Blossom End Rot. Just the mention of it elicits all kinds of negative responses from vegetable gardeners. Those negative responses can involve frustration, anger and even curse words. For those of us veggie gardeners that start our tomatoes from seed, here is a typical progression of the season: You plant the seed in a nice warm, well lit area in your home so that it can get a good head start. You nurture that plant until it’s warm enough to be planted outside. You harden it off before planting. You amend the soil and finally it’s time to plant. You take great care planting it and water it in well so that it isn’t stressed in its first few days in the garden. You water the plant until it’s time to stake it. You stake it so the fruits wouldn’t be damaged from touching the ground. You continue to water it and then that magic moment happens. The green fruits ripen to a beautiful red and you go to pick your first tomato of the season. THIS is what you’ve waited for all season. All of your hard work culminates with…a tomato that has a big rotten spot on the end. Ughhhh!
Blossom end rot, otherwise known as BER, occurs on the “blossom end” of your fruit…the end opposite the stem. And lest that you think it only occurs on tomatoes, it can also happen on peppers. There are two main things that pre-dispose your tomatoes and peppers to BER. The first is a calcium deficiency in the soil. Calcium is needed for cell growth and if there isn’t enough calcium in the soil to “feed” the expanding fruit, the cell walls collapse and you end up with a mushy mess. The other major concern is soil moisture. That is directly related to the calcium issue. Nice and even soil moisture makes for nice and even tomatoes (does that description even make sense?) But alas, life is not perfect and we end up forgetting to water or God doesn’t provide enough rainfall to meet our tomatoes’ needs. Or we end up with a deluge of water like the central Virginia area did this past weekend. We received 5″ of rain! Five i-n-c-h-e-s of rain. I am beyond thankful for the rain after our many days of 100 degree weather and 0″ of rain. But…it won’t be good for the tomatoes.
So what can you do to prevent blossom end rot? There are several ways that you can reduce your chances of squishy, yucky ended tomatoes and peppers:
- Amend your soil so that it contains more organic matter. Organic matter helps to regulate soil moisture and that will help to prevent BER.
- At planting time, add a handful or two of Epsom salts to the planting hole. Epsom salts contains a readily available form of calcium that the plant can uptake. We did this last year (we forgot this year) and we had a great tomato season. This year…the tomatoes have blossom end rot.
- Mulch. Mulch, mulch, mulch. Again, it helps to regulate soil moisture. With even moisture comes those nice and even tomatoes we talked about earlier.
- Water evenly. I know that this is easier said than done but it really does help. While you can’t prevent 5″ of rain from reaching your plants (but then again, why would you want to?), you can help even out the dry times. Water deeply 2-3 times per week instead of lightly everyday. By watering deeply, you encourage your plants’ roots to dig deeper in the soil in search of H2O.
There’s one other thing that I wanted to mention about blossom end rot: if your fruits are infected, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat them. Certainly don’t eat the squishy part…but the rest of the fruit is fine. They can be used in anything from sandwiches to salads to canning. They still taste delicious. If you have animals like pigs or chickens, offer them a change of pace with the bad ends. The pigs will turn all of those nasty ends into delicious bacon and the chickens will reward you with “hen fruit”. Yummmm….
So what has been your experience with blossom end rot this year? Mine has been that it’s a definite problem. Do you have any other remedies or ideas that you’d like to introduce to other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. Happy gardening!