Until this year, I have not ever had a problem with blossom end rot in any of my crops. From what I understand, blossom end rot occurs in many different types of fruit-bearing plants. Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and squash are the most common plants which suffer from it in Indiana gardens. After doing a little research on the Purdue agricultural websites and talking to an extension agent (EA), I learned that the problem stems from plants not getting enough or not being able to use enough calcium.
While I am particularly interested in tomatoes, since this is the only plant I am experiencing blossom end rot, I am finding that only one variety of tomato that I planted is having the problem, the Big Mama hybrid. I planted both Big Mama (photo on the left) and Super Sauce (photo on the right) hybrid tomatoes from seed, this year. I planted the seed directly in the ground as soon as the soil was warm enough. I also bought German Lady, Rutgers, Lemon Boy, and Jet Star tomato plants, and have a few Roma and Cherry ROGUE (volunteer) plants, all of which are producing fruit with no problem with blossom end rot. Last year, I bought Super Sauce plants from Burpee Gardening, and they were, not only tasty tomatoes, but extra-large and with very little extra water and few seeds, so they are easy to use and provide little waste, with less effort, to make sauce and salsa. Super Sauce are heavy producing plants and do well in the Indiana climates. I decided to try the Big Mama tomatoes based on reviews of people who liked the Super Sauce, since it also produces extra large Roma-style fruits. So far, the Big Mama plants seem to be loaded with tomatoes, but I have lost dozens of them them to the blossom end rot.
Blossom end rot starts out looking like a brown water spot on a ceiling at the area that the flower blossom was when the tomato started growing. The end of the tomato dies off and dries up resulting in the bottom 1/3 to 1/2 of the tomato being discolored and hard.
I have been throwing the damaged tomatoes into the composter, but I read, today, that once the tomato turns red, some people just cut the bad part off and eat or use the rest of the tomato. Maybe I will try to use the good part of the tomato when this issue occurs just to see how it turns out. I stopped counting Big Mama tomatoes at 1200, this morning, and I would hate to throw away all of that goodness just because of the blossom end rot. It’s at least something to think about.
So what can be done about the blossom end rot? Well, it turns out that there is not a hard and fast answer to that. It depends on the reason it is occurring. For our gardens, it turns out that we have simply had so much water that the plants can’t keep up with or use the amount of calcium being flushed up into the affected plants. It happens that the rest of the tomato varieties we are growing happen to be blossom end rot resistant, so they aren’t having the same issues. Since my garden beds are already raised and filled with great soil which drains well, and we have no control over the amount of rain we are getting this year, I can only pray for the rain to reduce a little and August to dryer.
For others, I suggest you ask an area EA to come look at your beds and test your soil. They are full of great information to help you decide if you should do something or not. For people who have drainage problems, your EA might suggest you try adding peat moss or large garden grade vermiculite, elevating your garden beds, or relocating them to support good drainage. For those of you who have a calcium problem not related to drainage or too much water, you might try adding calcium to the soil with a soil suppliment or clean eggshells. If your plants have simply grown so fast they can’t keep up with nutrient uptake, using less nitrogen-based fertilizer might help. While many think that simply adding calcium will stop blossom end rot, you might find that the problem with calcium isn’t about adding it at all, but a simpler change… or Mother Nature’s changes that you can’t help… will be the solution. I am hoping for happy tomatoes for the rest of the summer!