This summer has not been an easy one for home gardeners. Usually August is the time when you feast on fresh peppers, cukes and beans from the garden, dig up zucchini bread recipes for squash that has grown to the size of a small child, and bite into fresh tomatoes of all colors and sizes. Not so this year. The long, wet days of May, June and July turned out to be ideal for an outbreak of the fungus-like oomycete pathogen Phytophthora infestans, literally translated from the Greek as "plant killer" but commonly referred to as Late Blight. Symptoms include brown spots on leaves, rotting fruit, and a fuzzy spore-like coating. It only attacks members of the Solanaceae family, but that includes two garden favorites: tomatoes and potatoes. If you suspect your garden may be infected, the experts at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station recommend removing the entire plant and placing it in a plastic bag-- do not compost it!
If this all sound vaguely familiar, it is: Phytophthora infestans was responsible for the great Potato Famine in Ireland in the 1840s. Much has been written about the famine and the Irish diaspora, both fact and fiction, and Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas Keneally's The Great Shame is one of the best. A monumental work, it tells the story of the Irish people who fled the famine and of their tragedy, survival, and ultimately triumph in the new world. Don't let the size of it put you off; Keneally's prose is as engaging as a good novel.
Flickr photo by martine266