It’s been strange and untypical weather this Spring. A March as warm as June followed a very dry winter. In May, we had more thunderstorms than I think I’ve encountered in the rest of my lifetime, and periodic rain has continued into June. Wonderful weather for bringing the garden on. Wonderful weather for bringing on the various fungal diseases that thrive in warm, damp, humid conditions …
We’ve watched others in the valley and around spraying frantically and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference. Their crops are infected just the same. And inevitably, after more Smith and Beaumont periods in a month than you could shake a stick at, not to mention a downpour that gave the lush canopy a centre parting, I finally discovered potato blight (Phytophthora infestans).
The only thing to do in this instance was to cut the haulms before the blight had a chance to find its way into the tubers, even though there was no sign of imminent flowering.
After doing so, I dug down into a corner of the potato bin to see what we’d managed to grow from one plant. It was quite some depth before I encountered the first tuber. I had to dig down to the level of the lowest 2 planks. Good news from the point of view of the blight reaching the tubers. Bad news from the angle of proving the theory behind the vertical cultivation of potatoes.
This is what I harvested from this one plant. The potatoes are good, but there are few signs of any inclination to produce offshoots any higher up the stems than the first 20cm or so. If this is typical of the rest of the crop, then there are some questions to be answered. Is the lack of tuber-producing offshoots down to the premature harvest? The variety we grew? The environmental conditions which brought the potatoes on so fast? Other factors which I haven’t considered? Any combination of the above?
Reading up on potato blight, I was immediately struck by the fact that blight is not a problem affecting wild varieties of potato. It struck me because I’d made the same observation concerning the grapes on the quinta. All the cultivated vines are showing signs of black rot (Guignardia bidwellii), another fungal disease that thrives in warm humid conditions, but in cases where the vines have reverted to a wilder state in uncontrolled growth from the roots, there is no sign of disease and the growing fruit is abundant and healthy.
Perhaps this is the lesson here? Rather than fight the processes of natural selection, we should simply adapt our tastes to the healthier, wilder varieties?