More about tomato blight

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that I keep finding myself in the position of “answer man” – even on subjects about which I don’t claim expertise. That’s happening again – this time on the subject of tomato blight. You see, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how tomato blight had pretty well wiped out my tomato crop last year and how I was determined to find some way to counter this pestilence. Well, a number of folks apparently figured I would succeed in my quest and expect me to share my newly acquired information – apparently lotsa gardeners are in the same boat.

Fortunately, other folks, much more knowledgeable than I, have provided a great deal of information and advice. John Scott of the Knollwood Garden Center reaffirmed that the primary means of combating blight is prevention because once a plant has contracted blight, there’s little to be done – it cannot be “cured”. In addition to rotating tomatoes to a different plot each year, if possible, John also suggested using a mulch, such as straw, about an inch thick but not more, around each plant. (That black porous landscape fabric might also work.) The objective is to prevent spore-laden soil from splashing up on the plant from either rain or watering. He further recommended using a spray, Mancozeb, to prevent blight. (I think that’s the correct spelling, but if not, it’s close.)

I have talked with several people who tell me that they have grown tomatoes for years but have never encountered blight until recently. One of the problems is what are known as “heirloom” tomatoes such as that best tasting of all,

Rutgers, are not very blight resistant so care must be taken to successfully grow them. Plants offered commercially have a “tag” showing what they are resistant to, so you may want to check with your garden center experts for advice on which varieties are resistant to what. Okay, so what about blight resistant varieties?

I got the following e-mail from George McGowan: “Bill, in your column you were looking for blight resistant tomatoes. I recently purchased seeds of Stellar hybrid, Defiant, Mountain Merit, Mountain Magic, Legend, Damsel and Juliet. They are all resistant to late blight and some to early blight. … Stellar and Legend are two new ones I am trying this year. The others last year appeared to be resistant. I just started the seeds and don’t know how many plants I will have.” George sure knows his tomatoes.

I also got word that late blight resistant Mountain Merit, Iron Lady, and Plum Regal along with early blight resistant Mountain Fresh will be available at the Greene County Master Gardener sale at the county fairgrounds on May 12th – if all goes as planned. Might want to check into that if you’re interested.

Knollwood Garden Center expects to have a limited number of individually potted (no “flats”) Mountain Merit plants and Wickline’s told me they will also have blight resistant tomato plants, but didn’t specify which one(s).

I was also asked by a reader to “look into” the question of whether garden tools used in blight contaminated ground last year can harbor the spores. The answer is “yes”. However, according to John Scott, they can be decontaminated by hosing off to remove any debris – this can be done in the yard because grass is not affected by the blight spores. The tools should then be throughly rinsed in a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water and allowed to dry before use.

Well, that’s about all the information I have to pass on right now. As for me, I’m thinking of starting some seeds – something I haven’t done for a number of years but there’s still time for them to be ready by the last frost date. I am also considering, in addition to planting blight resistant tomatoes, trying one or more of those “heirloom” varieties just to see if I can beat the blight. Guess I’m stubborn enough to give it a shot.

You know, I’ve often mentioned how I attempt to respond to readers’ interests and concerns. Sure enough, here’s another example of a topic that’s apparently of interest and concern to lotsa folks hereabouts. What I find particularly gratifying is the way readers participate by their requests that I “look into” some particular subject – and by readers who are willing share their knowledge and experience to help resolve those issues . It’s the way our small town/rural community is supposed to work. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]