According to LSUAgcenter.com "Scientists at the LSU AgCenter recently confirmed the presence of late blight on tomatoes in home gardens in Terrebonne, Lafayette, Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes. Symptoms include black lesions on stems and petioles, blackening of the fruit, and dark, dead areas on the foliage." Guess where they infection is coming from? "'The disease is probably being introduced on infected transplants, so be sure to check tomato plants for symptoms before you buy them,' said LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Don Ferrin." If you remember last year the tomato season was a disaster due to late blight. According to newsday.com, "late blight, the aggressive plant pathogen that ravaged the 2009 tomato crop in backyards and some commercial farms across Long Island and the northeast, is highly likely to return in 2010, a top plant pathologist said last week."
This is important stuff, as people become dependent on what they grow to feed themselves and family.Â "Nick Ranieri, 70, of Mattituck, describes last year's blight. 'I have never seen such a thing happening in my garden,'" said the retired electrician, an Italian immigrant who has farmed and gardened all his life. 'It was very sad, the saddest thing.' His crop of 40 plants was wiped out, a major disruption of the family lifestyle that depends on canned tomatoes through the winter."
We we're on top of this story last year.Â According to newsday.com, the blight "was blamed on mass market retail stores that bought plants from wholesale growers, some from the south where late blight pathogens can winter over." Bonnie Plants which is the supplier to Home Depot, Lowes, and other mass merchants was cited as a possible source for the infection. "But Lois Chaplin, director of marketing for Bonnie Plants, the Union Springs, Ala., company that supplies big retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe's, questioned that association. 'Good growers always have precautions in place,' to control disease, she said. 'There are things that happen in nature we can't control, but any good grower will have programs in place to prevent the problem.'"
As a nurseryperson and gardener here is what really bugs me. According to the newsday.com article, "Jim Trowbridge, operations manager at the Lowe's home center in Medford, said it's business as usual in the garden department. Tomato plants and seeds are already on shelves and staffers will recommend fungicides as a preventive measure, if customers ask. The stores aren't taking any drastic measures on late blight prevention, Trowbridge said, noting that the grower, Bonnie, conducts quality control at its centers." Well that makes us feel better. "'Sales have already taken off,' said Trowbridge. 'We have people literally waiting for the [plant] truck to show up.'"
So there is no reason to educate people on what turned out to be a disastrous tomato season for thousands of people? It's "business as usual" at the box stores and Bonnie Plants? No handouts or informational literature to help all the new and returning gardeners about a serious pathogen that could infect their vegetable harvest this year?Â No advice on how to deal with this unless people ask? Why doesn't Bonnie plants, or the box stores put together some informational handouts that are at least posted near the vegetable plants?
"Ranieri, the Mattituck gardener, is a case in point. Last month, he planted potatoes from last year's backyard harvest. Told that Cornell advised against it, he said, "'I wish I had known that three weeks ago.'" Yes, if Mr. Ranieri had bought his tomatoes or other vegetable plants from us, or another nursery that cared he would have been given this information. It's about having successful educated gardeners , not making a buck and "business as usual."
This is not just selling plants and moving on. People are starting to depend on their gardens for food. This is agriculture, not just a back yard garden. As suppliers, the box stores and their growers should be doing a better job of educating their customers. Remember this next time someone say's, It doesn't matter where you buy your plants!