The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Dealing with the first signs of tomato blight

Blighted tomatoBut what do you do if, despite preventative pruning, your tomatoes begin to show signs of late blight?  Rather than sticking your head in the sand the way we did last year, your best bet is to take decisive action immediately.  Single out any tomatoes on which the blight has progressed beyond the very lowest leaves and delete the entire plant.  Then clip off any blighted lower leaves on nearby plants.

During this extensive pruning expedition, you should wipe your clippers with a rag soaked in alcohol every time you move from one plant to another, or from a more blighted area to a less blighted area.  In addition, you shouldn't even think about going into a blighted tomato patch when dew or rain are heavy on the plants --- blight spores move around and germinate on wet surfaces.

Pruned tomatoesThis is also the one time I advocate removing biomass from the farm.  You should definitely not incorporate the blighted tomato residue into your compost pile, but I feel that it's dicey to even toss it off into the bushes at the edge of the woods.  Instead, I actually let Mark haul our blighted tomato parts away to the dump.

Finally, I take the first sign of blight as a signal to get realistic.  All of your hard work pruning off diseased foliage is not going to cure your tomato patch of the blight --- it will merely slowly the disease's spread.  You might be able to stay ahead of the blight for a while by removing any yellow or brown leaves, but you'll have to stay vigilant.  So harvest while you can!

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This post is part of our Organic Tomato Blight Control lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Can/will you do an article on battling spider mites on tomatoes?

Comment by Texas Backyard Gardener Tue Aug 3 12:07:16 2010
I would, but unfortunately I can't. Well, fortunately for me --- I've never had a problem with them! My general advice with insect infestations is to help beneficial insects by providing flowering plants that bloom all year, never using pesticides, etc.
Comment by anna Tue Aug 3 14:23:34 2010
Lucky you! I didn't have any prior experience either. They're insidious. The lower leaves on your plant get little brown specks, turn yellow then dry up. Then they move up the plant. The only "solution" I've seen suggested is spraying down your tomatoes every other day.
Comment by Texas Backyard Gardener Wed Aug 4 13:49:57 2010
I always wonder whether insect infestations are caused by something I'm doing wrong in the garden in general. For example, we have a horrible time with asparagus beetles, but no one else around us does. I suspect I'm stressing my asparagus, overfeeding them, growing the wrong variety, or something. Unfortunately, I don't know what, and I don't know that's what's causing your mite infestation either. But it might be worth experimenting with different growing conditions and varieties.
Comment by anna Wed Aug 4 15:54:20 2010

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