Today late blight, the bane of tomatoes, potatoes, and the Irish, was confirmed by UMass Amherst out in Franklin County. This disease, caused by the pathogen Phytopthora infestans, was the microscopic culprit behind the famines that decimated Ireland in the mid-1800’s. While it has the potential of being every bit as devastating now as it was then, we are lucky to have a much more diversified diet than our forebears (though not nearly diverse enough), as well as various lethal weapons like copper sprays and other vicious stuff that stops, or at least slows, the disease in its tracks. However, despite the odds that are in our favor, we’re not quite able to control the weather, and any cool and rainy summer days can ignite a few late blight spores hitchhiking in the wind and rain. After a few get going it doesn’t take much for the blight to cause a major and often heartbreaking infestation.
To illustrate the nature of late blight, let me offer a brief lesson in contrasts. Tomatoes are beautiful–
and late blight is not.
Mugshot of affected Roma tomatoes. Credit: maine.gov. Previous blight photos from umass.edu. Luscious heirlooms from marycrimmins.com.
Like lots of deadly things, late blight is pretty fascinating. Continue reading