again.

    Oh, Kelly, what a loss. I’m so sorry.


  7. Christina
    September 13th, 2009 @ 8:25 am

    I am a novice gardener with a veggie garden in VT and the blight hit the tomatoes (& some squash & pumpkins) HARD. I didn’t know what it was–still don’t really. What is a blight? How does it spread? How is it hitting JUST tomatoes & squash & so forth? Are there any organic treatments?

    Happy to have found your blog via journey mama.


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