Blooming Times – Little Blighters
by Flo Whitaker
There’s very little one can do to avoid blight in the first place, but if it suddenly strikes, the first task is to remain calm, don’t panic, and try the following suggestions!
An unwelcome visitor stalks our gardens in August – Potato Blight. As the name suggests, this fungal infection mostly affects spuds, but outdoor grown tomatoes are also highly susceptible. The foliage shows the first telltale signs, with shrivelling leaves that are often damp to the touch. A brownish rot then appears, whereupon the entire plant collapses. Blight is particularly active in wet, humid conditions. The microscopic spores are easily transported via wind or water droplets, so there really is nothing you can do to prevent it, but it’s important to act quickly the moment it arrives. Although blight will kill a plant, it is harmless to humans, so any crops may be safely eaten.
For tomatoes; harvest any useable fruits, then dig up the plants entirely. For potatoes; cut off the foliage to ground level, but leave the potatoes in the soil for another fortnight, by which time they will have hardened their skins to allow for harvesting with minimal damage. A dry, breezy day is preferable for this task. Dig them up carefully and leave them resting on the soil for a few hours – as their surfaces dry, any adhering soil can be easily and gently removed. Potatoes with damaged skins should be used immediately, not stored, as they will rot and quickly infect the entire crop. Store your potatoes in paper or hessian sacks in a cool, dark place. Don’t use plastic bags, as condensation will build up, creating ideal conditions for decay. Cardboard trays are strong, space efficient and brilliant for keeping produce. They stack neatly, but have gaps for air to circulate freely between each tray – and shops usually give them away for free! Onions can also be kept in the same way. Again, only those with dry, healthy skins should be stored.
Never put blight-infected plants on your compost heap as it’s unlikely that a domestic heap will reach a sufficient temperature to kill off the spores. However, you can dispose of them in a green waste recycling bin as the huge commercial compost heaps reach very high temperatures. Alternatively, infected material can be burnt or buried, (at least 30 cms deep.)
On a cheerier note, most other vegetables are completely unaffected by blight. Pick French and runner beans when they’re small and tender – and keep up the watering too. Sweetcorn should now be ready for harvesting, (assuming the badgers haven’t got there first.) Lettuce and salad onions are speedy growers. Sown now, they will crop before the first frosts. After their midsummer splendour, many herbs will be looking tatty. A gentle trim with the shears, followed by a good drink of water will propel them back into growth, providing you with fresh snippings for the kitchen.