Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tomato blight and wireworm woes

We've had some serious gardening lessons this summer.
- Plant blight-resistant tomato varieties, and if you see black spots on a plant, pull it up immediately.

- When you break virgin sod for new garden space, don't plant potatoes there for a couple of years.

- If summer is warm and wet, be prepared to lose a lot of veggies, no matter how careful you are.
Here's the story:
We spent hours poring over seed catalogs to pick just the right varieties of tomatoes this season. One for canning, one for drying, and a few ultra-early ones. One of our crop strategies is to plant some strains of veggies that are cold-weather tolerant and early producers. The idea being that we can get at least some of our harvest in sooner, in case of drought or other garden trouble. So we chose Beaverlodge from Territorial Seeds, and also planted a few Siberians from the neighbor.
Across the garden path, we tilled up more yard to make what would become the potato patch. Encouraged by the tasty spuds we grew last year, we picked out an early red and a later russet, and planted 15lbs of seed taters. Everything was growing gangbusters, the Beaverlodge set fruit incredible early, the red potatoes came out of the ground perfect and yummy. Then the rains came. Not just any rain, but warm monsoon-type rains. Soon after we noticed a couple of potato plants with black spots on the leaves, but since it didn't seem to spread, we assumed it wasn't the dreaded blight we'd heard so much about. Most tales of blight involve nearly overnight ruination, plants and spuds turning to black mush right before your eyes. So we pulled the plants out just in case, and thought nothing of it.
Until more rain seemed to bring on the black-spot in the Beaverlodge row. We thought it still couldn't be "the blight", and waited & watched. Well it was the blight, or one of its many variations. It spread quickly, and the continued rainy weather wasn't letting the millions of green tomatoes ripen anyway. Some tomato varieties held out longer than others, but even now, the last row of Polish paste tomatoes is a lost cause. They'll be pulled up like the rest.

As for the spuds, well the blight never did get going there. Must be resistant varieties. But what the blight spared, the wireworms and millipedes are wrecking. What we didn't know is that wireworms live in lawns and eat the roots of grasses. Turning the sod removes the food source, and they hang around a season or two, eating what they can find. In this case, our russets. The millipedes are pretty much endemic to most garden soil here, and normally don't do much harm. But they eat damaged plant matter, so the bites made by the wireworms were the perfect welcome mat for the millipedes. Suffice to say, the potatoes aren't inedible, but we'd rather not eat them given a choice (our Scots-Irish ancestors must be rolling in their graves!). So we'll harvest them and cook them up in batches to feed to the critters. Another old-timey tradition, as most farms had giant potato boilers in an outbuilding for the sole purpose of cooking spuds (they have to be cooked to convert the nutrients into edible form) for hog feed. And depending on whether or not the weather drives the wireworms away in time, we may end up with a few decent tatties after all. Since the crop has been compromised, we're not going to rush to dig & store them. One way of keeping spuds, at least until full winter hits, is to leave them in the ground. We plants the Buttes to mature when the weather cooled, so they wouldn't sprout if we left them in longer. So it will be interesting to see how well this low-energy storage method works.
Next season we look for disease-resistant maters/taters, and rotate into unblighted ground. The newly-broken garden areas won't have root veggies planted for a season or two, giving time for the wireworms to disperse. And we'll let the hens help by eating up bugs and turning soil when we let the garden go to winter rest. The weather will do what it wants, and we'll just learn as we go. Luckily lots of other crops came if strong and we are preserving as much as we can.


LGP said...

I had similar holes in my potatoes made by earwigs. They were not very deep and easily edited from the spuds to leave a nice basis for making home-fries. (coarse-cut hash-browns)

Oldnovice said...

I'm glad I ran across this, as I was thinking of trying potatoes next. First person I asked mentioned wireworm damage, but you mentioned that as well as "newly cultivated soil", which is EXACTLY
where I'd thought to plant them.

I'll try and squeeze them into the ground that's been growing stuff for a few years now.

Seven Trees said...

Some of the potatoes in other rows have little to no damage. I wonder what makes the difference.

They are really tasty, but best as mashed. The Buttes seem really dry baked, but it might be because we left them in the ground so long.

Next year the potatoes are going where the greens/beets/carrots/onions are now. That will be 3rd season garden, so hopefully no wireworms.