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

 

 

 

Tree Stump Flower Bed

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Photo by Wanette Lenling

 

What if you could transform a tree stump from an eye sore into a focal point?  A tree stump flower bed is an inexpensive fix to an unsightly tree stump, adding height and variety to the landscape.  It can also serve as a raised planter for those individuals restricted by physical limitations.

Here is what you’ll need for this inexpensive project:

  • safety glasses
  • leather gloves
  • chicken wire
  • wire cutters
  • hammer
  • 1 nail (any size)
  • garden twine
  • fencing staples
  • permanent marker
  • potting soil
  • Sphagnum moss
  • annual flowers, herbs, or vegetables of your choice

Step 1.  Put on your safety glasses.  Tap a nail anywhere into the side of the stump.  Attach the twine to the nail and circle the stump with the twine back to the nail.  Mark the twine with the permanent marker where it meets the nail.  Remove the twine and the nail from the stump.  Add approximately two inches onto the length of twine.  This will equal the length of chicken wire you will need to complete this project.

Step 2.  Roll the chicken wire out on the ground.  Wearing gloves and using wire cutters, carefully cut the chicken wire to the length of the twine. Discard the twine and take the chicken wire to the stump.  Encircle the top of the stump with the length of chicken wire. Approximately 10 to 12 inches of chicken wire should be sticking up above the top of the stump. The lower half of the chicken wire should encircle the stump.  This creates the “pot” or container in which to grow your plants.  Bend the freshly cut ends of the chicken wire to hook the chicken wire to itself to make an enclosed circle of chicken wire around the top of the stump.  Holding the chicken wire in place, use fencing staples to fasten the wire to the stump.  Make any adjustments necessary and use as many fencing staples as needed to ensure the chicken wire fits snugly and securely to the stump.

Step 3.  Use the sphagnum moss to line the inside of the chicken wire container on top of the stump. It may help to wet the moss slightly. The moss will hold the dirt inside your new planter. Once the inside of the container is lined with plenty of sphagnum moss, pour enough potting soil on top of the stump to fill the chicken wire container to a depth of at least 8 to 10 inches.  Remember the potting soil will settle so pat it down and add more if necessary.  To settle the soil, it may help to wet it slightly. To help retain moisture and reduce the need to water your new planter, add moisture crystals to the potting mix according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Also, mix well composted manure, compost, or slow release fertilizer into the potting soil to keep your plants well fed all season long.

Step 4.  Finally, plant your annuals, herbs, or vegetables in your new planter to create a beautiful new focal point or handy raised planter in your yard or garden.  Use creeping plants such as sweet potato vine or alyssum to spill down the sides of your new planter or weave any flexible woody vine, like woodbine or grapevine, through the chicken wire to give your new planter the appearance of a basket.

Create, create, create!  Experiment and try new ideas with your tree stump flower bed.  There are thousands of ways to create and fill your new planter.  Your imagination is your only limit!

Happy gardening!