Gardeners’ year gets worse with blight, mites and rust

By Richard Wright

Published on Friday, October 12, 2012 - 11:12


Gardeners’ year gets worse with blight, mites and rust

A blighted tomato.

GARDENING THIS year, we could easily have been dubbed the Isle of Blight.

The wet weather may have had the positive effect of killing off wasps but it also ensured all manner of other diseases flourished to frustrate our best efforts in the garden.

Author and keen gardener Alan Stroud summed it up eloquently for me.

"What a summer! I was going to open my garden as a theme park — Blight World. Everyone I know has had it in potatoes, tomatoes and, for the second year, I now have leek rust, which is threatening to destroy my crop — but not a word from you!

"Someone said to me: 'That Richard Wright an’t mentioned it. P’raps he an’t got it.’ Did you?"

Sadly, I did get a touch of the blight on my tomatoes in the greenhouse, in common with several of my gardening friends.

And one, who I bumped into in the supermarket the other day, had identical symptoms and did the same thing as I to control the misery that is late blight.

In common with him, I do not like spraying tomatoes, especially those under cover, because chemicals must get absorbed into the fruit.

In late June, I was forced to uproot the worst affected plant but I left the remainder, just employing the technique of chopping off the worst-affected foliage.

The plants may not look pretty at the moment, bearing the scars of disease, but they seem to have beaten off the blight of their own accord and are producing an abundance of fruit.

The potatoes are another matter and I have been tempted to spray on occasion in an often vain battle to defeat what can turn a healthy crop into an evil-smelling decaying mass in a matter of days.

Powerful fungicides used by commercial growers are not available to us gardeners and we have been forced to rely in large part on Bordeaux Mixture, which is a blend of copper sulphate and hydrated lime.

It has also proved invaluable as an autumn and spring spray to prevent peach leaf curl, although I would personally not spray it directly on fruit to control apple canker.

Soon I won’t be able to use it at all, so a handy tip — if you want to stock up — is to do so before February 28 next year when it will be banned.

You then have two years in which you can store and use the mixture, which comes as a dissolvable powder. But my guess is there will be some desperate lawbreakers out there who might be tempted to cock a snook and keep it for longer.

The Sarpo potato range exhibits more effective resistance than other cultivars to blight and can be grown satisfactorily without fungicide protection. Some old favourites, including Arran Pilot, King Edward, Majestic and Sharpe’s Express, are very susceptible.

Tomatoes are generally very prone to blight but the varieties Ferline, Legend and Fantasio are claimed to show some resistance.

Rust is another difficult-to-prevent disease, which appears in different form on many crops.

This year, reports have reached me of runner bean rust.

Pete Osborne, when he is not making beautiful hand-crafted mahogany and brass cribbage boards down in Ventnor, is often to be found out in the garden where mice just destroyed his beautiful crop of sweet beetroots and where the leaves of his runners have developed the characteristic brown blotches of rust.

Bean rust is not really treatable, other than removing the affected leaves. It most often affects mature leaf growth and removal allows greater air circulation and makes it less likely spores will settle and flourish in a humid environment.

It is also a disease of later season, which means it starts to take effect when most of the harvest has taken place and it has to be quite bad before yield is affected.

Rust on leeks is another matter.

There are no chemical controls that I know about for controlling the fungal problem, which can also manifest itself on onions and garlic.

Leeks which develop rust lose vigour in the late summer and early autumn, and fail to thrive.

I am currently experimenting with a variety, which the seed company claims is rust resistant and, at the moment, the plants appear very healthy indeed.

But there are a few tips from the Royal Horticultural Society:

• Infection is worse on nitrogen-rich soils with low potassium, so take care with fertiliser applications.

• Do not crowd plants as this raises humidity and increases the likelihood of infection.

• Dispose of all plant debris at the end of cropping.

I may also escape leek rust because of my heavy use of seaweed, which is high in potassium.

Wood ash too is rich in potash and, hence, potassium and I frequently use the subsistence farming technique of cultivating the next year after an autumn bonfire.

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