It sems so allegorically named, late blight, especially appropriate to your septuagenarian gardener. But it's more than symbolic -- late blight here and it's real. It's official name is phytophthora infestans. It's a noxious fungus and it appears just when you're about to start harvesting your abundant tomatoes. Late blight blackens and putrifies leaves, stems, and the fruits themselves. It leaves nothing edible, and there's no recourse o do except to pull out your plants, and then either burn them or put them in black plastic and take them to the dump. We're trying to rescue a few of the tomatoes by pulling off the bad leaves, but it's a losing cause. All that work -- starting the seeds, watching and watering, fertilizing and staking and tying up -- all wasted. What a pity.
Late blight also affects potatoes. In fact, this nasty fungus is responsible for the great Irish famine of the 1840s. So while we're mournful, we're glad that we don't depend on our tomatoes for sustenance or income.
Why this year? Some say that the disease comes to us from the great factory farms in the south, where tomatoes are started early and then shipped north in late spring. My neighbors put the blame on Wal-Mart. But in all honesty, I must admit that all my tomatoes were started locally, by friends and relations. The fungus can't be transmitted through the seed, so the tomato factories are off the hook. The real culprit is the weather -- the soggy cold of June and July was hideous if you're a tomato but just perfect if you're a blight.
I think I'll take a year off from tomatoes -- let the garden go fallow, or just plant flowers. I couldn't bear to lose another crop. I'll follow the official advice --root out every single volunteer tomato and pull every weed in the nightshade family. No tomatoes until 2011.