The recent prolonged spell of wet weather has meant that potato blight has devastated our potatoes and outdoor tomatoes. Again. It's singularly dispiriting to look at the mark of the beast all over that formerly healthy foliage and it's hard not to feel that some sort of divine retribution is involved. Since this picture was taken, things have got a whole lot worse. I could wax lyrical about suppurating sores, expanding lesions and stem collapse, but I'll spare you the gory details.
Cornwall does seem to be an evolving centre for Phytophthora diversity - I suppose our moist, mild and humid climate is responsible for that. Potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) has been around for a long time, although it has recently undergone rapid evolution due to the rampant coupling of the original A1 strain with A2, which arrived in 1978. This unholy union produces oodles of oospores, the tough walled, overwintering products of sexual reproduction. These germinate to give all sorts of charming new variants, ready to attack previously "blight resistant" varieties. I'm hoping that Tom Wagner and his worldwide web of collaborators will be able to develop some new varieties of both potatoes and tomatoes to deal with this challenge.
We also have Phytophthora ramorum, the ominously-named Sudden Oak Death, which, ironically, has mainly been killing rhododendrons. Lately it has jumped hosts and is now attacking Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi), an important forestry tree hereabouts. On a recent train ride along the edge of Bodmin Moor, I could easily see the damage - trees with brown crowns, releasing millions of highly infective spores. Some 250 hectares of Japanese larch are due to be felled in this region, in an attempt to contain the spread of the disease. If it's anything like potato blight, I expect that it's already too late. And let's not forget - we have our very own Cornish Phytophthora - P. kernoviae, first described from the Truro area in 2003. Its favorite host is, at present, the rhododendron, which is plentiful, in both the wild form (Rhododendron ponticum) and numerous ornamental varieties. It also likes beech and magnolias. Owners of historic Cornish gardens must be quaking in their boots.
The Peruvian Purple potatoes were the first to go - we'll lift them a bit later. I was more interested in trying Rote Emma. This is a pink-skinned, pink fleshed variety that was given to me by Ulrike Paradine. I know very little about it, other than it tastes delicious. Unfortunately the slugs seem to agree, so an early harvest might not be such a bad thing. Thanks, Phytophthora.
Here are some Rote Emmas fresh out of the ground. Blight-blasted foliage removed for the sake of propriety.
Here they are after a bit of a wash, with a cut tuber to show the flesh colour. I expect they're full of healthy antioxidants.
And last but not least, boiled, with a pat of artery-clogging Cornish butter. Comfort eating at a time of crisis.