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Garden Lifestyle

When Blight Wipes Out Your Tomatoes, Eat Beans

Like investors, gardeners should diversify their portfolios. So when the tomato "market" crashes, you will still have something fresh to eat.

  • In mid-September 2008, the leaves were brown, but the tomatoes were fine.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • In August, tomatoes are usually at the height of their glory. Not in 2009.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage
  • Tomatoes are languishing, but yellow bush beans ('Dragon Langerie') are having a banner year.
    Photo/Illustration: Ruth Dobsevage

What a summer it has been in the Northeast! It’s mid-August, and the lawns are lush and green. That’s because it’s rained nearly every day, mostly torrential downpours, and the temperature has rarely topped 90° (or even 85°). What does this mean for the vegetable garden? In my case, early onset late blight. My towering tomato vines that just a few weeks ago were laden with flowers and fruit are starting to succumb, as leaf browning moves up the stem. Fruits turn a sickly brown, with patches of fuzzy white.

Last week, I managed to salvage enough unaffected tomatoes (Juliets) to assemble a small tomato salad. I savored it, knowing that there wouldn’t be many more this year, and certainly not enough to stew and freeze for use during the winter.

This following morning, hoping to cut my losses and salvage something from my tomato patch, I headed out to the garden with pruners and a big black plastic bag. I ripped out 10 diseased plants and clipped off affected fruit from several others. Blighted plants should not be composted, so these will be headed to the dump.

What’s the lesson here?
You can control only so much in your garden. Even if you follow best practices for amending the soil, starting seeds, weeding, watering, and managing pests and diseases, success is not guaranteed. One of the things you cannot control is the weather.

Every year, some crops do better than others, and that’s a really good reason to diversify your plantings. Instead of growing a lot of one thing, grow smaller amounts of several vegetables (or several varieties of the same vegetable). Gradually you’ll figure out what usually does well in your garden and what your family likes to eat.

This summer, lettuce, parsley, greens, beets, mint, green and yellow bush beans, blueberries and blackberries have been fantastic. Squash and cukes are lagging. Basil is small, but decent. Strawberries were not so great. And tomatoes, well, we’ve already discussed them, and the topic is too painful to revisit. So there won’t be much gazpacho this year, but there will be borscht. And fruit cobbler. And pesto.

Next year might be better, might be worse. It will almost certainly be different.

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