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Late blight back in Vermont - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Late blight back in Vermont

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STARKSBORO, Vt. -

Jake Mendell is co-owner of Footprint Farm in Starksboro, a small organic operation. He noticed something was wrong with his tomato crop Wednesday.

"Two days ago we saw it hitting three or four of our plants and then yesterday noticed it moving through a few more," Mendell said.

He sent a sample off to the University of Vermont and it was confirmed-- he has late blight, which means his tomato season is done.

"It means basically game over for the year," Mendell said.

Late blight is the disease that caused the potato famine in the 1840s. It is a very aggressive pathogen that targets tomatoes and potatoes. It moves up from southern states almost every year, hitchhiking on storm fronts, leapfrogging its way to Vermont.

"It has a very lightweight spore, sporangia, so it is carried on air currents, then it rains out on storm events. So just depending where you are your garden may get rained on by these spores and your neighbor two miles away may not get it," said Ann Hazelrigg of the UVM plant diagnostic clinic. "Based on scattered thunder showers, but that is how it usually how it moves up is on storm fronts."

Hazelrigg tests samples sent to her lab at UVM from farmers wanting to find out what's killing their crops.

"So this is what I am seeing under the microscope," Hazelrigg explained. "It's a big lemon-shaped sporangia with a little pedestal right on the top. So once I see that, I know I have the disease."

The good news is it is almost impossible for late blight to winter over in Vermont. So once you pull up the plant and kill it, it will kill the spores, too. But there is one exception-- potatoes left underground all winter long.

"So we recommend if people do have it on their potato plants, make sure they kill any volunteers that come up in the spring, because that is a potential place because those tubers are living tissue so it can survive in them," Hazelrigg explained.

She says it is OK to eat produce from these plants, but for farmer Jake Mendell, the damage has been done.

"It's significant; I don't really have a number," Mendell said. "The biggest bummer is that tomatoes take so much time to trellis and get ready for the year, and right when they are starting to come on they are all dead in two or three days. That's tough."

But Mendell says that is exactly why he diversifies, hoping other vegetables will help fill the void left behind by late blight.

If you have questions about late blight you can contact the UVM Extension Master Gardener program -- www.uvm.edu/mastergardener -- 1-800-639-2230.

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