Ew! Why Is the Bottom of My Tomato Rotten?

If the tomato is still on the vine and the bottom is black or brown and looks rotten,  it is likely a condition called blossom-end rot. Blossom-end rot is  a calcium deficiency in the plant.  This condition can affect tomatoes but it can also affect peppers, squash, eggplant, cucumber, and melons. Look for the tell-tale signs of black or brown rotten spots on the fruit or vegetable.  If you are experiencing this in your garden, don’t worry, you aren’t alone.  Most gardeners have had to deal with this issue at some point in time.

(Note. Affected fruits and vegetables should be not be consumed and should be discarded.)

What Causes Blossom-end rot?

Blossom-end rot is a condition in which there is a lack of calcium in the plant.  There are several possible causes for this issue to develop including the following:

  1.  The soil lacks calcium.
  2. The calcium in the soil  is plentiful but is chemically bound up and unavailable to your plant.
  3. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen derived from ammonia.
  4. Inconsistent moisture levels.

 What is the solution to Blossom-end rot?

Soil PH.  First check the soil ph. If the ph of the soil is wrong, adding more calcium to the soil won’t help.  Testing kits  that check soil ph can be purchased at most garden stores or online for under $10.00.  Follow the directions on the package to test your soil.  Ideally your soil should have a ph of 6.5 to 6.8.  If the ph is not within this range, certain nutrients, like calcium,  will be chemically bound up and unavailable for absorption. If your test shows a ph higher than 6.8, then your soil is alkaline and you will need to add sulfur to lower the ph.  If the ph is lower than 6.5, then you have acidic soil and you will need to add lime to raise the ph. Lime has the added benefit in that it actually contains calcium that your plants can use.

Lack of Calcium.  Second, if you tested the soil and the soil ph is not the problem, then the problem may be a lack of calcium in the soil. Even though as previously stated, lime contains calcium, if the soil ph is within the 6.5 to 6.8 range, then adding lime will throw off the ph.  In this case, add gypsum.  Gypsum adds calcium and it will not change the soil ph, however, it will add salt so follow the directions on the package.  Too much salt in the soil adds a whole new set of problems to the garden that you don’t want.

For a longer term solution to calcium deficiency in your soil, add bone meal or egg shells to the garden.  Both bone meal and eggs shells are comprised of calcium.  These organic forms of calcium need time to break down into a source that is usable by plants so it may take a year or more before results can be seen.

Fertilizer.  Third, the problem may lie with your fertilizer. Fertilizers with a lot of nitrogen, especially nitrogen derived from ammonia, cause the plant to grow too fast and the plant is not able to absorb enough calcium to keep up with its growth rate.  I always suggest organic fertilizers and compost.  These fertilizers come from natural sources and add nutrients and trace minerals slowly  and in amounts that your plants need for proper growth. Synthetic slow release fertilizers are also a good option as they are easy to apply and they slowly release the nutrients your plants need over the course of the growing season. Synthetic liquid fertilizers must be applied again and again over the growing season, they tend to add salt to the soil, and they also promote unnatural growth in plants so I don’t usually recommend them for in-ground gardens. (Container plants are the exception for synthetic liquid fertilizers.)

Watering.  Finally, make sure that you are keeping your garden consistently moist.  Alternating between wet conditions and then extreme dry conditions may interfere with your plant’s ability to absorb calcium.  This is especially true in potted plants. To keep your garden consistently moist it is important to water your garden adequately, regularly, and in the proper amounts.  Watering will depend on the weather and your soil.  Heavy clay soil tends to hold moisture and sandy soil tends to dry out too quickly by wicking water away. Both types of soils should be amended with generous amounts of compost to add organic matter, improve soil quality, and help maintain moisture levels for healthy vital garden plants.

To keep soil consistently moist, soaker hose works best and is easy to use.  Soaker hose is usually black in color and it’s porous.  The water in the hose slowly drips from the entire length of the hose.  Lay the soaker hose along the length of your plant row and turn the water on for about 20 minutes to slowly water your plants.   This time may need to be adjusted depending on your soil structure.  The ground should be wet several inches down but don’t allow standing water to form that doesn’t soak in within a short period of time.  That means there is too much water. Check the soil every few days.  If the soil looks dry on top and it’s dry if you stick your finger in the ground about 2 inches, then water again.

Sprinklers are commonly used to water gardens.  Sprinklers provide adequate water but they can cause problems with disease, especially fungal issues. If you use a sprinkler, always water your garden in the morning. This allows the plants to dry fully before the afternoon sun hits. Watering your garden in the hot afternoon sun  can cause burns (called sun scald) on your plants. Watering at night is also not recommended as it allows water to sit on the plants for a length of time which encourages disease and rot. Watering in the morning is best and can be made more convenient by the use of timers that can be purchased at garden stores or online.

Blossom-end rot is a condition that is easily controlled if you know why it happens and the step to take to cure it.  Every gardener will deal with this issue at some time.  If it happens to you, throw out the infected fruit, go through the steps to check the cause and apply the appropriate remedy.  In no time at all, you’ll have beautiful tomatoes growing in your garden ready to pick for that amazing evening dish!

Happy Gardening!

 

Quote of the Day

“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.”  – Brian O’Driscoll

 

 

 

The CobraHead, An Amazing Garden Tool

As a gardener, I am always looking for new ways  to do things better, faster, and easier in the garden. And it’s just a lot of fun to experiment and try new ideas and tools. I  recently tried a new tool called the CobraHead.  It is a multi-use tool that is designed to dig, furrow, weed, and turn the earth.

 

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The tool has an unusual appearance with its tip in the shape of its name sake, a snake’s head. It has a solid comfortable handle made with durable materials, including recycled materials, according to the manufacturer.  The handle of the tool is large and easy to hold. The weight is balanced and the tool feels substantial in your hand.

The CobraHead is an amazingly simple yet effective tool. I used it to weed a small garden bed and it was very quick and efficient, without tiring my arm or hand. The shape of the tool makes it easy to get near the base of your plant to weed without injuring the plant.

I wanted to test the tool on a tougher job so I used it to actually dig up a new bed, tearing out weeds and grass to prepare the soil for petunias. Amazingly, it took me only about 20 minutes to dig up a new bed that is approximately six feet by three feet in size. I also used the tool to dig the holes to plant the petunias. The tool is extremely versatile which is what I really like about it.

I am very comfortable using the original CobraHead garden tool. For a woman, I have large hands with long strong fingers. In contrast, a gardening friend of mine has smaller hands and shorter fingers than I do. She also has several physical handicaps including the after effects of a recent stroke that affected her dominant hand.   She was very impressed with the mini CobraHead tool, a smaller version of the original tool,  which was easier for her to hold and lighter for her to use.  She was as impressed as I was with the tool’s versatility and ease of use.

The CobraHead tool is an easy to use, versatile gardening tool that can be used to dig, furrow, weed, and plant. It’s been a wonderful addition to my gardening tool kit.  It’s now my go-to tool. Check out the website for the CobraHead garden tool at https://www.cobrahead.com/

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“There can be no other occupation like gardening in which, if you were to creep up behind someone at their work, you would find them smiling.”

-Mirabel Osler

 

 

 

 

 

Planting in Autumn. Time for Tulips!

Yes, Fall is for planting and its right around the corner so its time to start planning.  Fall is the time for planting tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, alliums, and many, many more beautiful spring-flowering bulbs. Many bulbs must be cooled for a period of time in order to sprout so they need to be planted in Autumn. Over the winter the bulbs are naturally cooled or frozen in the ground and then sprout in the spring when the sun warms the ground. Now is the time to plan for your Fall plantings so your spring garden is bright and beautiful.

Planting bulbs is a very easy process.  When you purchase bulbs,  the bulbs will generally come packed in a bag or box with wood chips, wood fibers, or some other inert absorbant organic material. Planting directions  will be either in or on the package.  Read the directions carefully.  You must plant your bulb at the correct depth or they will not thrive. Bulbs also need to be placed in the ground correctly.  Bulbs have a top and a bottom.  For example, a tulip bulb is pointed on the top (where the greens sprout from) and flatter on the bottom (where the roots will extend from). The bulb will not thrive and may perish if it is not placed in the hole the right way and at the correct depth so make sure you read the instructions before planting so your plants reward your hard work with a fabulous display of color in the spring.

tulip bulbs
tulip bulbs: photo curtesy of youcanlearnseries.com

Bone meal is an excellent fertilizer for spring flowering bulbs as it adds phosphorous to the soil which is the nutrient that’s responsible for producing larger and more beautiful flowers.  However, bone meal is exactly what its name implies.  It is made from the bones of slaughtered animals, usually cattle.  It is an organic fertilizer but if you are adverse to using animal remains in your garden, try adding bat guano (bat poo) or poultry/pig manure to your soil.  Manure based fertilizers add phosphorous and nitrogen to the soil. Nitrogen is a necessary nutrient for plants, however, nitrogen encourages the greens of the plant to grow, in detriment to flower production, so limit the amount of nitrogen you add to your soil for your bulbs or you may end up with fabulous greens and no flowers!

Some critters, like squirrels and deer, will dig up or eat your bulbs. Using bone meal as a fertilizer on your bulbs tends to deter herbivores (plant eaters) from digging or munching in the area where you planted your bulbs because of what it is made of.  There are also some manufactured deterants, in the form of  sprays and granules, that will deter animals from digging or eating your bulbs.  Before purchasing these products, read the directions to understand how to use the product and whether the product is potentially hazardous.  Also be aware that some of these products use foul smelling substances to deter animals so using the product near your home or commonly used area may create a rather obnoxiously fragrant (stinky!) nuisance.

There are also DIY projects that are easy to install that deter animals from digging your bulbs. Chicken wire is an excellent solution, especially for large beds containing bulbs.  Plant your bulbs as normal, covering the bulbs with soil. Then lay chicken wire over the ground on top of the area where the bulbs are planted. Hold the chicken wire down with rocks or other decorative items or place a layer of mulch or dirt over the wire to hide it and hold it down. Animals will not be able to dig through the chicken wire and your bulbs will remain safe and happy tucked away in their new bed.

Another simple way of protecting bulbs is to create or purchase a wire basket with a wire lid that is large enough to hold your bulbs.  Dig a hole in the ground large enough to hold the basket.  Plant the bulbs in the ground inside the basket and close the lid. Hide the lid with a nice layer of mulch or soil.  The bulbs are now planted in the ground safe inside the wire basket away from the wildlife that would love to dig them up.

Bulb cage

Bulb cage DIY project found on http://www.instructables.com/id/Gardeners-underground-bulb-cage/

Fall is coming quickly so start planning now.  It will be so worth it in the spring when your newly planted bulbs flower and that dull corner of your yard glows with radiant color.

 

 

I love Breck’s bulbs. Check out brecks.com for a variety of spring flowering bulbs. Breck’s has a wonderful selection of high quality spring flowering bulbs and they have a lifetime guarantee on their products.

As always, have fun and be creative. Gardening is an ongoing experiment. There is no right or wrong. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day:

“The fairest thing in nature, a flower, still has its roots in earth and manure.”

– D.H. Lawrence

Compost. What’s the Big Deal?

First, what is compost?  Compost is simply organic matter, such as grass clippings and leaves, that have been decomposed down to what looks like brown chunky dirt. Micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi, and macro-organisms such as insects and earth worms, are responsible for the decomposition process. The resulting decomposed organic matter contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are essential for healthy plant growth.  Think of it as giving a vitamin supplement to your favorite plant to make sure it stays vital and healthy.  Amending the soil with compost either before planting or adding it around your existing plants boosts the vitality of your landscaping. Your plants will thank you with beautiful flowers, abundant fruit, and healthy greens and roots.

Second, how do you compost?  Gardeners have many different methods of composting. No one way is the “right” way. Some gardeners build fence-like structures with removable walls to hold compost while others purchase compost tumblers that can be rotated 180 degrees to speed the compost process. Some gardeners take a hands-on approach to their compost by adding water, purchasing bacteria or worms,  adding specific percentages of brown or green organic matter, and turning the compost at specific intervals all in an effort to speed the composting process. These methods are absolutely effective in creating nutrient rich compost for your garden.

I am a simple gardener, however, and I like to let Nature do what it does naturally. Organic matter will naturally degrade over time without human intervention.  My compost pile is just that, a pile. I don’t turn it. I don’t amend it.  I simply pile leaves, garden refuse, and kitchen scraps on the pile and let nature take over. (But, my dog does take a hands-on approach every now and again in his attempt to find the tasty kitchen scraps!) Every spring, I dig at the bottom of the pile and I scrape fresh compost out with a shovel to spread in my garden. This method works for me but each gardener must choose the method that works for them.

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Compost pile: Picture by Wanette Lenling

Each gardener must determine if and how they are going to create their compost pile. Research different methods if you have never composted to see what would work best for you. Also be aware that some homeowner’s associations may not allow simple compost piles due to the messy look or smell, so the gardener may need to purchase a tumbler or build a bin in order to hide the compost. Experiment with the method that works best for you to create organic compost to add the essential nutrients to your soil for beautiful healthy plants.

For more complete and in-depth information on composting, check out this great website from the Illinois extension office. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/science.cfm

Happy Gardening!