The Tomato Famine

Here in the Northeast, we’re experiencing the coldest, wettest and darkest summer in recent memory.  The tomato crops of many farm and home gardens have been decimated by a disease that thrives on just this sort of weather.  The disease is late blight, caused by a water mold named Phytophthora infestans.  The severity and incidence of the disease is the worst that anyone can remember.

Several important and timely lessons can be taken from the destruction of these farm and home garden tomato crops.  But first, let’s revisit a time long ago when almost the exact same conditions as we have experienced for the last 5 months—unseasonably cool, wet, and overcast days—continued nonstop for 5 years and led to the Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s.

Records show that northern Europe was battered by persistently gloomy springs, summers and autumns interrupted only by the typical dark winters.  This weather—of which we’ve received a 5-month dose—so favored late blight that all but a fraction of Ireland’s potato crop was devastated for several consecutive years.  It is hardly known that the rest of Europe and the United States suffered from potato losses only slightly less devastating than those that occurred in Ireland.  The tragic difference was that these other parts of Europe and the United States had a more diverse food crop base than did Ireland, where over a million people starved and from which several million emigrated over the subsequent decade.

Even lesser known is the surprising fact that, contrary to conventional wisdom, in the 1840s there were nearly two dozen distinct potato cultivars grown throughout Ireland and over fifty in the rest of Europe.  Far from the popular image of a “monoculture”, potatoes grown in Ireland included a diverse group of white, yellow, pink, brown and red skinned varieties. These had been collected both in the wild and from native markets in South America and deposited in the botanical gardens of Europe over 300 years before the famine.  While it is certainly true that many of these various cultivars existed within a “type” of all-purpose boiling and mashing potato, it’s also true that, out of this quite diverse gene pool, post-famine “survivors” appeared.  These became the ancestors of new and resistant potato cultivars grown to this very day.*

Therefore, the first lesson to be learned from the near collapse of so many fields of tomatoes on farms and in home gardens dotted across the northeastern United States, is that no normal diversity of cultivars or genetic variation can resist an aggressive, virulent strain of the late blight organism under conditions that nurture its explosive growth and dispersal.

However, there is a second lesson that is of—literally—great value.  Modern hybrid tomatoes—carefully and deliberately developed over many years—possess sufficient vigor to withstand all sorts of diseases, including a particularly destructive and widespread attack of late blight.

This is vividly demonstrated in the high survival rates of hybrid tomatoes throughout the hardest hit growing regions.  In our trial gardens at Fordhook Farm, we see rows of old-fashioned heirlooms and open-pollinated market varieties of tomatoes lying in heaps of wilted foliage and diseased fruit, and—just a few feet away—rows of healthy hybrid plants loaded with heavy, flawless fruit.

As the name implies, late blight generally occurs later in the season.  It has never occurred this early nor been so widespread in the United States; last year there were only a few reported incidences of the disease.  The same varieties of tomato have been grown in the Northeast for years, and the various stains of the disease-causing organism have likewise been present for years.  However, our recent, freakishly unseasonable weather has been ideal for the growth of the organism and the spread of the disease. 

If the spring and summer of 2009 is followed in succession by similar seasons in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, we could face a complete extinction of many—not all—of the old-fashioned heirlooms and open-pollinated tomato varieties that folks in the Northeast have come to enjoy since those varieties were reintroduced in the early 1980s.  However, just as there were survivors among the potato varieties that succumbed during the years of the great famine and which gave rise to the modern, resistant potatoes of today, so the hybrid tomatoes of the 20th century as well as those of the early 21st century will be the saving grace of tomato lovers everywhere.  We might even discover utterly new sources of resistance, although that will probably come from wild, weedy relatives of tomato and potato.  It’s the silver lining of, quite literally, a very dark storm cloud.

Media stories about the monolithic food industry, Big Agriculture, “bioengineering”, and “industrial farms” ill inform us of the virtues of modern agriculture and obscure the role of plant breeding as a science and discipline.  Plant breeders who work in productive crops such as wheat, corn, rice, potatoes, and the wide range of vegetables and fruits upon which the world depends, struggle toward their various goals with many positive purposes in mind.  One of the most important of these is disease resistance.

Plant breeding is ancient.  In its essence, it was probably practiced before agriculture was widespread.  Early nomadic people may have saved seed that was larger or that was easily separated from unwanted parts, carried it with them, and planted it far from its source.  In this way, they honed plant characteristics that were useful to them.

Plant breeding has its formal roots in the work of the humble Austrian monk, Gregor Mendel, who with the common pea first demonstrated predictable patterns in the transmission of genetic traits.  Since Mendel, plant breeding has progressed to the point that scientists are able to breed food crops that can thrive in salty water and deep shade and withstand a host of pests while, at the same time, yield abundant and delicious produce.  It has been due to the skill of the plant breeder that plants have been selected and hybridized so that they require less water, less space, less fertilizer, and less protective chemicals.  This is the height of human discernment.

Society should cherish the human ability to select different traits from various plant populations and mix them together, just as Nature would under ideal circumstances.  Call plant breeders the “nuclear physicists” of the biology world.

 

 
* To elaborate, let’s take Ireland in the 1840s.  In a nation smaller than the state of Maine, the Irish had raised potatoes for at least 125 years.  Within the two-dozen distinct or unique varieties, there was a wide variation due to the separate and diverse genetic background of each cultivar.  They differed in tuber size, tuber shape, size of yield, time of yield, quality of tuber (wet or dry), color of skin, color of flesh, thickness of skin, ability to tolerate bad soils (hard or low in nutrients, etc.) and ability to remain viable in long periods of storage.

Dizzy yet?

More interesting to my point is that they differed also in resistance to heat, to cold and to frost.  Plus, they varied in resistance to a virus called “Leaf Curl”, as well as to a tendency of tubers to develop warts, and—most important—to fungi and molds.  This last genetic variability proved decisive in providing the post-famine Irish with new varieties—based partly on the surviving potatoes—that would replace those that lacked the strength to fight off late blight, a phenomenally destructive plant disease caused by a water mold or more technically an Oomycete.

So, an interesting question might be:  Do today’s potato farmers of Maine—an area substantially greater than the size of Ireland—grow 22 distinct cultivars?  For those of you in the south, Ireland would fit comfortably in South Carolina.  For midwesterners and westerners, two “Irelands” would fit in Wisconsin, and three would fit in Oregon—with Connecticut tossed in.  Rather than the Irish farmer in the 1840s, could it be the contemporary potato farmer who best exemplifies a “dependency” on a handful of cultivars? 

Thanks to the noted historian Redcliffe Salaman, here is a list of the “top ten” varieties of the nearly two-dozen potatoes grown in tiny Ireland in 1839:

1. Champion aka Congo aka The Cup:  a red skinned, cream fleshed, early to mid season, medium sized tuber; extremely popular due to its flavor and nutrition.  A bit hard to digest, so it was mainly sold to people in towns and cities where it got above average prices.  (A much later progeny of Champion, “Flourball”, proved easier to digest, as well as blight resistant.)

2. Howard aka Cluster aka The Turk:  White skinned and white fleshed, great in poor soils, forming medium sized tubers on short stolons in tight clusters.  It was very popular with rural people and the poor.  It was early to mid season and turned out to be somewhat resistant to blight, i.e., not all plants succumbed, and many were entirely resistant.

3. Irish Apple Red:  Red skinned, late and also somewhat long-keeping in storage.  Very dry tubers rather than wet—perfect for both boiling and mashing to which milk could be added.  Extremely popular and well liked, due to tuber quality and storage, but also because it produced crops in the mid July to late August period when most other varieties of its kind did not.  Susceptible to fungal diseases and very hard hit by late blight during the famine, it has virtually disappeared from cultivation.

4. Irish Apple White:  White skinned version of #3.

5. Kerr’s Pink aka White Kidney:  Very early, small to medium sized tubers with pink skin and white flesh.  Could be double-cropped in some areas.  Good tuber quality for all-around purposes.  Some but not good blight resistance.

6. Lumper aka Leinster Wonder:  Extremely productive, versatile variety that was, therefore, popular with the poor.  White skinned and white fleshed tubers of medium size and poor to average quality.  Early to mid to late season.  Minimal resistance to blight.  Legendary in famine history due to popularity with poor, who comprised nearly all the starvation dead.

7. The Manly:  Medium to large tubers with white flesh and brownish tan skin.  Extremely productive main or mid season variety that would produce record weight harvests.  Average tuber quality, but was popular due to high yields.

8. The Noble Ox:  Very large tubers that some described as “ugly”, some were also misshaped.  Dark brown to almost “black” skin and white flesh, very productive with continuous yields mid to late season.  Virus resistance and some blight resistance recorded.  Used for both human and dairy cow consumption.

9. The Yam aka Surinam:  Red skinned with red streaked flesh.  Variable sized from medium to large.  Was considered very flavorful and attractive, sold well in towns and cities, less in rural areas.

10. The Lapstone Kidney:  White skin and tuber, “mid early” which was popular due both to its niche harvest time, and to its outstanding ability to keep well for almost a year in storage.  Also, it was medium to higher yielding with high quality, long, medium-sized tubers.

Remember:  the potato farmers of Ireland grew more than twice this number of diverse cultivars—hardly the “monoculture” characterized in recent popular history.  In fact, they turned out to be the single most influential group of farmers in modern history.  It was the tragedy of the Great Potato Famine that spurred worldwide interest in plant genetics and led, indirectly, to the popularization of not only Mendel, but also Darwin.

 

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 11th, 2009 at 8:53 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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35 Responses to “The Tomato Famine”

  1. Thank you for a most thoughtful essay on late season blight. Linking it historically to the Irish potato famine makes its impact even more vivid. Does the weather — i.e., the long damp summer in the northeast, as well as the same repetitive cycle in Ireland in the 19th century — depend on the presence or absence of el nino? And, if it continues, will other crops we depend on succumb?

  2. faith said:

    This is a really excellent article. We here in UT don’t have much of a problem with plant diseases, but I have lived in places where it is a problem.

    I like your emphasis on the development of hybrids and what a great thing this is and I do agree, but I have noticed that the plant diseases we do experience here respond well to a simple treatment: Miracle Grow, 1 Tblsp. per gallon of water, along with either a spreader-sticker or just plain old liquid Joy – 1/2 teasp. per gallon. Needs to be repeated every 2 weeks – 3 times works best.

    One disease that is usually a problem is Anthracnose on our native maples and oaks. If sprayed when they first leaf out the disease does not develop, no matter how wet the spring (and here it rained every day in June this year). Also works well on tomatoes (we get Verticillium Wilt sometimes)and does not stop completely, but seriously cuts down on Aspen Leaf Spot. This is also a very nice insecticide.

    Some commercial growers here use baking soda with a spreader sticker in Aug. for powdery mildew on melon plants. Works, too, but the Miracle Grow gives a nice boost of food.

  3. Sharon Warden said:

    These blogs are great and contain much useful info.
    Glad I subscribe.
    My daughter in MI just wrote that they are finally getting summer weather- since I live in FL, no trouble with coolness.

  4. Kyddyl said:

    What a great essay! You really need to put these things together into a book we can keep on our shelves and enjoy by the fire.

    Speaking of enjoying by the fire I really wasn’t referring just to winter, at least this year. Even though it is August we’ve lit the gas firplace a number of evenings now as at 5,700 ft. we’ve had some downright nippy nights. Actually record breakers. Here in the Mountain West we have lovely big crops of heirloom tomatoes as well as the more standard varieties, but, they are hanging, green and healthy as can be, very slow to ripen.

    I also notice on Space Weather.com that for months now there have been very few sunspots, the lack of which is thought to have caused the Maunder Minimum which was linked to the extended cold over much of Europe. The lack of hurricanes is also remarkable and can be a bad thing as they often bring much needed rain to parts of the south and west.

  5. Velma Baxter said:

    Just to let you know I had already figured this out as set out 9 beautiful home grown heirloom tomato plants May 1, they grew well for a month and when June was over every plant had just stopped growing and looked to me like a late blight killed every one of them as we had a very cool June even in the medium high desert where we live in Kingman, Az.

  6. wright gregson said:

    i have read that a contributing factor in the potato famine was the cultural “addiction” that the irish had to the potato. in other words, like many cultures, they found it difficult to substitute alternative foods for their iconic potato. also, as potatoes decreased in availablity, and increased in cost, the fishermen sold their boats and nets to be able to buy potatoes. this meant that they now had no fish to eat! thereby exacerbating the famine.

  7. Jamie Shafer said:

    Your piece on the tomato blight is a keeper for sure, and I am thinking of ending it on to certain of my email receivers. Full of interest – to me and any gardeners although I am the only one I know in my Connecticut, which means that there are no gardeners in my circle of friends – I’m an oddball!

    I planted tomatoes for the first time in many years this spring – 6 lusty but small Heirloom plants, and they are growing tall and thriving but thanks to the weather have only flowers on most. I keep searching for little green nubs but haven’t seen any to date. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll see any fruit but hope reigns eternal.

    I will make one further observation: since all my plants are healthy, I can’t help wondering if soil is part of the reason. The area they are in is a raised bed into which much sand was mixed when the bed was made many years ago, so the soil is somewhat light and over the years has been enriched by decomposed material. Is a somewhat sandy soil part of the reason these plants are healthy?

  8. judy said:

    My mortgage lifter has done well, finally.But I had some sort of blight that hit my angelica and hollyhocks-this was their second year so I never had any of either. I blame it on the cool Spring and Summer. But it was nice not to be hot in June and July, so I’m not really complaining. I live in downtown Nashville, and found a 4′ chicken snake in my bird netting today. My peppers keep losing their leaves, and don’t look great, either. I wonder what the winter holds for this part of the world…

  9. Lj said:

    Thanks for this article and perspective. I live in central NY state where we have had unremitting precipitation since October 2008l During the winter it arrived as snow almost every day, Then when things warmed up in spring time rain occurred daily. Sometimes quite heavily. This weather pattern is not just one of cold temperatures and too much summer rain.
    I have planted three different varieties of tomatoes. Two in large pots and one, Roma, in the ground. At mid-August none have ripened yet. They are all hybrids, The beefsteak type on the deck has lots of small green tomatoes falling easily from the vines. I removed several leafy branches last night that were withered and seemed rotted. And one tomato trying to turn red had blossom end rot. The other plants have unripe fruit. the Roma plant has some of these withered leaves.
    Now that I have pulled them off I am not sure what to do with them? SDo you know if they should just go into the compost?
    The garbage dump? Burn them?
    I would appreciate an answer soon. I have set them aside by the roadside because I do not know what to do with them.
    Regarding potatoes … I got busy this spring and did not plant them until mid-July. The healthy leafy plants are growing well with no sign of disease. Since August we have has a number (5) of sunny days in a row. Maybe they will slip through without getting the disease?

  10. Linda Saltford said:

    Being a lazy gardener this year, I planted my hybrid heirloom, Fordhook Farm purchased tomato plants quite a bit later than usual, about mid June. I was sure I had missed the tomato boat, and was discouraged, especially since my friend in Connecticut had all her’s die by way of, what I now know to be, thanks to George, Phytophthora infestans.
    Of course I was thinking somehow despite our totally crummy weather, my lazy start and I had some how out gardened the pest. I now also know that it wasn’t my skill in gardening at all but my skill in purchasing the right plants. The result has been the most gorgeous leafy display of blossom covered tomato plants, with fruit on the way.
    Thank you again George.

  11. APo said:

    Very good article, although Maine might not have been the best example of the modern monoculture ethic. I belong to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc. (MOFGA), one of the largest and most active agricultural associations in the US. It’s commercial arm, Fedco, is a cooperative seed, tuber, tree and materials market that offers tremendous variety. I grow at least four different potatoes every year; for storage, early season eating, color variety, taste and type of use. I have my choice of modern or antique varieties from all over the world: LaRatte, Bintje, Red Thumb, Rose Finn Apple, Caribe, Kennebec, All Blue, Butte, Green Mountain and at least 40 more. And that’s just potatoes – the same organizations offer that wide a choice in tomatoes, carrots, herbs and apple trees. You are correct that many of the older varieties are prone to disease in a bad year, but how I would miss my Blue Pearmain apple tree (prone to scab but makes the best sauce ever) and the Tonda di Parisi carrot (the deer go for them first, but sweeter and earlier than the Shin Kuroda). I think it’s a trade off, and a mark of how far we’ve come that we can have both.

  12. Martha said:

    Great piece again. Thanks.

    Check out Sand Hill Preservation’s potato listing – it’s truly thorough -
    http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/catalog/sweet_potatoes.html

  13. Violet Stailey said:

    So what about late blight resistant cultivars of tomatoes for upcoming years? What are they?

  14. Bill Worden said:

    FYI I’m reading a lot about this from the Northeast but nothing in the midwest yet – where I am located. A lot of moisture (here) and I grow only heirlooms. Time will tell.

  15. Manoj Singh said:

    THank you for your marvellous articles! In the weeks to come, could you please give your opinion on what the weather is likely to do to horticulture in North America?
    We in India are hearing a lot about el nino. The failure of rains in North Inida is being ascribed to this. is there any linkage to weather in your part of the world?

  16. karen said:

    My only regret is not having found Heronswood Nursery sooner! I truly enjoy all these articles! I agree with “Kyddyl” that these should be published, much like the “Foxfire” series. Please continue to be an inspiration for me!

  17. john a s rogers said:

    our visit to Ireland several years ago led us to spend happy days on the Aran Islands off Glasgow. there we discussed the damaging and ruinous potato crop disasters of the 1840′s — the potato (and tomato) famine that starved so many Irish out of their country and into ours). the Aran residents told us that that agricultural disaster did NOT affect their crops. “why not,” we asked, and were told that they were sure it was the broadscale (and plentiful) mulching of the crops with seaweed — locally free and plentiful — that prevented the blights from their killing ways. have you heard this history?
    we are inclined now — or at the end of this season — to mulch with seaweed (which, for us, is as free and plentiful here as in Aran).
    jot us a note back if you can.
    jack & marjorie

  18. C.Dietderich said:

    I had no idea! very interesting read,Thank you!

  19. JENNIE said:

    GREAT VOICE!!!

  20. Sue J. said:

    This is great! Now we want to know WHICH varities/cvs survived so we can get them, George!
    Will you POST THEM for us?
    All of mine succumbed to late-blight here in NJ

  21. sigrid smitley said:

    I have question,where do I find those hybrid seeds?I planted some celebrity from burpees and they also turned black,leaves and tomatoes.they are hybrids?please reply
    regards
    Sigrid Smitley

  22. Marlene Hays said:

    It was quite prophetic that I received your blog today on tomatoes (and potatoes), when just this morning, I pulled four approximately 4-1/2 foot tomato plants loaded with fruit, from my garden. I was not quite sure whether they were attacked by blackspot or this new tomato blight that I have heard a lot about, but when I saw one of the large tomatoes with a very large soft brown spot on the fruit, I knew it was this tomato blight. I live in eastern Rensselaer County, New York (near the Vermont border). We have had so much rain this year and my cucumber plants and pumpkins are plagued by powdery mildew. Even my green beans have some kind of blight and the leaves turn yellow then brown (crisp) and drop off. We live in a very fertile valley (Hoosick Valley) and our soil is great, but we have had too much rain, then, hot, hazy, humid days – almost every day. The clear dry,sunny days, only seem to happen once in a blue moon! Anyway, I want to say that I was glad to see your blog on the blight. I will probably end up pulling more tomato plants out. I can see the blight seems to start at the bottom of the plant and then work upwards and I still have more plants that look plagued. If you have any more info, it would be appreciated. Thanks!

  23. Dauna Koval said:

    Here in the Pacific NW we are experiencing our warmest summer ever on record. I have tomato volunteers from several past seasons, springing up all over my yard most likely from my compost. They did get a late start and are only now beginning to ripen, but it looks like I will have more than I can ever give away. I am looking forward to seeing what varieties I actually have. Maybe you should consider opening a small branch on the West Coast just for a little insurance against the possible losses your article notes, especially in these days of climate change! Dauna Koval

  24. Diane said:

    I live in the beautiful Schoharie Valley in upstate New York, so now my question is, is there anything that I should be doing to the area of the garden where my tomatoes withered and died? dig up I guess, maybe lime?? never in 40 yrs have I had such a lousy garden. This is all new to me.

  25. Marsha said:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the new blight resistant tomato varieties actually tasted good and were of the texture of the old fashioned ones?? If the old ones go extinct, I won’t bother eating a tomato with just a little salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil. As it is now eating a tomato from the grocery store is like eating cardboard tinted red.

  26. Ruth Morton said:

    Has anyone discoverd a tomato that is resistant to late blight? Also what about bacterial speck?

  27. Joan said:

    My heirlooms, grown from seed by me, are just fine thanks. I live in the mountains of western maine and we had 2 months of cold wet weather. They grow in soil enriched with sheep manure, are rotated in location, have wall-o-waters around them from transplanting time to harvest. I will need to give them temporary plastic hoop covers to get them thru to maturity(they will stop growing in early Sept without the extra heat as our temps really dip at night). I expect them to be a bit later this summer because they were cold!

  28. Mike Hamper said:

    I much enjoyed and appreciated this first time read as I was searched for information on Late Blite. I live in the Northeast corner of Ohio. I do 8 small market gardens,( 2-Acres total) and tail-gate my vegs. I do this Organically or Sustainability now for 40 years. We refer to it as an outcome of our Homesteading with our family of 9 children, now all out on their own. Three years ago I noticed the brownish green leasions on my tomatoes with some loss and little consern,assuming it was a calicum difficency in my soil,I did add cruched egg shell for this to each plant and had two years without the problem. I of course was not not familar with the loss potential that has occured this year. I plant several varities of tomatoes and potatoes for my market and focus on two tomatoe varities which is my bulk tomatoes sales, and several varities of potatoes. I do have some survivors in my total planting of approx. 250 tomatoe plants , both hybid and heirlom. I have tomatoes in 3 different garden areas with about 50 – 80 feet of seperation. This is interesting in that fact along. I planted approx 850 pounds of seed potatoes and did not pay any different attention to the potatoe crops and they seem to have went thru the normal process of growth and dying off. I will watch carefully now in my storage as that is probably where any results of blite will show up for me in early storage failure. I have rambled on enough I fear … for now Mike

  29. Frieda Barrows said:

    I live in the foothills of Maine and just went out to check on my 65 tomato plants. They were showing signs of blight 3 weeks ago and I removed all branches that were turning and trimmed the plants up so that they would get good air circulation. It finally stopped raining last week but its very humid and when I checked the plant today I found that I had lost 1/4 of them and the others are well on their way to dying. I grow 8 varieties and only 1 type was from a big box store but these were the first to go. Oh well, no spaghetti sauce, salsa or plates of fresh sliced brandywines this year!

  30. M.McGrath said:

    I am a fan of history, so I really appreciated your telling of the history of the Irish potato famine. .

    You observed that hybrid varieties of tomatoes at Fordhook Farms fared better than open pollinated or heirloom varieties. Aren’t hybrids a cross breeding between two pure strains of open pollinated varieties? Won’t those parent varieties succumb to the blight, eliminating at least a years worth of hybrid seed?

    My own concerns with “the monolithic food industry, Big Agriculture, ‘bioengineering’, and ‘industrial farms’” is that more and more of the planet’s seed stocks are in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Most people do not realize (although I am sure you are well aware of it) that Monsanto has a virtual monopoly on the soybean market in the US, and that all the soybean seed they sell is genetically modified so that it can survive being sprayed with glyphosate, a weed killer. Monsanto bought Seminis, a company that is responsible for almost half of the seeds sold to home gardeners. Burpee retails many Seminis varieties. I am sure that since Monsanto is primarily concerned with maximizing profits and sees no need to preserve genetic diversity, that many of the Seminis varieties, including hybrids that many market farmers have come to depend on, will disappear as not being profitable enough.

    What do you do if your livelihood depends on the produce you sell to restaurants, at farmers markets or even to local grocery stores and your dependable hybrid, disease and/or pest resistant varieties disappear without warning? Those market farmers will have to spend two or three years trialing different varieties to see if they are suitable. With open pollinated varieties, that is much less of an issue.

    Your essay pointed out the need for plant breeding and genetic diversity, but most big agricultural corporations do not want and do not support genetic diversity. Today, instead of breeding and trialing varieties within a species of plant, scientists are splicing in genes from other organisms, heedless of the possible ramifications if those genes escape into the wild, which has already happened. There are weed stocks now that contain Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready patented gene.

    I hope that Burpee and Heronswood continue the fine tradition of plant breeding and trialing, in defiance of the big business, profit-at-any-cost modus operandi. Burpee has a long history of breeding top quality varieties that suited a wide range of growers. I would hate to see that excellent practice restricted or terminated.

  31. Jessie said:

    I live in central New jersey and I am an organic gardener and avid heirloom tomato grower. What tomato blight in the Northeast?
    If you grow your own hybrid or not, you should take preventative measures to avoid fungal diseases. In New Jersey we always have wet seasons with high hot humid weather. And you never buy tomato plants from big box anything. You dont just stick them in the ground and expect great tomatoes. it starts with soil that has been amended with good compost of your own with a side dressing of natural organic tomato fertilizer for each plant. This helps avoid blossom end rot and a host of other nutrient deficiencies you may have. If dont rotate that garden every 3 years then like me who has no other spot in her yard you need to be proactive. Go to Gardens Alive website and they have numerous products to avoid these fungal matters. I have used all of them and I have never had a failed crop of anything. My only problems are rabbits and groundhogs! It is August and I have a bounty of ripe cherry tomatoes – chadwick cherry,Peacevine – and med to large varieties like- Marianna’s Peace, Julia Child, Buckbee 50, Aussie, Elfin,and Sandal Moldovan – all from seeds from Tomatofest.com website. They are open pollinated and organic and delicious. I do not have any hybrids however in Jersey, the Rutgers tomato is excellant tasting and is a med size tomato so it ripens early and in years past I have always included it in my garden when I had room. Remember diversity always wins out as well as educating yourself on what you grow. Dave’s garden website,territorrial seed company,Gardens Alive and tomatofest.com will start you on your way. Always organic fertilizers and sprays and you will always be okay. At the end of the season, slice that Hawaiin Pineapple tomato, garnish it with your own basil and top it with fresh mozzarella and olive oil and you will never go back to the supermarket again for tomatoes!

  32. Joe Martin said:

    I live in NEPA and it has been a wet year. I planted cherry and beefsteak tomatoes. I have been able to get them through the wet months by staking the vines as they get bigger and cutting off any dead vines, all the brown or black leaves and removing bad tomatoes every two to three days. I put the leaves in my compost pile.

    My tomatoes are from seed that I save every year from my own plants. I have seeds from 2005 thru 2008. I squeeze seeds from healthy tomatoes onto newspaper, let them dry and store them, attached to the newspaper. When planting indoors in March or April, I tear the newspaper from around each seed and plant the seed still attached to a small piece of the paper. I get 90% germination and transplant seedlings twice before putting them outside in early May.

    Sometimes I will buy seeds from prior years at local hardware stores, on sale.

    I have not had any trouble with cucumbers, lettuce, garlic, green squash or butternut squash.

    I am an organic gardener and use no chemicals or fertilizer. I compost everything that is organic and I can obtain grass clippings, leaves and horse manure for free.

  33. Nira C said:

    I live in upstate New York which was hit hard by late blight. Being an organic and heirloom gardener I had little hope of preventing the disease. When it did hit I checked every day for diseased leaves and removed them. I was able to save most plants and it appears to be slowing down. I realize that I do not have as many plants as some who sell at markets, but this worked for me with 20 plants.

    According to Cornell University the pathogen does not enter the fruit and therefore it can be safely eaten. Nor does the pathogen remain in the soil or the seeds; therefore, it does not effect rotation or the saving of seeds for next year. All diseased leaves and plants should be bagged and put in the trash.

    I think most, if not all heirloom varieties will survive no matter what Mother Nature throws at us. There are many, many gardeners dedicated to growing wholesome, delicious tasting food and we have many skills and knowledge to keep that going.

    “so the hybrid tomatoes of the 20th century as well as those of the early 21st century will be the saving grace of tomato lovers everywhere.” Yes, if you like cardboard.

  34. Lj said:

    This is getting to be a very interesting tomato famine thread and full of extra information, too. I like the seed saving on newspaper and then planting the seed stuck to the newspaper and all.
    At a farm stand yesterday in central NY state I saw the tomatoes for sale and asked the gardenr about the famine in her gardens. Yes. All the hybrids got it this time and her heirlooms are coming along great.
    She said that in other years it is the other way around.
    There is nothing to spray for this from any supplier. It is the combination of constant rain,cool temperatures, and humidity that allows the fungus to grow and spread.
    Thanks for the information about putting the plants in the trash and not to worry about the soil. Maybe next summer we’ll get some sunshine before late August as happened this year.
    I understand that the rain, damp, no sun combination happened for successive years in Ireland so the potato crops didn’t have a chance.
    Too bad there’s no salsa and tomato sauce this year, however.
    Even the corn is a little strange. None of it ripens to the end of the ears and I think it is not all that tasty either.
    Happy gardening… there are always zucchini, I guess.

  35. Diane said:

    I agree with Nira C. although a friend dropped off a few big box store tomato plants, which failed quite quickly, I did save about half of (50) plants and about 30 pepper plants, with removing the sick plants quickly, fertilizing with blood meal though very touch and go. I did have enough for salsa and some tomatoes and pepper storing. To my surprise the beatiful, best looking and best tasting tomato came from burpee, It outperformed my Black Krim by far. It was the Black Truffle Hybrid. I am a seed saver from way back and have used each years seed to provide at least 7 families with garden vegetables. The eggplants were the only plants to never regain there health, although a few were so strong by the end of the year, I brought a few for the winter and they are quite happy.

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