Disaster

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

We’ve had our first letdown on our old island farm.  And it came in the form of a disease called “late blight”.

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Sadly, once infected, the affected plants (in our case, tomatoes) are essentially doomed and destroying these plants is the only hope of preventing it from spreading to other plants.

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This disease is famous as the cause of the Irish potato famine in the 1800’s. Phytophthora infestans is not a fungus or a bacterium or a virus. It belongs to a group of organisms called “protists”, although they are still commonly referred to as “fungi”.

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On tomato, the first symptom on plants is often a brown/black lesion on the stem. Leaves develop large brown/black blotches, often starting at leaf margins. In humid weather and in early mornings, a fuzzy mould can often be seen on the underside of the brown/black blotches or on the stem lesions.

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On tomato fruit, infection causes a brown/black, leathery rot.  It may also become soft and mushy if invaded by secondary organisms.

In cool, wet or humid weather the pathogen produces structures called “sporangia”. These sporangia can travel up to 20 kilometers in wind or wind-blown rain. Rain-spread sporangia can cause infection even in a garden where tomatoes or potatoes have not been grown before.

Potatoes are also very susceptible to late blight – hence the cause for concern when it is detected here in Prince Edward Island.  Fortunately, our potatoes seem to have come away unscathed.  We’ve been enjoying new potatoes daily for a couple of weeks and we’re ready for our big harvest for cold-storage this weekend.

We first heard of a blight-outbreak in our area on the local news.  It was just a few days later when we started seeing the signs of infection on our own tomatoes.  And once it started, everything went downhill quickly.

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With the onset of the disease, we moved to remove the plants and bag them for disposal.  It’s strongly recommended that you NOT compost the affected plants as the organisms may not die in the composting process.  Burying, burning or sending the plants to the landfill is the best way to rid your garden of the active problem.

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Although the plants were dying, we could still use the green tomatoes if we acted quickly.  Often with late blight, even green tomatoes brought in the house to ripen may still rot anyway.  In wet weather, green fruit may have been infected already, or be carrying spores on the surface. As the fruit ripens, rot develops.

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Some gardeners report that washing green fruit in soap and water after picking, or dipping green fruit in a 10% bleach solution (1 part household bleach to 9 parts water) followed by a soap and water wash, reduces fruit rot during ripening.  We didn’t take any special measures to allow the tomatoes to ripen – so we did lose quite a lot to rot, but we still enjoyed a few fresh tomato sandwiches in the meantime.

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So with the glut of green tomatoes, we spent a couple of days making a few different preserves – Salsa Verde, Green Tomato and Pineapple Chutney and Piccalilli.  I’ll be sharing some of these ideas in future posts, but today, it’s all about Green Tomato Chow.

On Prince Edward Island, these firm, under-ripe green tomatoes are transformed into a tangy-sweet condiment that is often served alongside salt cod cakes.  I’ve had Green Tomato Chow (or Chow Chow, or Yum Yum, depending on your upbringing) on a couple of occasions since moving to the island.  Most recently with crab cakes from the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico.   Think of it as a relish, to be served alongside seafood, pork, sausages or even hamburgers.

At any rate, it’s a great way to use up some of your end-of-season green tomatoes – whether by choice or by….blight.

 

tomato collage 2

GREEN TOMATO CHOW

  • Green tomatoes, sliced – 5-1/2 lbs.
  • Onions, halved and sliced – 1-1/2 lbs.
  • Pickling salt – 1/3 cup

Layer tomatoes and onion with salt in large pot.  Cover and let stand on counter overnight.  Drain.  Add the following ingredients to the tomato mixture in pot.

  • Granulated sugar – 3-1/3 cups
  • Mixed pickling spice (tied in cheesecloth) – 4-1/2 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 2 tsp
  • White vinegar – 2 cups

Heat and stir until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally.  More turmeric can be added for color and more sugar can be added for taste.

For canning, pour into hot sterilized jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Seal and process for 10 minutes in hot water bath.  Makes about 4 pints.

 

So not all was lost.  Although our first season growing a variety of tomatoes was a bit of a bust, we have learned a lot.  We lost about 90% of the tomatoes we planted.  One variety we chose is labelled as blight-resistant, and these “Mountain Merit” tomatoes are chugging along nicely in their beds.  So it seems we’ll still be enjoying some red tomatoes after all.

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This Chow recipe was inspired by “Company’s Coming – Preserves” by Jean Pare.

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Disaster

  1. O my—-what a disappointment!!!!! I’ve never seen that before. Will it live in the ground and affect next year’s crop? Live and learn as they say!!!!!! I’m going to try your recipe!!!!! 🙂

    • There is a potential that it could overwinter in the soil – but the spores are short lived and the cold winter should kill off any remaining. Removing as much of he affected plant and vegetation is crucial. We’ve planned our gardens with crop rotation in mind – so we won’t be planting any tomatoes or potatoes in this bed for another four years anyhow. Live and learn is right – we can take measures to help prevent this in the future too.

    • You got it – there’s always a silver lining. Everything we do is a learning experience – both the successes and failures – and especially the failures. Bigger and better next year!

  2. Definitely giving your chow chow recipe a try! We’ve had dealings with the blimmin’ blight too; devastating when you’re discovering it, but just another reminder that life isn’t perfect is the approach we adopt. Yay for the blight resistant Mountain Merit! Looking forward to hearing how they taste in your sandwiches 🙂

  3. Sorry to hear about the problem with the tomato crop. When we lived on the west coast it was a common problem. The only really effective solution we were able to implement was to grow the plants under cover. If no water hits the leaves and all the water arrives via the soil, the problem was pretty much eliminated. The bad news is that it is a lot of work. We were only growing a handful of plants so we kept them in large pots on wagons and carts. If rain threatened, we would scuttle the wagons into a carport. Here in Saskatchewan the problem is less frequent, although I have heard of outbreaks on wet years in both tomatoes and potatoes. Our long term strategy is to do all of our tomatoes, bell peppers and hot peppers in greenhouses. As for the potatoes, we are hoping that having extra plots available to move to, will keep us a step ahead of fungal problems.

    I still think you have a pretty good lookin crop there,
    Cheers!
    Mark.

    • Thanks Mark – will keep all that in mind for next year. Fortunately, we have the space and ability to rotate our crops yearly – neither potatoes, tomatoes or peppers will be in this spot for another four years. We probably did everything wrong this year with the tomatoes – too crowded, not enough circulation, leaves touching the ground, soil splashing – we’ll chalk this year up to experience and do things differently (better) next year. I like the idea of a greenhouse or high tunnel for these crops too – will probably also help extend the season, I imagine. Otherwise, without a doubt, our gardens were hugely successful this year (save the tomatoes) and we couldn’t be happier with our (continuing) harvest.

      Thanks again.
      Russ

  4. Yup, we get blight here too – the lovely west coast dampness isn’t stellar weather for tomatoes. I grow mine out in the garden and take my chances (my main gardening strategy, actually), but most serious tomato people here use tunnels, greenhouses, hoophouses, etc. I’ve been to PEI many times (family up around East Point) and have always wondered why tunnels aren’t used more – though I suspect it has to do with the snow load in the winter. Chow chow! Haven’t had it since my mother-in-law passed away. I’ve got her recipe somewhere, but in the meantime, I am definitely going to give yours a go, it looks fairly simple!

    • Thanks for the comments! We’re re-thinking our tomato strategy for next year and I think low-tunnels are in our future. And hey – if you find yourselves on the island again, be sure to look us up.

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