“It gets late early around here,” said Yogi Berra. For Amherst area gardens, it looks like late blight is coming early this year.
A friend told me today that he got an email from Brookfield Farm in South Amherst saying they have lost their entire tomato crop to late blight. Can someone confirm that? Earlier, Rebecca Reid, an experienced gardener in Leverett, said she had seen signs of late blight on her tomatoes.
Late blight is every tomato grower’s worst nightmare. It comes floating into the garden in warm, humid air and turns the leaves and fruits black. It turns your tomatoes from lovely to inedible in a day or two. It’s similar to the blight that devastated the Irish potato crop in the 1840s and caused massive famine, death and emigration.
Hampshire and Franklin counties have been fingered by a national website that monitors late blight as two of the places where it has been detected. In past years, I don’t think it’s come here before August.
Anticipating late blight, I started spraying my 40 tomato plants on July 14. I used a product called Soap Shield, a liquid copper fungicide that has been cleared for organic gardens. I’ve been trying to time my spraying to come just before a humid, rainy spell, as Soap Shield is a preventive, not a cure. I sprayed for the third time yesterday.
Once you have late blight, there is nothing you can do. Last year, at the first sign of the blight, we picked all the still-green tomatoes and made chutney and relish out of them. This year, I hope my spraying will allow my tomatoes to survive the blight, though it’s hard to be optimistic. I didn’t spray my potatoes, which are also susceptible.
I hope we won’t have to start importing all our tomatoes from blight-free regions or growing them in greenhouses. As for this year, expect much higher prices for local tomatoes.