Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gardening over the Internet fence

by June

As a child, I can remember my father talking to other gardeners over fences. They swapped tips and worried about a dry spell or handed over extra cucumbers. There was a lot of head-shaking and hand-wringing and laughter too. They helped one another be better gardeners.

A few of our neighbors garden. The couple up the hill seems always to have corn as high as an elephant's eye and lettuce to share. Last year, it felt a little better after the hailstorm to mourn our lost crops together. Thirty years they've been here but never been wiped out like that. My friend down the road waters my garden, and I water hers. And I learn a lot from walking around her beds, and from listening to her when she walks around mine. It makes me wonder what it must have been like when everybody up and down the road gardened, and harvest time defined even a school's schedule. I wish for a time when gardening was central to a community.

But, in some ways, it must have been a lot like the gardening over the Internet fence.

My online circle of gardening friends has urged me through this blighted summer. When I think back on it, I'm so grateful to all of you. June was awash in rain, and sometime that month someone on the Maine Locavores listserv passed along a warning that late blight had moved as far north as Massachusetts. I had already had a tussle last summer with a minor fungus, and I had resorted to Serenade as an organic way to fight it. Even with the constant rain, I had been wavering about spraying again this year. But after that warning, I went right out and bought what appeared to be the last bottle in southern Maine. I also bought worm poop. Yes, worm poop. I paid ten dollars for worm poop. Over at Daphne's site, I had read that she was alternating her organic fungicide with a spray of worm-poop tea (secret immune-boosting ingredient: aspirin). I yoo-hooed over the blog-post gate to my young gardening friend (who will be starting high school next week!) that she should probably go check out Daphne's advice too.

July brought more rain and, even with the spray, what looked to be late-blight lesions appeared on the leaves of my tomato plants. In early August came news that dear Beegirl's tomatoes had been wiped out in Pennsylvania. She posted photos, and gardeners gathered at her site to commiserate and share links about late blight. I ached for her. By now, I knew I had it on the leaves. Should I pull the plants and bag them to curb the spread of spores? Or should I try to nurse them through the disease since late blight was already so widespread that my twenty-six plants weren't going to make it any worse? I found some amazing advice in this FAQ round-up from Cornell University. So I kept spraying and clipping damaged foliage. I went out twice a day and policed with my pruning shears. And I got lucky, really lucky: The sun came out. I clipped two stems where the lesions appeared, but the plants seemed to revive a bit as the temperatures soared and the skies stayed clear at last.

Don't get me wrong: The plants are one-third the size they usually are at this time. They have barely set fruit. They are so puny that not one hornworm has been tempted to feast on them. Let me repeat that: Not one hornworm has deigned to take so much as a nibble off our sick little plants. (Of course, Daphne says the hornworms love her blighted plants, so what do I know about why the hornworms aren't here.) The Sungolds are producing about a pint a day from six plants; another season the harvest would be a quart or more per day. The heirloom slicers each have about one tomato with a chance of ripening. The Moskovich (pictured) has been hardest hit by the blight but has provided us two ripe tomatoes so far and another one is blushing. It's a powerhouse, considering.

Our season is almost over. Frost warnings are up tonight a couple of counties north of here. Hurricane Danny threatens to bring flooding rains this weekend. With damp weather comes renewed vigor for late blight. I don't know how many more tomatoes we'll get. Certainly our freezer won't be filled with sauce cubes. But I consider it a gift of gardening over the Internet fence that tonight we ate a tomato-and-bread salad. We could taste the sunshine in that supper. After much rain, we feasted at last on this season's little bit of sunshine.


Snippety Gibbet said...

I'm loving that stormy sky photo. jan

Knittymama said...

So sorry for your tomato troubles. At least your plants struggles through and you've gotten enough to still enjoy. Those bread and tomato salads are so good!

The craziest thing about our tornado? It took out our two maple trees, but not a tomato was lost.

Daphne Gould said...

Such a pretty tomato. I'm so sorry blight has hit you so bad. It has been a really hard year for tomatoes. I loved the Cornell article. It gives a really good overview of how to deal with blight. I'm glad to hear that the blight should die out when all the plants do. Well as long as people don't let their potatoes overwinter.

Have you been growing Moskvich for a long time? I liked its taste in the taste test and since Siberian tomatoes tend to do well here I'm thinking about it for next year. How has it grown in other year? Is it usually a good producer?

June said...

Jan: Welcome! I love your art, and it's a pleasure to have you here. I love that sky too.

Knittymama: Tornadoes are quirky things. I mourn your maples, I do. I hope the tomatoes are some comfort.

Daphne: This is my second year with Moskovich, and I have to say I will never ever go without it. Even with the troubles, it has pumped along. It is earlier than anything else (those good Siberian genes). And, as you know, it tastes good. Among the heirlooms, I prefer Persimmon and Ruby Gold (and I'm hanging on for those with fingers and toes crossed), but they are dicier in our climate.

Magnolia Handspun said...

That tomato with green is so lovely...the colors are so vibrant I can smell the freshness thru my computer screen.
Love todays post very interesting read...and I do so appreciate the internet and how it makes all the miles between us a little closer.
I have a feeling today will be our last day of swimming...defintitly feel the chill in the air.
Have a great weekend.

Sharon said...

We mourn the loss of our blighted tomatoes, but learned a lot from this hard lesson. I wish I knew this in July!

BTW, we live near C'town where the Cornell Cooperative Extension has Master Gardeners on call each week. Unfortunately, even some of them lost their tomatoes.

Karen Sue said...

I pulled a friend of mine into doing some gardening with me this year. We each have a raised bed at our houses. I also have a smaller one and a few ground-level spots planted with stuff. She opted for large pots for her peppers and tomatoes. We started some seeds. I had more luck with mine than she did, but I split my seedlings and we purchased more and we are truly enjoying this growing friendship. We took some ribbing from friends for bothering with the seed, but when you live in WNY state and the snow total for the season is over 300 inches, anything green is welcomed! I need to document what I've done and what changes I might make for next year. It is a bond when you sit down by someone and say, "so, how are YOUR tomatoes?"
Enjoy the end of growing and the beginning of planning...

June said...

Camilla: Thank you. And I'm with you about the swimming. The air is crisping and the lake cooling off quickly. Sigh.

Sharon: We did learn a lot this growing season, huh? The hard way! The Cornell team sure helped me, but it is impossible to save anything when nature works against it.

Karen Sue: Gardening IS such a bond. It is an incredible asset to have so many gardeners in our virtual lives. I'm so happy to have you here. Thanks for finding us. And I agree about starting those seeds when the snow is still deep: Green is necessary then.

Wren said...

Do you hear me cheering at the tomato from here? Hip hip hooray!!

I'll never take a vegetable for granted again. Your valiant effort has paid off and it's a beauty! What a battle! Sorry to hear rain is on the way. It's been a soggy mess here too.

I am so grateful for our internet fence. Thank you for this lovely post.
Batten down the hatches!!

PS: sent you a beet-email~ just so you know to check : )

Farmama said...

Hi, I just discovered your nice blog! We have had a strange growing season as well. There was even frost on Aug. 9th! It killed our cucs and beans. Our tomatoes are in the greenhouse and we had our first big harvest of them today! I look forward to reading here in the future!

The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

June I don't think I told you this, but a few days after I commented on one of your posts saying that I was having a hard time fidning foxgloves here in RI, I received a sweet email from GardenGirl offering to send me seeds from England! I was so tickled! I received the seeds a few weeks ago. I can't wait to plant them and watch them grow! How's that for international internet gardening??? LOL

Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

I do miss having TONZZ of neighbors that I could talk to day or night, over the fence or in for a cuppa coffee, but I also love the reality that I have you in Maine, Pam in Ireland, Kimmie in Germany and Diane in Australia..all at my screen (door?) anytime I need to have a shoulder, to see what the kids are up to or to just see "how ya are" the internet for that! So happy happy gardening (at reaping what you've sown) Thanks for posting and presenting us with such great photos :-)

Nan said...

Yes, the internet is such a blessing when it comes to talking over most any particular interests we have. As I told someone the other day, I'm quite sure that not one person I know in my non-computer life has ever heard of Persephone books. And not one person I know, has a garden. No one I know makes their own bread. It utterly thrills me to pop into someone's blog and find things I am interested in.

I've thought of doing a blog entry on this blight. It is around here too, and we are far north. It has hit some and not others. Very political, too, since I've read it may have come from buying plants at the 'big box' stores.

Wonderful post, June.

Nan said...

Me again. I keep meaning to tell you about a very special book about living and gardening in Maine. It is From the Orange Mailbox by A. Carman Clark. I love it.

used copies:

June said...

Beegirl: Me too, I'll never take another vegetable for granted. I am more than ever awestruck by the ingenuity and hard labor and endurance that goes into feeding us all. We should be grateful for those who devote their lives to it.

Our e-mail has not been working. For months! We tried to fix it, so please try again with the beet missive (if you would be so kind).

Sara: Welcome! I popped over and visited your blog: Wow! Frost on August 9! We have all been up against it this season. I'm so sorry about your beans and cucs. At least you have sunflowers, such lovely sunflowers!

Lisa: I love that story! Cannot wait to hear about the foxgloves that you and Garden Girl made happen from two continents. Thanks so much for telling me...

Colleen: Whenever I need a laugh, I know which virtual screen door to knock on. You're the best at laughs and hugs. But I do have to be careful drinking coffee while I'm visiting with you. Snorting hot liquids up the nose: ouch. Hugs from here...

Nan: I have been so happy to have you to bat around Mad Men. As I've told you, there's no water cooler in my life. Popping over your way is the next best thing -- for books, movies, whatever. You have such a great group of Persephone-reading, bread-baking, gardening friends. I'm pleased to be one of them.

(BTW, the bread coming out of Birch's new oven is..ahhh.)

The blight is political. People are upset. Apparently, it did start with the big-box stores, but the blight spores spread through the wind, so even those of us who started our own seeds...whammo. Now we're all in it together.

Now I"m off to find a copy of From the Orange Mailbox. THANK YOU, Nan!

Thanks to all of you for visiting here. We love getting to know you.

tara said...

this is such a beautiful post about such a yucky blight. Following the photos and words of so many gorgeous plants, of gardeners I only know online, has been so sad. Your moskovich is lovely, though, and your attitude towards it all is lovelier still. I'm so glad we've crossed blog paths!

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