What a difference a month makes, indeed. But this time it’s for the wrong reasons.
We noticed that the tomato plants had some sort of leaf spot going on back in May. I sprayed neem and Serenade a couple times, hoping it would keep it at bay, but wasn’t really consistent about it. Either way, though, it didn’t seem to be spreading much and wasn’t really a big deal.
Then we went away for a week at the beginning of July. We got home late at night, but I wanted to see how everything was growing. We looked things over by the light of the flashlight app on Charlie’s iPhone, and everything looked good – until we got to the tomatoes. The yellow pear tomato plant was almost entirely brown, and we saw some damage on the other plants as well. We couldn’t see much in the dark, but I knew we were dealing with something serious.
Fast forward a week and I’m now at the point where I’ve accepted the idea that I’m going to lose the plants. Some will go soon – the tops of a few are already dying – while others may stick around for a while, but eventually go. They haven’t been setting fruit because of the high heat, though, so even if they survive for a while, I’m not sure if we’ll get any more fruit off of them beyond what they already have.
As far as I can tell, the culprit is early blight. Correct me if you think I’m wrong. I want to definitively identify this so I can do my best to avoid it in the future.
Early blight is a fungus, and usually it’s associated with warm, wet conditions. We’ve had so little rain this year that to some extent I’m baffled to be facing such a severe case. But on the other hand, this seems to have shown up back in May at the latest, so maybe it was brought on by our few April or May rains.
If I had identified it right away and recognized that it was a bad deal, I could have the very least pruned all the affected leaves off. This might have stopped it or at least slowed down the spread. By leaving the leaves on, I allowed the spores to reproduce and spread like crazy.
I also have a theory, though, that I may have brought this upon myself by not sterilizing the cages. We left last year’s tomato debris on the cattle panels all through the winter, and pulled it off just before we put the cattle panels back up for this year’s crop. Maybe the cages caused the blight or maybe they didn’t, but either way this was a really bad idea that just asked for trouble. Anything the plants got last year could be transferred directly to this year’s plants through the cages. Bad, bad idea.
Another thing I may have done wrong is that I think once or twice when I sprayed the plants I may have used water from our rain barrel. The rain barrel could potentially be a host to all sorts of interesting microorganisms. This is all just speculation, but now I’m second guessing everything and starting to recognize some practices that I should be more careful about.
Overall it seems that this is the year we learn the lesson of sanitation. Between the tomatoes and the flats of seedlings I lost to damping off, I’m starting to get why growing guides stress sanitation so much. I’m learning this lesson the hard way.
I have sprayed with neem and Serenade again since we got back, but I’m not sure it’ll do much good. Several of the plants are already too far gone to save. If I had caught it earlier I might have considered spraying with a stronger (non-organic) fungicide to keep them alive, but I think at this point it’s too late.
There is still a fair amount of fruit on the plants, and I’m thankful for that. I’ve already canned up a batch of salsa and a batch of pasta sauce, and should be able to can another batch or two with the fruit remaining.
We’ll continue to wait and watch. Maybe we’ll be able to save a few of the plants and get some more fruit. But if not, we’ll tear the plants out and this will open up a whole new section of the garden that we’ll be able to replant with something else. One way or another, we will grow and eat something.