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DIG THIS | Beware of tomato and potato blight

I’m sad to report that the monsoon rains we had in the last week in most parts of Kitsap County have brought on tomato and potato blight. This is the first year in forever that my own cherry tomato plant sheltered on my hot sunny deck under the eaves has succumbed to this insidious disease. I also saw some potato plants in a garden plot in Bremerton that have signs of blight. Blight can infect eggplants and peppers as well.

Plants affected by blight have small dark spots on the leaves of plants. The stems also have darkened areas. Sometimes they appear brown and streaky. Leaves of plants also will wilt suddenly and will appear brown. If you were to look early on at leaves under a microscope or hand lens you would possibly see little white, black or brown dots. These are the early signs of the blight spores beginning to infect the plant.

If your plants do have blight you’ll want to harvest and eat the veggies as soon as possible, because once infected by the spores, these vegetables do not store well. Often the harvests will look just fine, only to rot later in storage.

To help stave off the blights onto other potato, tomato, eggplant and pepper plants, spray leaves with a preventative fungicide. Follow the label directions to the letter. Make sure the label states “for tomato, potato, pepper or eggplant blight.” If the label does not state its use on these plants the fungicide will not work to prevent blight and/or could harm the plant. If you want to use only organic methods, look for products registered safe for organic growing. Remember to carefully follow the directions on all products.

Extension university Web sites recommend burying plants infected with blight or bagging the plants up and sending to the landfill. Do not burn or compost the diseased plants. Make sure to clean up the areas around and under the infected plants. If infected plants were in containers, do not use the soil for growing future tomato, potato or eggplant in that soil. Use it for other gardening purposes.

Rotating susceptible plants into other planting areas each year helps avoid blight. Blight resistant varieties are being developed. Look for those types if your garden seems to be prone to blight.

All in all, don’t blame yourself for poor gardening practices if you do encounter blight this year. The temperature and rainy conditions have been perfect to inoculate blight spores. Blight is airborne and if a bird or insect happens to land even briefly on a plant with blight these critters innocently carry the spores to other plants. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Look at it on the bright side. The weather we had earlier helped many of us harvest tomatoes, potatoes and peppers early enough to enjoy some of the fruits of our labors. And, gardeners seem to be an optimistic lot. There’s always next year for the next greatest, latest, most delicious tomatoes if we miss out on that pleasure this year because of the dreaded blight.

For more information on blight check out these websites:

http://pep.wsu.edu/Hortsense/

http://www.nysipm.cornell.edu/publications/blight/

http://www.ppdl.purdue.edu/PPDL/expert/tomato-blight.html

Remember this coming Monday, August 24, is the Kitsap County Fair check in day for Horticulture (Presidents Hall) and Floriculture (Kitsap Pavilion) from noon until 8 p.m. You may want to try your luck in entering something from your own garden in this year’s fair. The cost is reasonable purchase an exhibitor’s pass which includes entry to all five days of the fair, and you can enter umpteen items, whether you’re a youth or an adult. There’s even a golden oldies category. I’m chagrined to admit I fall into the golden oldie category. How did that happen? Try your luck at the Kitsap Fair. Instructions on how to enter are online at http://www.kitsapgov.com/parks/fair_stampede_09/Exhibitors_Guides/Open_Class/Open_Class_Entire.pdf or stop at the Fair Office to get a printed copy.

Peg Tillery is a Horticulture and Shoreline Educator for WSU Extension Kitsap. She can be reached at ptillery@co.kitsap.wa.us or (360) 337-7224.

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