Tomatoes grow in Indiana?

Gardening puts you in your place.  You might think you know it all, have done everything perfectly, and still end up with almost nothing.  My adventures with tomatoes over the past 2 years are the perfect example of this.  Last year,  had 42 hand raised plants.  I started my seeds indoors in March.  By midsummer, the plants were dripping with tomatoes.  I was starting to get the first ripe ones, when late blight hit my farm.  There was an epidemic of this particularly heartless fungal disease last year.  It was spread through transplants at big box stores (another reason to dislike big business!) and then quickly spread through the air.  I was well aware of it because it was big news in the garden world.

One morning I went out to do my morning picking and saw nearly every plant covered in it.  I called the county extension agent to report the disease.  Hours later, he was at the farm bagging up an entire plant and taking it to the Purdue plant pathology lab for confirmation.  I did not wait for the official word, I did what I had to do–bagged all the plants, fruit and all–hundreds of pounds of it.  It would be dead within days anyway. 

In the end, mine and one other case were the first official cases in Indiana.  My farm made the local newspaper.   When the plant pathologist called me with the news, she said she was calling Red Gold as soon as we hung up.  I wanted to say:  “tell them to send me a check.”  When I went to tell neighbors, most of them had it too.  I mourned those tomatoes, which I had cared for over 5 months.

This year, I scaled back.  27 plants.  I have used an organic spray called Serenade, to help the plants resist the blight, which I have not gotten.  But, the other thing I have not gotten —– are tomatoes.  This summer, as all of us know, has been so consistently hot that the plants have just about nothing.  When days are consistently hot (90s and above), the plant does the logical thing–going into survival mode.  Blossoms drop and the plant focuses on surviving.  According to one study, only 4 hours of 104 degrees, will cause the plant to abort the fruit.

So, I start to wonder, can we even grow tomatoes in Indiana anymore?  We are the second largest producer in the states, or we were…..

I don’t know if this is caused by global warming, but the weather seems more erratic than ever–this summer so horribly hot and last year’s so cool.  But, I do know that gardeners have to roll with the punches.  I am lucky that my tomato crop is not our livelihood. 

Late Blight 2009
tomatoes with cat face and splits 2010

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