The Tomato Blight Continues to Haunt Long Island Farmers & Gardeners

I’ve been growing tomatoes in the Greenlawn Organic Gardens for the last 10 years or so.  The first 5 years our crop was so huge that we were giving tomatoes away to everyone we knew.  We were making sauce practically every week and freezing it in containers of every size.  Tomatoes, “mooz” and fresh basil was the preferred food for any occasion. We were making homemade salsa, tomato soup and any other recipe we could come up with.  It was a time of plenty!


July's Tomato Haul

July’s Tomato Haul (Photo credit: statelyenglishmanor)


Unfortunately he last five years have been ehhhhhh when it comes to growing tomatoes on Long Island.  According to, ” A Cornell University agriculture lab in Riverhead found evidence of mold spores on a sample of tomatoes sent in by a farm on the East End. The confirmation makes this the fifth year in a row a tomato blight has surfaced on Long Island.”


Five straight years of so-so tomatoes. Perfectly good fruit develops rot, sores and spots.  It also causes the leaves and branches of the plants to prematurely dry out and fall off.


We are looking at the pathogen growing on these leaves,” Dr. Meg McGrath, a plant pathology professor at Cornell University, told CBS 2′s Dick Brennan on Monday. “This is a little later than past years, which suggests the pathogen has been wind-dispersed onto Long Island as opposed to having started here.”


I’m not depending on my tomato crop to pay my bills.  I just love to grow and eat them!  Nothing like the exquisite flavor


English: Severe symptoms of Phytophthora infes...

English: Severe symptoms of Phytophthora infestans (late blight) on tomato. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


of a homegrown Long Island tomato!  But I do sympathize with the many farmer’s who depend on a good crop to stay in business. They are worried that this year’s crop could be ruined.  Jeff Rottkamp’s family has run a farmstand off Sound Avenue in Riverhead since the 1950s. He said he lost part of his crop last year to the tomato blight. With this latest discovery, Rottkamp said he has no choice but to spray fungicide on his six-acre crop of tomatoes.


At the Greenlawn Organic Garden the use of any chemical pesticide is prohibited which makes dealing with the problem that much more difficult.  My solution?  I spray them the plants with calcium to strengthen them.  When the fruit looks like they are starting to ripen in color,  I pick them quickly, take them home and wash them. I then let them fully ripen on our kitchen table.  They may not taste as amazing as they would,  but they still have a great fresh flavor that you can only get from growing your own and I find that picking them a little early keeps them from rotting.


According to Cornell University, “Late blight is a plant disease that mainly attacks potatoes and tomatoes, although it can sometimes be found on other crops, weeds and ornamentals in the same botanical family (Solanaceae). Other plants that late blight may infect include petunia, nightshades, and tomatillos.


That would explain the complaints I’ve been hearing from other gardener’s about this year’s eggplant and pepper crops.  In a word both crops were, “miserable”.  Where we might get 30 or 40 peppers that year we got a paltry 10-12 and they weren’t exactly the best I’ve ever seen.  Our eggplant were devoured by insects and the survivors seemed to have succumbed to the blight as well.  Tough year!   For more info check out :


Fortunately it was a banner year for bok choy, red and green romaine lettuce, onions, garlic, kale, mesclun lettuces, snap peas and beets.  We even tried Yukon Gold Potatoes for the first tiem and that turned out pretty well too. I always try and plant a variety of vegetables that are hardy, easy and in many cases “freezable” to get us through the winter. We are still making pesto from last summer’s basil,  and we are still eating snow peas from the summer before!  Last year’s beet crop wasn’t quite as productive as 2013 but we continue to eat jars of beets that I pickled last summer.  Mix sea salt, white onions and white vinegar with boiled beets in a large mason jar and presto…! A delicious Italian style pickled beet salad that you can add to other dishes or eat as is.

If you grow tomatoes, eggplant or peppers, and you’re in the NY Tri-State area, I’d like to hear from you as to what your yield was this summer.



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2 Responses to The Tomato Blight Continues to Haunt Long Island Farmers & Gardeners

  1. Jeff Bitsimis says:

    Hey Joe. Thanks for the great tips. I’m sure that all us amateur farmers will benefit from your info.
    Jeff Bitsimis

    • joeref says:

      Hey Jeff! I’m no expert but I do have some experiences with growing vegetables. There is a world of great info on the internet if people would just take a few moments to check it out. Tomatoes have been tough the last few years on the Island. Hopefully the pathogen responsible will die off soon.

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