Blight, bumped bumpers, and other bummers…

The Beatles sang “It’s getting better all the time, (couldn’t get much worse).”  That line has been on repeat in my brain over these past 4 or 5 days, most recently this very morning during harvest as the rain poured down…again.  Much has happened here, much of it decidedly not good!  Here’s the scoop:

Two or three weeks ago, MOFGA sent out a scary e-mail about the appearance of late blight on tomato and potato plants in New England.  The e-mail mentioned that the blight’s appearance was unusually early, probably due to the cool, wet weather.  It also mentioned that most of the plants affected came from “big box” stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot.  I processed this information and moved on to other things…until Son and I began to notice that our tomato plants were looking awful.  Tomato plants tend to fall to disease anyway but usually after their production has peaked…many of our plants looked like they were struggling far earlier than usual.  We hoped it was just too much water at work but then couldn’t ignore the appearance of brown spots on the leaves.  The spots were appearing on some potato plants, too, and the alarm bells went off.

On Thursday, I collected some infected tomato and potato leaf samples and took them to the Univ. of Maine Cooperative Extention Office down in Portland.  Sure enough, they gave us a diagnosis of late blight.  Late blight is best known as the cause of the Irish Potato Famine, which killed around a million people in the mid-1800s.  The disease causes the leaves, stems, and fruit of the plants to rot.  The blight is quickly spread via the production of spores.  A few sick plants can infect others in the area quickly with the spores capable of traveling several miles.  What action can be taken?  Pretty much everyone, including the folks at the extension office, said the same thing:  pull the plants, bag them, and either burn them or take them to the dump.  They have to be taken off-site to prevent any more spores from spreading…simply tossing them on the compost pile is NOT an option.

So, on Thursday afternoon in the rain (of course) Sonya, Kate, and I walked the tomato and potato beds and pulled infected plants.  The plants were bagged in empty potting mix bags we had on hand, and Friday after harvest, I took about 25 bags to the town dump.  We probably pulled about 50-60% of our field tomato plants and about 20% of the potatoes.  Not a complete loss (so far) but still a major blow.  This morning, I took new leaf samples from a few more infected plants and mailed them up to the cooperative extension lab in Orono to confirm the diagnosis.  More plants may be on the chopping block soon…

And then, the very next day after the plant purge, another disaster.  Sonya, Lydia, and I had plans to spend the 4th of July weekend over in Vermont for a family reunion of sorts with my dad, sister, and other relatives, leaving the intrepid Kate Jones in charge of the Portland Allen Ave. CSA drop on Friday and the Bridgton Farmers’ Market on Saturday.  We left after the Friday morning harvest (and much packing…now that we have Lydia, it’s appalling how much STUFF we needed to cram into the car for two nights…two!..away.)  We were a mere half hour or so away from our destination when we got the call:  Kate had been in a fender bender in Portland.  Unable to stop in time coming over a hill, she rear-ended a car turning in front of her.  She, thank goodness, was fine, as were the folks in the other car, but the front of the truck was in bad shape.  That Kate’s got a good head on her shoulders, though, and a lot of drive…she had the truck towed to the U.U. Church for the pick-up!  The truck was later towed back to the farm in Poland while Kate and our empty veggie bins got a ride home with a friend.  Again, in the spirit of “git ‘er done”, she was able to borrow a truck from another friend to do the Bridgton market.

Meanwhile over in Vermont, we were horrified by this turn of events, and even though Kate had things as under control as she could, we returned home on Saturday (a day earlier than planned) to check in on her and the farm and the truck.  Said truck is now over at Pete’s Garage on Cleve Tripp Road here in Poland being checked over by Pete and Paul (I keep lobbying them to get a secretary named Mary).  We’re anxiously awaiting word on whether the truck can be saved, and if so, how much it will cost.  In the meantime, we’ve rented a cargo van from U-Haul to stand in as our market/CSA vehicle for the next week or two.  When it rains, it pours…

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