Gardeners gotta be stubborn

By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that we can rarely preserve and actively enjoy pleasures we experienced in our youth, but there is one that appears to qualify. Yep, it’s a very simple occurrence my brothers and I delighted in many years ago when we were youngsters and have continued to do so to this day. It’s having the pleasure of picking a ripe, homegrown tomato from the vine, and eating that delicious, juicy snack either by itself or perhaps in a sandwich with a little mayonnaise. Yep, all six of us boys continued growing tomatoes thus retaining and recreating that wonderful boyhood treat of eating those tomatoes fresh from the vine.

Okay, so why bring this subject up? Well, when we first arrived in this area some 50 years ago I found tomatoes grew well here and for many years I happily grew several varieties of red tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and yellow tomatoes. We had more than enough for our own needs and shared our bounty with others who were unable to grow their own.

When we moved to down-size we also down-sized the available garden space but I could still grow sufficient tomatoes for our table – until a couple of years ago. That was when, for the first time, I encountered tomato blight. My tomato plants withered on the vine and I had very few, small tomatoes.

I decided to vacate my old tomato bed and our eldest son put in a raised bed which we filled with all fresh material. That worked well for one year with my tomato plants growing to over six feet high and producing a huge amount of fruit. The second year was not quite as productive, but I did well. Then last year the blight hit my “new” patch with a vengeance as I had no “regular” size tomatoes although some cherry tomatoes survived. Now I’m faced with the prospect of a tomato-less year – unless I can successfully counter the blight.

So what is tomato blight? According to Wikipedia. “… tomato blight is a disease caused by a fungus-like organism that spreads rapidly in the foliage and fruit of tomatoes in wet weather, causing collapse and decay. It is a serious disease for outdoor tomatoes, but not as common on tomatoes grown in greenhouses.” To complicate things, there is both and “early” and a “late” blight caused by different types of fungus. As the old song says, “If the right one don’t get you, the left one will.” A real double whammy.

So what can be done? Well, I found the following checklist as a guide:

– Rotate crops. Early blight remains active for a year. Spores can be dormant in the soil for several years. (Already doing that)

– Plant tomatoes in a raised bed to improve drainage and prevent diseases from spreading. (Already doing that)

-Give tomato plants extra space (more than 24 inches) to let air to move among leaves and keep them dry. (Already doing that)

– Water the soil – not the plants – to prevent splashing. (Already doing that)

– Stake tomato plants for better circulation. (Already doing that)

-Remove and destroy affected plants at the end of the season. (Already doing that plus removing and destroying any leaves exhibiting blight symptoms)

– Plant disease-resistant hybrids to strengthen your plant’s chances of being blight-free. (Haven’t found any such plants available in this area.)

– Mulch with black plastic or landscape fabric to prevent fungus from spreading up onto leaves. (Haven’t done before, but can do this year)

There are also fungicides such as an organic copper spray applied until the leaves are dripping, once a week, and after each rain. Then, too, there are chemical fungicides which are sold under various brand names and are applied the same way. (I tried both types of fungicides last year, but they didn’t really help much. Perhaps I didn’t use them properly or early enough.)

I had hoped to find blight-resistant tomatoes but the only ones I have identified thus far are available only in southern states such as Florida and Alabama. I haven’t given up, but this solution doesn’t look promising. I am also considering patio tomatoes – that is, plants grown in containers, not in the ground. I haven’t done this before, but I’m willing to try.

You know, I’ve said before that gardeners must be optimists, but I think I must add that gardeners gotta be stubborn and determined to make our gardens successful regardless of the problems we face. That’s just the way it is. At least that’s how it seems to me.

By Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at

Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at