Tomato blight and my quest for world domination

tomato early blight - TheFarmersInTheDell.com

Sometimes I wonder why I do this gardening thing.  Just when I get one problem in control and things are looking good – BAM!  Almost overnight, early blight sinks its dirty little spores into my heirloom tomatoes.  And now…

{cue dramatic music}

I am in the midst of total tomato turmoil.

Early tomato blight usually occurs early to mid-season and is most common during periods of humid weather and excessive rainfall.  Conditions which have plagued us all summer.  The blight is caused by the fungus, Alternaria solani.  This crap-tastic disease first appears on the lower leaves and spreads outward, causing them to turn yellow, wither and die.  Eventually, affecting the entire tomato plant.  Great.

Even more disheartening… the spores can overwinter in the soil, causing havoc for next year’s tomato crop.

Gardening is supposed to be relaxing.  Enjoyable.  Productive.  However, frustrating setbacks like tomato blight make me want to take a match and burn the whole thing down to the ground.

However, since that would be a bit of an over-reaction, I made a frantic visit to the old timer up the road.  After blathering on about tomato armagedden, all my hard work and my plan to incinerate everything with a fireball from hell, he looked at me and told me I was a little dramatic.

He went on to say that he gets “the damned blight” every year (I officially blame him), and that it’s no big deal.  No big deal?  I think he’s had one too many sips of whatever is in that mason jar. It’s an all out tomato-tastrophe!  He suggested I use a copper fungicide spray, like he uses.  But when he saw my nose squinch up and my lip curl, he rolled his eyes and told me “you’re one of them, huh.”  Yeah, yeah, I am.  He told me his mother used to use baking soda, but had no idea what she did with it.  “Look it up on that internet thing,” he said.  As I was leaving, he told me that if it was up to him, he’d “bring back that DDT.  That sh*t fixed everything.  Damn government.”  Yes, yes it did –  it fixed EEEVERYTHING.  This was one of those visits where I wasn’t going to get the answer I wanted, so I went home to fire up the internet machine.

After power-surfing organic gardening websites for several hours, I decided upon Actinovate, which is a water-soluble organic fungicide.  It contains the beneficial microorganism (Streptomyces lydicus) and is OMRI listed for use in organic production.  I also decided to alternate with the old-fashioned remedy of applying baking soda (found on Migardener) to the affected plants:

  • Mix 3 tablespoons baking soda with 1 gallon of water.
  • Mix in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or cooking oil of your choice. This helps the spray to stick to the leaves.
  • Mix in 2 drops of dish soap to help emulsify (mix) everything.
  • Spray on tops and bottoms of leaves till dripping.  Spray in early morning or evening, since spraying in the heat of day can damage leaves.

Tip:  Begin with 3 tablespoons, and apply that amount one time each week for 3 weeks. Then switch to 3 1/2 Tablespoons if fungus is still growing, or spreading.

The old timer did give me advice on trying to kill the spores in the soil to prevent them from infecting next year’s tomato crop.

  • In the fall, remove all affected vegetation and dispose of it in garbage bags.  Do not compost.
  • Do not leave fallen fruit, from the affected plants, on the ground.
  • Amend the soil.
  • Till the garden a few time in the fall to help expose the spores.
  • In the spring, deeply till the garden and cover with black plastic to heat up the soil to kill remaining spores.
  • During planting, mulch around the tomato plants to prevent soil from splashing up onto the tomato seedlings, when it rains.
  • Water from the bottom.
  • After clipping a tomato plant, clean the garden clippers in one part bleach to four parts water, before moving on to the next plant.

So, here’s to hoping that my plan works.  Now, where did I put the DDT?

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