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Potato Famine Disease Striking Home Gardens in U.S.

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  • Potato Famine Disease Striking Home Gardens in U.S.

    As if we didn't need more good news....
    CHICAGO (Reuters) – Late blight, which caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s, is killing potato and tomato plants in home gardens from Maine to Ohio and threatening commercial and organic farms, U.S. plant scientists said on Friday.

    "Late blight has never occurred this early and this widespread in the United States," said Meg McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University's extension center in Riverhead, New York.

    She said the fungal disease, spread by spores carried in the air, has made its way into the garden centers of large retail chains in the Northeastern United States.

    "Wal-mart, Home Depot, Sears, Kmart and Lowe's are some of the stores the plants have been seen in," McGrath said in a telephone interview.

    The disease, known officially as Phytophthora infestans, causes large mold-ringed olive-green or brown spots on plant leaves, blackened stems, and can quickly wipe out weeks of tender care in a home garden.

    McGrath said in her 21 years of research, she has only seen five outbreaks in the United States. The destructive disease can spread rapidly in cooler, moist weather, infecting an entire field within days.

    "What's unique about it this year is we have never seen plants affected in garden centers being sold to home gardeners," she said.

    This year's cool, wet weather created perfect conditions for the disease. "Hopefully, it will turn sunny," McGrath said. "If we get into our real summer hot dry weather, this disease is going to slow way down."


    According to its website, the University Maryland's Plant Diagnostic Lab got a suspect tomato sample as early as June 12, very early in the tomato growing season, which runs from April-September.

    McGrath said the risk is that many gardeners will not recognize it, putting commercial farms and especially organic growers at risk.

    "My concern is for growers. They are going to have to put a lot more time and effort in trying to control the disease. It's going to be a very tough year," she said.

    "This pathogen can move great distances in the air. It often does little jumps, but it can make some big leaps."

    McGrath said the impact on the farmer will depend on how much the pathogen is spread. "Eastern New York is seeing a lot of disease," she said.

    She said commercial farmers will be able to use fungicides containing chlorothalonil to control the blight.

    And while some sprays have also been approved for organic use, many organic farmers do not use them, making it much harder to control.

    "If they are not on top of this right from the very beginning, it can go very fast," she said.
    "If Howdy Doody runs against him, I'm voting for the puppet." - SkyOwl's Wife, 2012

  • #2
    Well at least now I have something to blame my poor crop on instead of me. Thanks.


    • #3
      my potatoes were doing well, they've all failed now.
      "Be Excellent to Each Other"


      • #4

        Only thing that I planted (which isn't really much this year) that isn't doing well is the tomatillos. Have a HUGE healthy plant w/o ONE tomatillo.
        Last edited by Skyowl's Wife; 08-11-2009, 11:08 PM. Reason: Finished my thought, there in the middle
        "If Howdy Doody runs against him, I'm voting for the puppet." - SkyOwl's Wife, 2012


        • #5
          The nieghbor down the road has it and I heard today from one of my prepper friends in the next town that she got it and had to destroy her potatoes AND all her tomatoes!


          • #6
            Well my neighbor had it first on her squash and tomatoes. The fungis spread to my squash plants and killed them then spread to my tomatoes. I removed the infected squash plants which became feeding grounds for a type of triangular gray in color beetle and applied a fungicide spray to the garden. The tomatoes were saved but the squash, not so much. The early symptoms can be mistaken for bottom blossom rot which is characteristic of inconsistent watering. Wage a full scale attack on it in the early stages, fungacide and miricle grow to boost its immune system.


            • #7
              It was looking like I was going to have a bumper crop of tomatoes and potatoes this year. None of my tomatoes got any larger then a fifty cent piece and then all died, same for my potatoes nothing bigger then a fifty cent piece.

              O'well maybe there is always next year.


              • #8
                I lost all my squash, most of my potatoes, and most of my tomatoes.

                I also lost my peas, corn, and green beans, but as I haven't heard of any blight affecting those veggies, I think it's just because of my lousy gardening skills. On a good note, my strawberries continue to do well, and the peppers are trying to make a come-back after being nibbled on all spring.
                "Be Excellent to Each Other"


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Brosia View Post
                  On a good note, my strawberries continue to do well, and the peppers are trying to make a come-back after being nibbled on all spring.
                  Whatever was in your peppers is in my hair. If you look close, you can see it there!
                  "If Howdy Doody runs against him, I'm voting for the puppet." - SkyOwl's Wife, 2012


                  • #10
                    Wife, you are a hoot! Thanks for the laughs you and Skyowl provide.

                    Agree with Centurion's recommendations... The blight has hit us here as well. Early applications of a fungicide (I think I used Daconil) saved my tomatoes. I sprayed them twice this season, and might need to do it one more time. Thankfully, we've had a good season in our spot in Michigan and everything is bountiful. Brosia and Nightsniper, wish I could share with you! We've been taking extra food like crazy to the family center and just harvested 223 ears of sweet corn for my sister to can.