Over the past few weeks, my tomato plants have been a mess. Every single tomato from one of my plants has been diseased and inedible. Friends on Facebook were commenting in the past few weeks about destroying their plants, and I suddenly realized it was not just me - we're in the middle of a serious situation here in the Northeast called tomato blight.
Just what is tomato blight? That's what I wanted to know. So, I looked it up, or to use what has become a synonym, I Googled it, and checked the ever helpful Extension Service website at the University of Vermont.
It seems that tomato blight is a highly contagious fungus that destroys tomato plants. The spores of the fungus are often present in the soil, and our cold, wet late spring/early summer weather triggered an outbreak of the aggressive pathogen that feeds on living plant tissue. The hundreds of thousands of tomato plants bought from the large box stores may also be a factor, as many of them were recalled in late June and tested positive for late blight.
The blight has been around for a long time. In fact, it was a strain of the fungus that caused the potato blight that hit Ireland in the mid-19th Century, triggering a huge Irish immigration to the US, which is why a lot of us New Englanders can thank our ancestors that we are growing tomatoes here now and worried about tomato blight.
The hot, dry weather of the last few weeks could be a boon to lessening the effect of the blight, as it can kill late blight. Just one open lesion on a plant can produce hundreds of thousands of infectious spores. Stormy weather spreads the disease - the wind blows the spores into the air and spreads them, rain brings the spores back down into the ground. The ease with which the blight is spread is a good reason to be ever watchful for signs of blight - you don't have to have a nearby infection in order to get the disease. The spores can be carried in by the wind from miles away.