Saturday, August 11, 2012

So, where was I?

It's early August and I'm already pulling up my tomato vines. That pretty much tells you how my summer has been this year. The garden was doing pretty well up until late June, right about when we had a freak derecho blow through town. We were lucky in that we had no property damage and didn't lose power for a week like some people did locally. Even my garden survived intact, but the derecho marked the start of the end.

After the derecho we had weeks of dry, relentless hot weather with little rain. My sweet corn started to tassel when it was only about 4 feet tall, but the heat caused the silks to dry out prematurely before good pollination occurred. My half runner beans got tough and stringy right away. The squash bugs took all my yellow squash, patty pan, zucchini, and pumpkins in just a week.

Determined to save what was left, we set up our irrigation system and began watering regularly. We traveled to Texas in early July and I worried about the garden, but it did fine in my absence with the irrigation. The tomatoes took off and were gorgeous. Tall, full of yellow blossoms, and repeatedly needing more staking to prop up the rampant growth. The okra, peppers, and tomatillos were looking good, but by golly those were the prettiest tomato plants I'd ever seen.

Then right before we left for a week at the beach in late July, I found late blight on my tomato plants. If tomatoes develop late blight in late August or early September, you can often still get a decent harvest in before the fungus kills the plant. However, July is early for late blight in our state. My plants still had small, hard green fruit. I didn't have time to get the material and equipment to spray my plants before we left for vacation, plus sprays for late blight are most effective when applied preventively, not after the plants are already infected. Nearly in tears I realized that there wasn't much I could do about my plants and I didn't know what might be left when we returned from the beach. And recognizing that our regular watering schedule, along with me planting the tomatoes too closely together, hastened the development of this fungal disease didn't make me feel any better.

Every one of my tomato plants was infected when we returned. (To add insult to injury, the corn ears that did develop should have been picked while we were gone and had already started to turn starchy.)

Late blight will infect tomatoes at all stages of development, so now in August I'm culling as much of the green tomato fruits as I can. I tried leaving a few infected tomato fruits on the vine to see if they would ripen more, but the blight lesions simply spread too much into the fruit before it changes color and the whole thing becomes inedible. At least I can cut the lesions out of the green fruit and make pickles with the remaining good part, but it's a lot of extra work that I hadn't planned on doing.

It's incredibly disheartening to pick all those green tomatoes and then pull the vines out of the ground when I should be up to my eyeballs in red, ripe tomatoes at this time of the year. Plus, late blight smells foul. The infected plants are susceptible to secondary bacterial rot and that part of the garden just reeks of decay. Luckily the spores won't overwinter on my tomato stakes and the infested plants won't be a problem if they rot down entirely, which shouldn't be an issue in early August.

So it's been a rough season in the garden. Other gardeners I know in my area have had similar problems with drought, disease, slow plant development, and various unwanted wildlife, so I know it's not just me. On the bright side, we were able to join a CSA through Steve's workplace while at the beach, so we do have fresh local produce each week now. And thankfully I'm not trying to feed my family out of my garden through the upcoming winter, but y'all can probably expect a jar of green tomato pickles for Christmas this year.

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