FARMINGTON — Before planting tomatoes and potatoes this summer, home gardeners and commercial growers are being offered an opportunity to learn more about the plant disease late blight, which affected crops across the state last year.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Franklin County, will hold a workshop at 6:30 p.m. April 12 in Roberts Learning Center, Room 305, at the University of Maine at Farmington.
“Late blight was devastating to home gardeners and commercial growers last summer,” said Dave Fuller, extension educator from the Franklin County office. “The workshop will help gardeners learn more about the disease and understand how to prevent it. It is preventable if everybody cooperates.”
Tomatoes and potatoes were the most affected last summer. Peppers and eggplant fall in the same nightshade grouping but weren’t harmed, he said.
An especially wet summer fostered the spread, he said. Seedlings, already infected, brought up from the south and distributed through stores in Maine and the Northeast started the spread. Diseased spores can be windblown traveling up to 40 miles. Summer storms come up from the South spreading from southern Maine up across the state to potato land, he said.
The disease has visited before. A master-gardener in Franklin County was the first to spot an outbreak about eight years ago but it wasn’t as bad as last year, Fuller said. The potato famine in the mid-1800s was attributed to late blight.
Affected plants get greasy-looking spots and when a leaf is turned over, it has a fuzzy-growth underneath, which is the reproductive part of it, he said.
Late blight needs a living host, like potatoes, as a vector for the disease. Infected potatoes can harbor the disease over the winter. The disease survives and spreads from potatoes left in the ground, either by accident or those not harvested after the plant died last year, he said.
It doesn’t necessarily have to happen again this year “if people are diligent and we get good information out about how to prevent it,” he said. A dry warm summer would also help. Moist conditions and wet leaves caused havoc.
The workshop is geared toward “learning about the invisible spores and becoming better gardeners so we can grow tomatoes again,” he said.
There is a $5 fee payable the night of the class. Anyone with a disability who needs accommodations to attend should call the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Franklin County office at 778-4650 at least five days in advance.