Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting Rid of Blossom End Rot

It has been a couple of days since my blossom end rot post, and I’ve taken some steps to hopefully resolve the issue.

First, I would like to thank everyone who responded here and elsewhere with suggestions to correct this problem. The consensus (which also corresponded to my almost constant reading and research on the topic over the past week or so) is that it’s primarily a watering problem, which is in turn causing a calcium deficiency. Luckily, this seems like a fairly straightforward issue to correct. 

Mulch (not pictured), calcium spray, and soil tester to the rescue!
 I was talking to some experienced gardeners who said that in their experience a little less water than needed with tomatoes is better than a little more. For one thing they will have more flavor. This makes sense, as any strawberry lover can attest to. The hotter and drier the summer, the sweeter and more intense the berries. A wet soggy spring usually equals tasteless, watery berries. Also, they tend to be able to deal with dry conditions more than overly soggy ones. Of course, consistency is best!

As I was hearing this I remembered how I spent at least a full minute soaking each tomato plant’s dirt with the hose this summer. Until this weekend, I had operated under the theory that you can’t overwater a tomato that lives in a container, but I had also never had containers that were an appropriate size for what I was growing. Thus, I could soak my 5 gallon bucket all day long if I wanted, and the 4 poor tomato plants packed inside would never develop blossom end rot. This year, I had taken special care not to overcrowd, and had provided 11.5 gallon containers for them, which were very capable of holding excess moisture if watered improperly. Suddenly, it all started to make sense. I knew I needed to take some steps to control the moisture as well as I could. 

Carnival Mix pepper plant happily mulched and ready to produce some yet to be determined color of bell pepper!
 First, I decided to mulch the containers. Mulch not only protects the soil from sun and wind, but it also tends to stay damp and hold the moisture in. So far, it has worked well, as my soil moisture tester has read right in the middle for the past 3 days with very little watering, even though it has been quite hot out on the porch (more on that later). I have been very careful to only water plants on the low end of the “moist” scale and then just a small amount of water. My goal is for the moisture in the containers to be right in the middle as much of the time as possible. At least this should provide some consistency to the plants so that they can effectively utilize the calcium lurking deep in the potting mix.

Liquified calcium spray
Second, I bought a calcium spray and applied it to the plants over the weekend. I wanted to give them a shot of calcium in addition to the mulch and my more consistent attention to their watering needs. You mix it with water and spray it directly onto the leaves of the plant. From what I’ve read, the plants absorb it directly through their leaves quite well, so we shall see. I know it has its detractors (mostly people who say that the problem will be corrected by maturing plants and/or more consistent watering, but it will look like the spray “fixed” it) but it can’t really hurt. At this point, I want a black krim this season, and I’m coming out with all guns blazing against this blossom end rot. I didn’t do all this work to keep throwing away dozens of tomatoes!

Trusty old soil tester
This brings me to another point about watering: I hadn’t really been using my soil tester before. It’s not that I didn’t have one; it was just sitting nicely in a bucket on the floor of the closet. In fact, I watered and watered and watered the plants, probably overcompensating for the sun, wind, and heat on the porch. This likely caused the swings in moisture that left me with blossom end rot. As I mentioned before, I’ve had my tomatoes wilt on an almost daily basis in previous years due to inferior soil, overcrowding, and containers that were too small, and rarely if ever suffered much loss from blossom end rot (maybe a tomato here and there, but nothing worth mentioning or worrying about). This is the first year that I have a hose handy and I’m not hauling buckets, and it may have actually worked against me in that regard. Now, I test the soil in each pot before I water, and I don’t water if the moisture reading is in the middle (which seems to be an ideal moisture level for most plants).

Finally, a word on the temperature. Today, which was not an especially hot day (it topped off around 80 here today) I set a thermometer on the floor of the porch next to my pepper pots. The picture below tells the story: it got a LOT hotter than I expected. 126 degrees to be exact! There is really nothing I can do about that; we live upstairs and the porch doesn’t have a roof, so hopefully the roots of the plants stay somewhat comfortable.

Yikes! It gets HOT out there on the porch!
I will say that the plants themselves all look great, and the tomatoes are now almost all 6 feet tall and growing like mad. Hopefully my issue was just overwatering and then letting things get too dry before overwatering again. Since we are not going on any out of town trips of any length for a good 6-7 weeks, I should be able to monitor every day and water only when needed.

Finally, the best news of all is that the black krim plant has about 20 small tomatoes on it, and I do not see any blossom end rot on those yet. The green zebra is absolutely loaded with tomatoes, and none seem affected. The mystery heirlooms are not as productive yet, so maybe that is a good thing since they are just starting to flower and set fruit now. Hopefully these proactive steps will help keep the dreaded blossom end rot at bay, and in no time at all I’ll be posting photos of a delicious, ripe, black krim sliced and ready to enjoy!

Until next time, happy gardening!

No comments:

Post a Comment