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Northeastern Tomato Blight Caused by Home Gardening

A fast-spreading fungus has ravaged tomato crops across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, wiping out this year's crop and causing the price of heirloom tomatoes to skyrocket by 20 percent. But the cause of the pandemic is something that's much more innocent than you might think.

In a recent New York Times column, renowned farm-to-table chef Dan Barber discusses the aggressive disease, known as late blight, that has wiped out 70 percent of this year's heirloom tomato crop. He argues that there are three contributing factors that caused the intense blight. First, a rainy Summer, moderate temperatures, and lots of humidity; second, infected tomato starter plants sold to home growers; and third, the explosion of home gardeners.Ironically, the very community that's engaged in eating locally has set the stage for one of the worst heirloom tomato harvests in history. Barber argues that, despite what Slow Food believers might advocate, future farming must involve nonheirloom plant varieties bred to resist diseases.

The blight isn't limited to new home gardeners; even seasoned pro Martha Stewart has lamented that she lost 70 percent of the 50 different tomato varieties in her garden this year. Have you fallen victim to this year's tomato travesty? What do you think of Barber's argument?

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
R-Treat R-Treat 7 years
Thank all of you for the comments about what has helped spread this terrible blight.Helped educate me a quite a bit. :)
R-Treat R-Treat 7 years
I started most of mine from seed,but did buy a few others that I really wanted.At first they done very well,I was so proud to finally have a home garden again :).....But then when it got so hot after being colder than normal temps for this time of year.It hit my tomatoes like a ton of bricks.I thought it was something I was or perhaps not doing.I set right down and cried.It was so disappointing.So I know how all of you are feeling.I hope next year will be a lot better.
acyl acyl 7 years
Yeah I know, home gardening might have helped spread it a little, but the other factors that cause blight sound a lot more powerful! (This July up in New England was nearly non-stop rain!)
acadia2431 acadia2431 7 years
So Mr. Barber's solution is that if we don't grow heirloom tomatoes the blight will go away? Right. Here's a quote from the Penn State College of Agricultural Studies website: "The disease-causingfungus overwinters in southern frost-free areas, on winter-grown tomatoes and potatoes, and in northern areas in potato cull piles and in potato "seed." It may be introduced to tomato fields on transplants or may be wind-borne from diseased potato and tomato plants in nearby fields. Disease development is promoted by cool wet conditions." Hmmm, no mention of heirlooms. Hmmm, further no mention of home gardeners as being the purveyors of blight.
chiefdishwasher chiefdishwasher 7 years
This better not cut down on my BLTs............
Kyley Kyley 7 years
wow I don't feel so bad now. I live in southern Michigan and my tomatoes aren't coming in as well as they have in the past. I figured I had done somethings wrong. But this still sucks.
Peggasus Peggasus 7 years
My (Central Illinois) tomatoes have not done anywhere near as well this year as they have in the past. While we've certainly had enough rain, it hasn't been so hot as usual. All my friends report the same. I'm afraid they won't even get red before it turns cool. I speculate that it's that pesky 'lack of bees' problem. No fungus, though.
Rabbit88 Rabbit88 7 years
I live in southcoast MA, and my heirloom tomato has look pretty horrible all summer. It has yielded 1 tomato, and looked pretty miserable. The rain and lack of sun light has really done a number on the garden.
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