Friday, December 11, 2009
The burn that wasn’t at Foss Farm
A well-organized effort to perform an agricultural burn on Saturday, December 5, at Foss Farm was thwarted by the recent heavy rains. A group of about 20 hardy souls showed up to clear left-over tomato cages and plastic fences from the plots, and Jack O’Connor had his homemade water pump ready to chase down any runaway flames. But it was not to be. Using a flame thrower, the group lit one area after another, but even the gentle gusts from John Bakewell’s leaf blower could not convince the flames to grow. Little fires sputtered, withered, and died, similar to the tomatoes that were the bane of farmers this summer.
The burn was planned to combat the tomato blight (see “Tomato late blight: What do we do now?” Mosquito, September 11.) Due to the cold, wet summer, and also due to a spread of the blight through garden store plants, tomato plants were hit hard late in the summer.
Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard said she may apply again for permission to conduct an agricultural burn in the spring if the weather is cooperative. It was an easy project to prepare for in 2006, she said, since no paperwork was required. This time around she needed to fill out state forms and produce a Burn Plan.
According to the UMass Extension at the College of Natural Sciences, “The fungus Phytophthora infestans needs live tissue to survive. Potato tubers that are infected with late blight and don’t freeze or decay during the winter can carry the pathogen over the winter to next spring.” Tomatoes, on the other hand, will not carry the blight over the winter because freezing kills the whole plant. The pathogen will be killed on any infected material above ground that is exposed to freezing temperatures. Late blight does not survive on gardening equipment, including tomato cages. Farmers can follow the checklist on Table 1 to avoid exposure to the blight next spring. ∆
Table 1. Checklist for next planting season
• Plant only healthy-appearing tomato transplants: no dark lesions on leaves or stems.
• Air-dry freshly harvested seed at least 3 days before planting.
• Destroy volunteer tomatoes and potatoes.
• Avoid wetting foliage.
• Space, stake, and prune tomato plants to provide good air circulation.
• Try resistant cultivars such as: “Legend,” “Red Cherry,” “Sweetie,” or “Matt’s Wild Cherry.”
© 2009 The