March 2010
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Meet Juliet and Cosmonaut VolkovMeet Juliet and Cosmonaut Volkov

In the great,northeastern tomato die-off of 2009,when late blight,riding the cool,moisture-laden air of an exceptionally rainy summer,infected nearly every tomato plant in the region,two tomato varieties emerged as my heroes,enabling us to eat fresh tomatoes until Thanksgiving and even preserve some.  Juliet,the blight-resistant ”sweet plum cluster”tomato that has long been a favorite of mine,not surprisingly,was a winner.  Cosmonaut Volkov,a newcomer,lived up to his lofty name,pumping out loads of big,round juicy tomatoes that even picked green,ripened beautifully over the season.

Here’s my story of how the worst effects of blight were forestalled last year.  In July,hysteria about the spread of late blight grew steadily as reports of  infected farms and gardens rippled through the media and water cooler conversations.   A few days before I went away in early August,a neighbor’s tomatoes plants began to show watery,black spots on the leaves –the sign that the blight had arrived.  During my week away,I checked in for regular updates from home and researched the options for managing the inevitable blight infection.  Sure enough,I found black spots on the plants upon returning. 

In blast of resolve that could only be explained by my fretting from afar,I picked all the fruit, ripped out all the plants and seeded the beds with a cover crop.  All the tomatoes —green,red and in-between – were placed in shallow trays and baskets,and stored in an airy place.  The tomato plants and any affected fruit were tossed in the woods where they could feed the soil and where winter temperatures would destroy the disease organisms.  All tomato parts (including the cousins – peppers,eggplants and tomatillos) were kept out of the compost pile where the disease might winter over and I was careful not to dig up the potatoes for storage until the foliage had been killed by frost.

Did I over-react?  I don’t know.  Others prolonged the agony by removing blighted leaves and trying to keep their plants going for as long as possible.  All through August and September I second guesed my decision to destroy the plants.  But as the months went by and the green tomatoes kept ripening nicely in storage, my confidence in the drastic approach grew.     

Like all the other tomato varieties,both Julie and Cosmo were affected by blight but still produced a high volume of fruit, not only because of their slight advantage in resisting disease and their habit of producing well in less than optimal weather but also because they tend to set fruit in clusters.  We had enough ripe Juliets in late summer to make over a quart of dried tomatoes that have lasted through the winter.   I highly recommend both these varieties for Zone 4 gardeners,especially where summers are cool.

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