Fungus That Caused Ireland's Potato Famine Now Affecting Gardens In New England
By SHAWN R. BEALS
The Hartford Courant
July 10, 2009
The state and most of New England are teetering on the edge of losing every tomato plant to a fungus that is flourishing in the wet weather the region has endured for weeks, state experts said Thursday.
It's the same fungus — late blight — that decimated the potato crop in Ireland in the mid-19th century. The region's potato crop is also vulnerable, but it's tomatoes that will really get slammed, said Jude Boucher, an extension educator at the University of Connecticut and a state commercial vegetable expert.
"If we don't get some dry weather, we may not have any tomatoes in the state of Connecticut," Boucher said, explaining that the disease multiplies best in a 65- to 70-degree wet environment.
The late blight has already been picking off backyard plants here and there. Boucher said he found the first case on a commercial farm on Wednesday, and on Thursday four out of the 10 farms he visited in the Connecticut River Valley had it.
"It's just beginning to snowball," Boucher said. "I expect by next week most farms will have late blight. Pathologists think tomatoes won't survive the season [if the constant rain continues]."
Boucher said even farms that stick to a strict fungicide schedule to combat such diseases have had the late blight show up....
...."Once a plant is infected with this late blight there is a chemical that really only a commercial grower can use," she said. "There isn't much a homeowner can do once a plant gets infected."
But even some commercial chemicals, so far, have not been effective, Boucher said.
The fungus apparently comes from a single grower or possibly a few growers in Alabama whose plants were sold by major retailers such as The Home Depot and Wal-Mart, then transplanted to personal gardens, said Linda Piotrowicz, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.
Anyone who suspects that a plant has the disease should get it checked immediately, and the plant should be removed and sealed in a plastic bag to prevent further spreading. For a more environment-friendly approach, the plant can also be buried deep enough so it won't re-sprout.
Piotrowicz said there is no health risk to people or animals, and it's even safe to cut a lesion off a tomato caused by late blight and eat the rest of the fruit.
Most of the stores with plants suspected of carrying the fungus have removed them from the shelves, said Joan Allen, pathologist at the Home and Garden Education Center at the University of Connecticut.... Click Here to Read Full Article