NE wet weather brings Late Blight concerns
I support a distribution site for a local CSA: Piccadilly Farm in Winchester, NH. Along with weekly fantastic fresh vegetables, they send out a very informative news letter about current conditions for gardeners and farmers. I have copied their letter below, along with a list of crops they included this week. (Thanks Jenny!)
The news from the farm is no real news to you: it's been raining. And raining, and raining. We saw only 8 rain-free days in June, with double the normal rainfall. On our farm, we have very light, sandy loam soils, more prone to drought that flooding. So, we haven't seen the rot or serious crop loss that other farmers in the region have. In fact, the rain has been good for some of the crops in today's box: plentiful peas, the earliest carrots we've harvested in a dozen years, and our first ever crop of spring daikon. We do see general failure-to-thrive on our hot season crops (eggplant, melons, cucumbers, squashes, peppers), but they should rebound as soon as that mythical globe in the sky begins to shine through. I'm still optimistic that it will!
Our concern, much more than wet soils, is wet plants. Extended periods of leaf wetness, combined with cool to moderate temperatures and lack of sunshine, spell perfect conditions for many crop disease pathogens. This year, there is very startling news in the Northeast about a disease called Late Blight, which infects potatoes and tomatoes. This pathogen - which killed the potato crop during the Irish potato famine - is spread worldwide. Late Blight generally travels up from the south on storm winds, and spreads quickly during periods of wet, cool weather. Our region sees it every few years and the earliest known reporting in New York state (with northern states reporting soon after) in any year is August 25 - until this year. Late Blight is already being reported in fields and gardens in NJ and NY, two months "early". Why? Possibly because a wholesale plant company has been selling infected tomato plants through chain retailers (WalMart, Home Depot, garden centers) throughout the Northeast. This distribution is unprecedented, and could be disastrous for commercial potato and tomato growers. Especially organic growers (like us), who do not use systemic fungicides on their crops.
We do everything that we know how to do to protect our crops from disease. The starting point is encouraging soil fertility and plant health. In potatoes, we begin with certified disease-free seed, keep them hilled up and weed-free, and choose varieties that are less tasty to our most common insect pests. We generally spray an organic insecticide for Colorado potato beetle control. And this year for the first time on potatoes, we are using a protectant (not a systemic) organic copper fungicide, as our only hedge against the Late Blight.
In tomatoes, we mulch and trellis them, to keep soil splash off. We spray a biological stimulant to encourage plant health, and organic copper to protect against various fungal diseases. When we need to irrigate, we do so through drip lines at the soil surface, to keep the leaf surfaces dry. In the big picture, many New England growers are moving to hoophouse tomato production, and we plan to do this as soon as our farm has the resources.
We are hopeful (what else can we be?!), and our potatoes and tomatoes look gorgeous right now. But we are preparing ourselves for the possibility of dealing with a major crop loss. We will, of course, keep you posted. I've included a press release about Late Blight at the end of this email. If you are growing potatoes or tomatoes, please scout them regularly for the disease, and act quickly if you see it. Spread this information to other gardeners you know.
Whew, I'm hungry after all that! On to the share...
Carrots, a bunch. Our earliest carrot harvest ever! Most weeks from now on, we hope to include carrots in the box. The rain is good for carrots, and our beds look great. As soon as we have a dry enough field, we'll plant the 8th and final succession of carrots for the season.
Parsley, a bunch. We grow the flat-leaf variety, for its superior flavor. Store the bunch in a glass of water or a plastic bag in the fridge, and wash it just before use.
Swiss chard, a bunch. One of my favorite cooking greens. Cook the colorful stems for slightly longer than the leafy parts. I particularly like chard with carrots and eggs.
Green curly kale, a bunch. We grow several kinds of kale, and they are thriving in this cool wet weather.
Daikon, a few. We harvest on the small side, as daikon can grow to be several feet long and weigh dozens of pounds. Though you may have never used them, daikon are actually quite versatile. Try grated into salads, or chop and use in cooked dishes as you would any root vegetable. They'll loose their zing in cooking, but retain some crunch.
Sugar snap peas, a quart. The crop is just perfect this week, and the plants are loaded. A good result of all this wet, cool weather!
Snow peas, a pint. We grow "Oregon Giant" snow peas, and these are indeed oversized. They'll be best for cooking - try an Asian-inspired sautee that includes the daikon and snow peas.
Garlic scapes, about 8 pieces. The last of these yummy treats. Try them on the grill, coated with a bit of oil, during a weekend cookout.
Green leaf lettuce, a head.
Salad mix, half a pound. A young, tender mix today.
Picadilly Farm LLC
If you are growing tomatoes and/or potatoes, here are the articles Jenny points out: Serious Disease Threatens Tomato and Potato Plants by Dr Vern Grubinger, Vegetable & Berry Specialist at UVT Ext and a Fact Sheet by Ohio State Univ.
I haven't been out to my plot in almost a week now as I've been vacationing. I hope to spend some time there tomorrow. Lots of weeding to be done, no doubt. With luck I won't find blight spots on my Solanaceae.
late blight (Phytophthora infestans)