Stopped by the community vegetable garden at mid-morning after a frost last night, the second one this week. The tender plants like basil are dead. The hardy plants, like carrots and turnips, are fine. I picked some turnips, a cluster of beautiful carrots, a couple of small eggplant that somehow survived the cold this week and some kale. The season is about over, and the community garden will be plowed under next week. It was in one way a great year for a vegetable garden – there was so much rain that plants never lacked for water. On the other hand, all that rain – late May and well into July – brought some big problems.
I think back to mid-July. For days I watched a tomato slowly ripen in my garden plot, which is beside the Farmington River. Finally, it was completely red except for a tiny patch of orange at the stem. I couldn’t wait any longer. I picked it and brought it home to have with lunch. I tossed together a salad of greens, golden beets and green beans from the garden, roasted red peppers, olive oil and sherry vinegar. I did not put the tomato in the salad. I showcased it by itself, on a small plate. The first just-picked, home-grown tomato of the season deserves special treatment. I did not want that socko flavor of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato mingling with any flavors other than a slight drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Not terrible. But nothing like I was expecting. Nothing like the way a mid-summer garden tomato tastes when picked and eaten within an hour. It was but a hint of what was to come.
Within another day or two the plants became noticably sickly with drooping leaflets that turned black. Almost every day I threw away tomatoes riddled with rot, at a time when ordinarily I’d bring home a half dozen perfect tomatoes each day. With all the damp, gray weather, a fungus called late blight had taken hold in the Northeast, killing tomato and potato plants by the thousands. I did everything I could do organically to keep the plants healthy. Realizing the wet weather was continuing, I trimmed each plant of all but the most productive new growth so that air could circulate more freely and keep the plants dry. But it didn’t work. The blight was everywhere. That first bland tomato, I have to assume, was the result of a plant already weakened by the blight, even if it appeared comparatively healthy.
Last weekend I pulled up all the dead tomato plants, brought them home and mixed them in with the trash, as the town suggested. You don’t want to compost plants with late blight, as the compost could reintroduce the blight next year.
A disappointing year with the loss of the tomato crop, but otherwise plants did well. Green beans, squash, wax beans, kale, chard, peppers, carrots, beets, herbs and cutting flowers all flourished. I’ve been eating my own chard since early June, and might have enough for another dinner ready to pick tomorrow.