Martha Stewart Living Radio: The Radio Blog

Stopping Late Blight Before it Starts

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Tomatoes must be one of the the most popular vegetables grown in home gardens.  Or at least it seems so with the number of calls we get asking for advice on how to grow them well.  And we surely got loads of calls from unhappy gardeners last season about how their crops were quickly going from healthy, happy plants and fruits to weirdly morphed, gray mottled blobs and massive leaf drop to plants simply melting entirely away.  In short, their gardens had been visited upon by dreaded Late Blight, Phytophthora infestans.

Late blight was, last season, for the most part, a Northeastern phenomena.  In Florida, however, it has been a persistent problem since 1993.  The big reason; late blight can best over winter on living tissue which makes warm zones of the country more prone to blight problems.  So thank your lucky stars we all had that miserable winter cold, since it likely killed off any living tomato seedlings that remained outdoors.  However, potatoes are relatives of tomatoes and potato tubers can over winter in soil and live to see another season, and in turn, possibly reinfect gardens all over again with air born late blight spores.  So what's the best way to keep late blight at bay?

Well, we turn once again to the brilliant and dedicated folks at cooperative extension for the real deal on how to properly handle plant diseases.  The gardeners/researchers/horticulturists at Cornell Cooperative Extension have published this handy guide to keeping your veg garden, and most specifically, your tomato and potato crops healthy and productive.

Here's just a few of the recommended precautions to take;

•Keep a close eye on last year's potato patch and destroy any emerging plants.  Potatoes are the biggest source of the late blight virus.

•Rotate your crops and clean all your plant stakes and cages.

•Try resistant tomato varieties like 'Plum Regal' and 'Magic Mountain'.  Cherry tomatoes also seem to be resistant to late blight.

•Buy your tomato seedlings from local growers who raised their plants this season from seed.  Avoid plants shipped up from the south.

•Plant certified seed potatoes this year, not left over tubers from last year.

•Keep plants dry with drip line irrigation systems, which also save water by efficiently watering crops.

Click on the link for the rest of the sound, simple advice for controlling late blight and some very informative photos that are posted to help you id the problem, should it rear it's ugly, unwanted, viral head again this summer in your garden.  There's also an expanded list of tomato varieties to try.  With any luck, you'll be slicing, dicing, devouring and loving your own home grown tomatoes soon enough.

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