Met Eireann has issued a potato blight warning for the entire country this week and I’m currently freaking the hell out about what’s going to happen to my poor spuds.
A few people have asked me today what to do to protect their spuds when there a blight warning in effect so here’s my esteemed advice: fucking set everything on fire and run away screaming.
Seriously. We’re all screwed.
— FionaGrowsFood 🌿 (@FionaGrowsFood) June 1, 2018
However, if you are one of the weirdos who has decided not to completely overreact (ie, me) and just hope for the best, I figured I’d tell you a little bit about blight and how to deal with it if your spuds get the potato plant equivalent of the ebola virus.
First things first, what the hell is blight?
Have you only ever heard of potato blight in school when learning about the famine? Well, we all know that blight caused the worst famine in Europe when it destroyed all of our potato crops here in Ireland between 1845-1852. Which was not helped at all by the bastard Brits who stole all our other crops and hoofed all the Irish out of their gaffs and into workhouses and coffin ships, and caused the deaths of over a million people. Not that I’m bitter about the genocide of my people or anything.
Anyway look, I’ve written at length about the famine on the blog before so I won’t go into it here. Even though I’d love nothing more than a nice old bitch about the English (sorry if you’re English, I know it’s not your fault….kind of)
But blight is a problem that still plagues us here in Ireland, mostly because of our weather. Potato blight is caused by an airborne fungus called Phytophthora Infestans. Catchy name right? It spreads rapidly through the air during periods of warm, humid weather. Wind carries the fungal spores from plant to plant and rain can soak the spores into your soil and cause them to spread.So, while the rest of Ireland is currently basking in the glorious 25 degree heat we’ve been having the past week, food growers all over the country are having bleedin’ panic attacks because heat, rain and sunshine is pretty much peak blight weather.
Does it just affect potatoes?
Nope. Yay. Phytophthora infestans can infect any plants from the solanaceae family (which is also known as the nightshade family). So blight can also infect tomatoes, aubergines and peppers too.
And if you’re for some mad reason growing tobacco, it’ll affect that too.
Also, call me.
What are the symptoms?
Right, here’s how to tell if your spuds have blight. It’s really important to keep a close eye on them over the next week for these tell tale signs.
Leaves: The leaves on your plants will begin to develop brown patches. Kind of like freckles, which may be only gorgeous on people like myself, but spell disaster for your spuds. The brown patches will also get yellow patches spreading from them.
Tubers: The potato tubers will develop really dark patches within a few days and the inside of your potato will turn into a (no better way to say this) fucking disgusting slimy blob of rotting flesh. Gorgeous. They will be the most disgusting thing you have ever smelled in your life. Yes, even worse than that one dude you know who never showers. My advice: wear a gas mask.
Can you prevent it?
In a nutshell, no. Sorry.
Well ok, there are some things you can do to lessen your chances of getting blight. You can of course, spray your crops with a blight preventative treatment but you all know how I feel about using chemicals in the garden.
So no, I do not spray my spuds. Which is probably why I always bloody get blight. Always. I’m cursed. It’s probably an Irish thing.
Otherwise, and I’d recommend this, you can plant a variety of potato that has a high blight resistance. There are loads of varieties of spud that have blight resistance and while it will not prevent blight, planting one of the blight resistant varieties will at least stave off the blight for longer (is the word blight beginning to lose all meaning for you yet?). Sarpo Mira and Coleen are both really tasty spuds with high blight resistance so they’re worth trying.
But what if it’s too late for all that? What do I do if my spuds do get blight?
As I said, just bleedin’ set them alight and run.
Or, if you’re a more balanced human being than myself and see signs of blight on your leaves, you can cut down the foliage of your spuds to the ground. This will prevent the blight from travelling to the tubers. Just make sure to get rid of the leaves and whatever you do, don’t put them in your compost because then you’ll just have compost that is full of blight and you’ll get it again next year.
Leave the tubers in the ground for about two or three weeks, then you can lift them. They’ll be tiny spuds but at least they’ll be spuds and not just mushy piles of rank slime.
I took a break from growing potatoes last year because I’d been plagued with blight for two years running and my heart was broke with it. I thought I’d grow them again this year because I just missed them so damn much. But now I’m in a state of panic. Not that I’m melodramatic or anything…
If you do keep getting blight, it helps to take a break from growing potatoes. The recommended gap is three years but, well, fuck that noise. Growing potatoes is just too much fun to take that long of a break from. I really missed them last year.
You could try growing them in grow bags at home or something instead if you don’t want to take a break, sometimes simply moving the problem can help.
So, just keep an eye on your
children potatoes and hope for the best.
And there’s always the burn it all to the ground option if everything else fails. Sorted.