The Cottage Smallholder

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Potato blight – Smith factor and tomatoes

potato blightJohn Coe and I were closeted in the kitchen, sipping coffee and gossiping.

The conversation gradually veered towards our vegetable gardens. The weather is causing problems and neither really wants to mention our problems first.

“How are your potatoes doing? Any sign of the blight?”
He suddenly started to play with Inca who remembers the sandwiches that he used to bring for Elevenses.
“I need you to advise. Mine are keeling over. Different from last year but they are not looking good. The condition is gradually moving up the rows.”

Both of us grappled with severe blight during last year’s wet, humid summer. We wandered down the garden and stood in front of the mangy rows.
“If I was you I’d lift all these potatoes immediately. You’ve got some sort of blight, I reckon.”

This wasn’t like last year’s blight when the plants turned brown, then black and keeled over within a couple of days. The foliage was yellow and they had lingered for a couple of weeks.

He teased the soil around a plant, picked up a spud and tested the skin. Rubbing it with his finger.
“The skin is set. Lift them before you lose them.”

He must have spotted that I wasn’t keen and added.
“I had the same symptoms. Out of 144 yards (130 metres) of potato plants I harvested just three sacks. Maureen was surprised when she saw me washing the tiny ones. I wouldn’t have bothered in past years. The little ones were so sweet and tasty but I was gutted by the low harvest. Apart from last year, I have always grown all our own potatoes. Now we will have to buy them. They just don’t taste the same and the prices make me shudder.”

On close examination I spotted a tiny white spore on the potato in his hand. Last year’s spuds were covered with them. So tomorrow our crop is going to be harvested. I only planted 72 feet of potatoes this year but it’s disappointing. Danny can only eat the spuds he loves if we grow our own.

Irish potatoes are much more floury than the traditional English ones. When we leave our spuds in the ground for an extra six weeks or so they become floury and Danny can savour a potato similar to those that his Mam cooked all those years ago in rural West Cork.

I’m determined to grow Danny’s perfect spud next year even if it’s in raised beds on the driveway.

Potato blight is exacerbated by a ‘Smith Period’. A warm wet humid period of at least eleven hours. Potatoes grown under trees create these conditions when the weather is damp, with the dripping of leaves and poor air currents to waft away the humidity.

Tomato plants are the same family and vulnerable to similar conditions. If you grow them as cordons, space well apart and they are far less likely to succumb to blight than more bushy specimens.

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  1. Gill Down Under

    Long term solution for potato blight is to get your soil in great condition – humus, carbon, balance of nutrients, etc. Shorter term, choose potato seed plants that have runners at least 20cm long on them (Henry Doubleday Institute research), then plant your potatoes on top of a layer of wilted comfrey leaves (no stalks please), in trenches. Make sure they don’t dry out at any stage – mulch and hill them up every ten days. Home grown’s unbeatable, yeah.

  2. Angela Connolly

    Danny’s from West Cork ?- anywhere near Schull? or Ballydehob? I can send you a few ‘balls of flour’ as I live in West Cork and the poppy’s are the best in the World! I think it is the water they are cooked in maybe …..

  3. Paul In Shelfield

    Hi well potato blight has hit me hard i have lost 6 kilo of plants three large beds potatoes i am totally gutted i will now have to strip all the beds clean of the plants and try and treat the ground has anybody got any ideas as to how to treat the soil i was told to treat the ground with lime when i have cleared it look forward to hear your ideas just one more thing i have noticed that i have also been invaded by caterpillars they have just appeared over night hundreds of they destroyed my turnips / swedes / and radish this weather is causing some problems

  4. Blighted tomatoes are not a right off if you make green tomato chutney. You can even freeze the tomatoes if you do not have time to make it straight away.

    I was given a bit of advice about storing potatoes – do so in small bags. That way they are easier to check for any getting blight through the winter and if a bag does get infected you lose less spuds.

  5. moonroot

    Yes, a poor harvest here too this year.

    I grow blight resistant varieties of potato (Orla, Sarpo Mira and Sarpo Axona) and tomato (Ferline and Legend) but even they are showing signs of blight.

    Advice on harvesting blighted potatoes I have read in the past says to cut down the potato foliage to ground level, then leave for (can’t remember how long – perhaps a week, perhaps two) for the spores on the soil to die off before digging up the spuds. This way – allegedly – you get blight-free potatoes to store. I’ve always done it this way and it’s been more or less successful. Blighted tomatoes, of course, are a write-off.

    Here’s hoping for a better summer next year!

  6. Sorry to hear about your troubles. After two wet summers in a row, I’m sure next year can only get better!

  7. samantha winter

    Our harvests are bad as well. The potatoes are in raised beds this year as an experiment and we do have a harvest but it’s still very poor – no blight though. The broadbeans have finished already, they were the most successful thing in the garden, again in raised beds. The cabbage is a disaster, and I’ve got leaf cutting ants currently snipping away at everything else. The greenhouse is no better. The toms are virtually all green still!!

  8. The Organic Viking

    Very sorry to hear about your potatoes. My tomatoes all started showing signs of blight about two weeks ago. This was especially annoying as prior to that they were definitely winning the prize for ‘most promising looking veg’ and were only in need of a bit of sun to finish them off. Better luck for everyone next year, I suppose.

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Kate

    Our broad beans got rust. Final harvest yesterday. We have 140,000 bees but the showers must make the brighter ones stay at home and do essential DIY.

    We do have cucumbers and toms in the greenhouse and teeny chubby squash growing on the drive. No more Boy Racer reversing in. D has been warned.

  10. Kate(uk)

    Very sorry to hear about the potatoes, my bush tomatoes have succumbed, broad beans are pretty poor yeilding too- not enough bees visiting them between the showers. Another rather disappointing year in the veg patch, dammit.

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