Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hamilton Spectator, September 17th/09

Whether you pronounce it toe-mato or tu-mato, call the late-summer staple mostly gone.

Blight has wiped out many crops, leaving consumers scrambling to find tomatoes, particularly the Roma variety that is preserved for sauces.

"We've taken a $30,000 hit," said Melanie Golba, who owns plan b Organic Farms in Flamborough. "We had to plow under all of our two acres and that's a lot of tomatoes."

Golba said a wet summer meant it was the worst growing season for the crop in 13 years.

Some who used fungicides survived the blight, and are fielding calls from across southern Ontario.

"I've got four acres that are 100 per cent clean because I sprayed on a seven- to 10-day schedule," said Jeff Tigchelaar of Tigchelaar Berry Farms in Binbrook.

He heeded Ontario Ministry of Agriculture warnings that a wet summer could mean blight this month, and also planted in raised beds to keep roots above the soggiest soil.

The blight is the same disease that caused the Irish potato famine in the 1840s which resulted in the death or flight of millions of Irish. Tomatoes and potatoes are both members of the nightshade plant family.

The late-season blight can destroy a crop within two days given ideal conditions for the disease, cool nights with dew and warm days.

"It's been a bad season for many vegetables because of all the rain," said Imran Mian of Hamilton Farm Market, adding the hit on the Roma tomato crop has distressed many in the city's Italian community.

They can find Romas at Simpler Thyme Farm in Flamborough, but prices have jumped to $20 a bushel from $16 last year.

Owner Ana Lanigan said she was able to save half the crop, but salvaged just five bushels of heirloom tomatoes from 2,000 plants.

Karen Burson of Eat Local Hamilton said the poor crop makes it tough to find alternatives.

"I've tried sweet potato and beets as an alternative to make spaghetti sauce and believe me, nothing replaces tomatoes."


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