You hear the saying “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” often in relation to sports but this year the saying can also apply to my vegetable garden. At the end of May, I planted heirloom tomato plants in my garden in Maine. I had started them from seed and grew them in my potting shed in New Hampshire until the threat of frost in Maine was over. The plants were strong and I started harvesting tomatoes weeks earlier than previous years.
My husband and I are eating homegrown tomatoes every day. Whether just sliced, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh basil and a little sea salt, starring in a BLT or turned into sauce for a nice pasta dish, their flavor has been outstanding.
But now Mother Nature is attacking the tomatoes as well as the rest of the garden with a vengeance…bugs, blight and critters.
Insects alone are not usually a big problem. I grow my vegetables organically and expect some insect damage. Japanese beetles have been eating the leaves of the basil plants.
Soapy water helps control but does not eliminate the beetle problem. Since most of my basil is for cooking, I can overlook some eaten leaves.
An insect that has inflicted a little damage to tomato plants is the tomato hornworm. A daily inspection is made of each tomato plant looking for evidence of this ugly caterpillar.
When small, they are hard to spot in the thick mass of leaves on the plants. Thankfully, most have been found before they got as big as this one.
Sneaky critters have been doing damage in the garden at night or in the early hours of the morning because I have not witnessed them in their act of destruction. Whatever kind of critter they are, I know that they enjoy tomatoes and swiss chard.
I have plenty of tomatoes still on the vine but I don’t like to share with critters. There will be no beautiful rainbow chard coming out of the garden this year as all six plants have been eaten down to a nub.
But the most dreaded thing that can happen to a tomato gardener is to find BLIGHT…oh no. Oh yes…the tomato plants have blight and they are still loaded with green tomatoes just starting to ripen. We had so many rainy, foggy and cool days this past month (over 6 inches of rain in August) and that is the perfect condition for late blight to attack tomato plants. My friend Claire in England had blight hit her tomatoes and had to pull them from her garden. She is lucky that she has more growing in her greenhouse.
I’m tackling the problem in a different way than Claire, deciding not to pull my plants yet. Each day I take small pruners and cut off the diseased leaves on each plant, bagging the cuttings in plastic. When I’ve cut off as much as I can on a plant, I clean my pruners in water that is mixed with bleach before going to the next plant. I also use this same practice when pruning my apple trees if I think a tree is infected with something that could spread throughout the orchard.
I have cut most of the leaves from the bottom and interior of each plant. The tops seem to still be healthy and growing. Each day that I can keep the plants alive means that more tomatoes will have a chance to ripen enough to pick. When I’ve gotten as many tomatoes off the plants as possible, I’ll pull the plants. They will go into plastic bags to be disposed of with the garbage. The long winter freeze here in Maine will hopefully kill any remaining spores that might be in the garden.
Each year in a gardener’s life brings new rewards as well as challenges. Thankfully, I have had a wonderful crop of beautiful tomatoes so far this year. I have over three dozen on my windowsills now. It may not be the best year in the garden but I’m not defeated just yet. So take that Mother Nature…I’ll be better prepared to battle you next year!