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Tomato Blight

Tomato blight has hit area hard, damaging crops, costing money

August 16, 2009
By MIKE ZUMMO, The Leader-Herald

By the time tomato blight shows up, it's already too late.

Crystal Stewart, horticulture and agriculture educator and regional vegetable specialist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Fulton and Montgomery Counties said right now, gardeners throughout the area are dealing with late blight, which only attacks tomatoes and potatoes.

"It's very damaging to those two crops," she said. "More so in tomatoes."

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo
Diane Reilly, of Emerald Valley Acres, holds up her dead tomato plants, which were affected by late blight this summer.

However, the late blight is showing up earlier than usual, Stewart said, due to the increased amount of rain and colder temperatures that hit the area this summer.

Stewart said with late blight, there will be large lesions, larger than a quarter on the leaf, and she said if gardeners look early in the morning, there will be a white, fuzzy growth on the backside of the leaf.

"It moves very quickly for most people," Stewart said. "People go from noticing it to a few days later, not having any plants left."

Stewart said people shouldn't start spraying if they see the first signs of tomato blight.

By then, it's already too late to do anything about it.

"Once they see it, they should pull off the tomatoes closest to the disease because the fruit can get affected and eventually the plant will die," she said. "They should pull the plant out of the ground, put it in a plastic bag and send it to the landfill."

Stewart said putting the fruit in a plastic bag will hold the spores in there and keep it from spreading further.

Diane Reilly, of Emerald Valley Acres in Glen, said about two weeks ago, she lost about 300 tomato plants to late blight. She said that was the first time she had been affected and had never seen anything like it.

"They seemed fine one week and the next week, they were just gone," she said. "It's very disappointing."

She said she had seen media reports of late blight and through Cornell Cooperative Extension said she knew how to handle the problem.

Karen Terlecky, of Karen's Produce, said she hasn't suffered from tomato blight herself as she said her husband, Stephen sprayed the tomatoes a little bit to protect them.

However, she did harvest her crop later than usual this year.

"Usually they're almost ripe by the end of July," she said Thursday at the Upper Amsterdam Farmers Market. "Today is the first day that we've had them here."

However, throughout the market, she said she has spoken to customers who have told her that have their own gardens and have had to throw the entire crop out because of late blight.

There is no cure for tomato blight, but Stewart said there are two types of fungicides that can be used to help prevent blight. However, she stressed that those measures are preventative and won't be a cure.

"People can use products with copper as an active ingredient, but it has to be labeled for late blight control and it has to be labeled for use on the crop that's being sprayed," she said.

Stewart also said that there is another product, called chlorothalonil that's in quite a few different fungicides, but people have to get one that's labeled vegetable because it can restrict when a grower can harvest their crop.

Stewart said tomato blight also can affect potatoes, but if growers see the disease on potatoes, they should cut the tops off and throw it off and let the potatoes cure in the ground.

"Don't panic," she said. "The potatoes that are infected will rot and the ones that are good, you can dig up several weeks later."



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