Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Monday, August 3, 2009

Late Blight

Hello from the farm,

As many of you probably have heard, late blight, a plant disease that completely destroys tomatoes and potatoes, was disseminated across the entire North East this spring when all of the major box stores with garden centers bought infected plants from a single nursery in the South. A Cornell plant pathologist identified infected plants early this summer, and since then Cornell Co-operative Ext. has had warnings out to all tomato and potato growers in the area. Late Blight, to give you a good idea of its scope and complete devastating action, was the disease that caused the famous Potato Famine in Ireland. Most of the tomato and potato crops in the Capital region, as well as Long Island have completely succumbed to the disease (check the NY TImes). It looks like the Ithaca area may be next. Late blight is a common fungus like infection that typically appears late in the season in various regions. This summer's wide spread infection is rare, but it is important to note that late blight needs a host to over winter. To ensure that the disease does not live through the winter we will burn all of our plants and tomato stakes.
So, How does this affect our harvest? Well, up until last week we were ok. Last week on a farm walk Paul and I identified late blight in the potatoes. Paul jumped on the mower and mowed off all of the foliage. Today we will burn all of the residue with a propane torch. The idea is to try to kill all of the spores to prevent the disease from spreading, and so that the potatoes under ground have a chance at survival. These seems to be the best means of control at this point. We are fortunate to have spotted it so early. We will start giving out early potato's next Tuesday. You should eat these right away - the chances are high that they won't store well. We will dig them and immediately wash them to clean off any spores that might have touched them during harvest. LATE BLIGHT IS NOT HARMFUL TO HUMANS (except by causing complete crop failures!). The risk is that the potatoes may start to rot after even a week of infection. The spots can be cut out just as you would any other defect in a potato. We will probably try to give out all of the summer CSA's potatoes sooner that later. We usually save potatoes until the late Fall to distribute. This year you will get potatoes in August rather than October and November.
Yesterday on a walk we identified Late Blight in the sauce tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes and field tomatoes still look fine, however the chances are very high that they will get blight in the next couple of weeks. It is quite possible that the tomatoes in the greenhouse will hold out longer than the ones in the field. We are all fortunate that we have those big greenhouses - at least we have already had some red tomatoes.
We feel very fortunate to have a CSA. The financial burden of this kind of potential crop failure is usually all on the farmers' shoulders. In a CSA we all share the risk, rather than just the farmers. We will still have plenty of other food and the dollar value of the share will still far exceed the weekly $19.23. We plan on being here for the long haul and natural disasters will occasionally crop up in any farming systems. If we were not a CSA we would be facing a major loss of gross income this season - many farmers in the North East are. Thanks to the CSA model, and to all of you, our members, all we have lost this year is a lot of time put into growing the potato and tomato crops - and the crops. What we have not lost is any gross sales. Thank you so much.
We are going to start distributing green tomatoes, and as soon as we identify late blight in the field tomatoes we will open them up for u-pick green tomatoes.

To sum it all up - Welcome to farming.

OK! Here's the week's list:

tomatoes (from the greenhouses!)
summer squash
head lettuce

all unlimited:
kale, chard, beans (new patch - includes flat beans), basil,

cherry tomatoes - pick a handful or so - not many ripe yet, but we figure we'd better give them out while they're healthy!

Thanks all and see you at the farm,
Evangeline and Paul

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