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.