I don't know why I thought we'd get away with it. Everyone else has succumbed to the blasted blight. The early summer's cool and rainy weather made ideal conditions for late blight. This disease hit northeastern farmers hard in the early days of the summer, wiping out tomato and potato crops completely. But the last month or so has been warm and dry, definitely not ideal conditions for blight. And the buzz has abated a bit. And as the big, fat Cherokee Purple beauties started rolling in from our garden, I really let myself think that we might miss it. I was injudicious with my tomatoes. I was flagrantly adding them to everything- white beans and sliced cherry tomatoes, salads of nothing but tomatoes, basil and olive oil, pot of beans simmering on the stove? Add some tomatoes. I forgot that they are rare this summer. And now they're all gone.
Friday of last week, we harvested a whole flat of tomatoes from the garden, handfuls of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, beautiful Cherokee Purples, and the start of the Gilbertie Paste- the tomatoes I was counting on to stock our basement shelf with canned tomatoes. We spent two days in Montreal with my in-laws and came home to half our plants dead or dying. Those two days we were in Montreal - and which I'll get to in a later post, there was amazing food there - were cool and rainy. On Monday, I took the day off to spend it with my in-laws. We went out to the garden to harvest some tomatoes and I was shocked to see how quickly everything had deteriorated. It was awful. I had to sit down and just look for a while.
The leaves were spotted with brown lesions and so were the stems on the worst looking plants. They looked pretty terrible, especially given that they were beautifully vibrant and heavy with fruit three days earlier. So my mother-in-law and I spent the day Monday picking green tomatoes, pulling out plants and bagging them, taking down the trellis, and cover cropping the bed. We also cut off the potato plants at the base and I'll harvest the potatoes in a couple of weeks, hoping that the disease hasn't made it to the tubers. If it has, we'll have potato mush in our root cellar this winter.
This breaks my heart in a million little ways. I know that there are worse things that could happen, but we had thirty tomato plants and they looked healthier than they've ever been for us before. The whole landscape has changed in the garden. It looks empty without the tomato and potato plants. The beans are the only thing left out there with any presence. It has taken summer and turned it into fall in one weekend. The work of garden clean-up that we'd normally do in October, we did at the tail end of August. There is one more flat of tomatoes sitting on the kitchen counter. I am trying to ration them, but they'll go bad before we can eat them all. That's right about when we'd start canning except there aren't any more waiting to be picked in the garden. Summer's over with an abrupt, unanticipated halt. And we'll hope for better things next year.
A part of me is glad to move on. To shift to the sweetness of fall and cooler air, to appreciate the culmination of a summer's work and to see the smooth earth, seeded with rye, waiting for the cold. The slow cooling period, the flaming trees and crisp air is like a final gift before winter sets in, something to tide us over between summer's lushness and the winter grey. But I'm not sure I was quite there yet. I was looking forward to the canning and even the fruit fly haze from too many tomatoes on the counter to eat fast enough. So I'll spend this weekend making green tomato chutney, fried green tomatoes, maybe a green tomato pie - I saw a recipe for that somewhere recently. And I'll freeze some more corn and then that will be enough. The onset of fall and the end of the garden for the year. Damn blight.
Photo credits to Ralph.