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

Tomato copper experiment: Inconclusive

Roma tomatoesEven though I had steeled myself for the tomato blight to hit early and hard in this wet summer, it still hurt when the fungi took over our planting this week.  We've frozen a grand total of three pints of tomato-based soup so far, and it's looking like this major component of our winter diet will be scanty in 2013.  (I still hope to put away a few gallons of soup from the tomatoes ripening now, and the ones I'll end up ripening inside once the blight beats my radical pruning and takes the vines, but it'll be much less than  usual.)

On the positive side, we don't need nearly as much frozen food to take us through the winter any more.  Between our $10 root cellar, quick hoops, and the discovery of brussels sprouts, we fill at least half of our winter vegetable needs with fresh, living food.  Plus, gallons of fruit leather, sauces, and jams should sweeten my winter disposition even without the taste of summer tomatoes.

Pruned tomatoes

Still, it's worth taking a minute to sum up factors I could change to slow the spread of blight in later years.  Even though weather is the biggest reason our tomatoes are failing, I made a major blunder in selecting their location this year, placing nearly half of our plants in the gully.  During a normal year, the gully would have provided a sunny spot that was subirrigated, allowing me to grow tomatoes without risking blight during watering.  But during a wet year, the gully turned out to be a reservoir of infection.  The first signs of blight showed up there, and none of the plants in the gully did well.  In fact, our copper experiment was completely inconclusive because the primary factor that determined blight damage this year has been proximity to those disease carriers in the gully.

Effect of location on

You can get an idea for the difference between gully tomatoes and non-gully tomatoes in the photo above.  The plants in the background are in the lowest part of the gully and have basically been pruned down to nothing because of major blight damage.  In contrast, the foreground plants are much taller and have quite a few healthy leaves left.  I could probably turn the gully into an okay tomato spot by raising the beds up about two feet off the ground, but chances are I'll just come up with another location for tomatoes in 2016, after rotating our tomato plot through the back garden and the forest garden.


In the meantime, I'm drowning my sorrows in other parts of the summer bounty.  Even a few tomatoes are delicious when fried and topped with swiss cheese, parmesan, salt, and pepper.  An influx of pullet eggs and cucumbers reminds me that tomatoes aren't the be-all and end-all of gardening life, even if they sometimes feel that way.

Our chicken waterer keeps our coop dry despite torrential rains since it never spills or fills with manure.

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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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Try a tomato tunnel. I made a two foot wide raised bed, planted my tomatoes, and mulched. Then I put some tall hoops- about 7' high and 4 feet wide. I covered the top half with plastic. Those were the only blight free tomatoes this year. Same varieties as the open air ones. And it was easy to train the tomatoes up a string attached to the support at the top of the tunnel.
Comment by Eric in Japan Mon Aug 5 02:01:29 2013

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