Late Blight, The Irish Potato Famine, and Paranoia

This is what it looks like.

So about a week ago I had to pull up and destroy what was left of my tomato crop.  Actually the majority of it because, as usual,  I got my plants out late and they were just beginning to come into production so I could start the canning process.  The culprit?  Late blight.

Then the other day I am at work watering the Mums when a gentleman come up to me with a plum tomato in his hand and said “Can you tell me what this is?“  Assuming he knew it was a plum tomato I looked at the stem end of the fruit and saw the classic Late Blight lesions.  I told him I was so sorry but it was Late Blight.  “Late Blight?  What’s that?  Can I eat it?”  I explained it was a fungal disease that affects potatoes and tomatoes and that the “good neighbor” thing to do was to pull up all his plants and throw them away.  Not in the compost.  Not out in the field next door but in big plastic garbage bags that go to the landfill.  I said it was wide-spread in our area again this year and that the recent wet weather was making it worse.  I told him it was airborne and could spread up to 40 miles on the wind.

He wanted to know what he could spray for it and I told him there were some organic alternatives but that it was too late for this crop as it was already infected and the sprays were only preventative.

He was disappointed and reluctant to believe that he had to destroy all his fruit.  I told him he could harvest any tomatoes that seemed unaffected and wait to see if the lesions appeared.  I advised not eating any that had the lesions.  Then he asked the $64,000 question.  “Where did it come from?”

When I asked him if he really wanted to hear the whole sad story he said yes he did.  After my recital of the nasty facts his only question was “Why no lawsuits?”  That is an excellent question.

So here are the facts as I understand them:  in 2009 a  southern grower who grows “sets” for distribution sent their plants to a grower in Maine.  These are small plants that when “grown out” in a local greenhouse become the tomato plants that you buy in big pots at Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other big box stores.  These sets were infected with the Late Blight Fungus.

Late Blight is caused by phytophthora infestans, the same fungus that caused the Irish Potato Famine.

These infected plants got sold to unsuspecting home gardeners and the rest is tragedy.   In 2009 vegetable and potato farmers were devastated some losing their entire commercial crops.   Everyone tried hard to destroy all of their plant material and not over winter any of the spore.   Last year in 2010 we seemed to get a bit of a respite although there were scattered outbreaks.  I believe this is at least partly because so many small home gardeners were terribly discouraged and did not plant tomatoes that year.  Again this year with the dry June and July we seemed to be going to miss the bullet but then Irene blew in and we had a series of wet days and again the fungus got a foothold and spread like the wild fires in Texas.

TINFOIL HAT ALERT:  I try hard not to be paranoid; but as they say “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean their not out to get you!”;  but this is just too, too much.  Just as the economy crashes and people start to really get the “grow your own” ethos going they get hit with this pandemic.  It just seemed to me like the big boys (Wal-Mart for example)  saying “Oh no, little people don’t even think about trying to feed yourself.  Only we the big purveyors of sustenance are allowed to provide you with the food you need to live.”  Okay enough paranoia.  Draw your own conclusions.   If you do grow your own food try not to get discouraged .  There is lots of help out there if something is destroying your crop.    But keep that tinfoil handy.  You never know when you might need it.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Muffy on September 21, 2011 at 5:19 PM

    This is fabulous! Good info and needs to be sent on.


  2. Thanks, Muffy, not too paranoid, huh?


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