blossom-end rot

Tomatoes In Need of Eggs

My tomatoes are rockin’ and rollin’ and ready to go in ground. Woohoo ~ what a great day! (Below, the sprouts were two weeks old.)

tomato sprouts 2 weeks old

And it’s a day I’ve been planning for, insisting the family not put their eggshells in the compost bin but instead, straight into my hot little hands. I need these babies for my tomato transplants. Eggshells and Epsom salts. Together, they are my fail proof preventative against blossom end-rot. You know, those ugly black spots that can form on your tomatoes?  (Shown below, the sprouts are now 3 weeks old and ready to head outside!)

tomato sprouts a week later

The spots are caused by a lack of calcium which is why I give my tomatoes a blast of calcium right from the start. Using discarded, dried and washed eggshells, I crumble them into small pieces and scatter around the base of my tomato plant. Next I sprinkle a bit of Epsom salts around the same and cover with compost. I’ll follow by forming a well around my tomatoes to increase their water retention.

they're in!

If the weather in Central Florida remains exceptionally warm, I’ll cover my babies with a screen to block out the hot midday sun. Once they reach about a foot, I’ll remove the screen and begin dusting. Dipel dust keeps the worms off my leaves by eliminating them before they get a chance to eliminate my tomato plants. All’s fair in gardening and nature!

Wow. SO excited! For more details on growing tomatoes, check my how-to grow section located on the sidebar to the right or menu bar above.

Match Made in Heaven

The fall gardening season is upon us in Florida and that means I’m ready to tackle tomatoes, figuratively speaking of course. You want to be gentle with these babies, careful. Unless you’re using one of those upside down bag “thingys” and then—all bets are off. From what I understand, you can’t kill the things when growing them in those contraptions!

But I’m an in-ground gardener, doing things the old-fashioned way. Now that it’s time to start my tomato sprouts it’s time to share a little secret, the secret to beautiful, healthy, blossom-end rot free tomatoes.  Epsom salts and eggshells.  Yep, just mix some crumbled eggshells together and Epsom salts into your potting mix and you’re good to go!

secrets to our tomatoes

This disease is the result of a lack of calcium.  Calcium’s most important function during the crop fruiting stage is its role in cell wall/cell membrane stability.  If Ca is deficient in developing fruits, an irreversible condition known as blossom-end rot will develop. Blossom-end rot occurs when cell wall calcium “concrete” is deficient during early fruit development, and results in cell wall membrane collapse and the appearance of dark, sunken pits at the blossom end of fruit so this blend does wonders to give your plants a head start.  The magnesium helps plants grow bigger, heartier tomatoes but go easy.  Too much Mg can cause trouble, too. More

Put an End to Blossom-End Rot

Finally!  The solution to blossom-end rot.  No longer will you have to suffer through unsightly spots.  No more will you find yourself spraying a problem that already exists.

Absolutely not.  We have discovered the secret.  Having endured the ugliness of blossom-end rot one too many times, I planted my tomatoes this spring with great care and foresight.  You know what I’m talking about.  After nurturing these tiny little beings from their tender beginnings, you refused to set them out in the harsh sun too soon. 

You watered and fed them on the patio waiting for that perfect opportunity, the moment they were ready to be hardened off.  Sounds so cruel when you put it that way but alas, it’s a fact of life.  Tomatoes want to be outside soaking in the full glory of Mother Nature’s sunshine.  But in transplanting them you must–absolutely must–include a dose of eggshells and Epsom salts

Yep. Because blossom-end rot is due to a calcium deficiency.  Magnesium too (I think) and these two ingredients are the secret weapon in the battle of blossom-end rot.  My tomatoes are here to prove it.  Just sprinkle a little bit of Epsom salts in the well around your plant, crumble in a few washed and dried eggshells and voila!  These babies were green and gorgeous as they developed and their skin remained this supple, smooth and unmarred all the way to maturity.

Sure we had other issues like cracking and worms, a few even “sun-dried” on the vine (I was busy on vacation) but we didn’t have blossom-end rot!  🙂  Lesson learned, mission accomplished. 

Of course, my compost tomatoes didn’t have this problem either, but I’ll be the first to admit:  I’m no match for Mother Nature when it comes to gardening.  She wins, no contest (though I do enjoy a good challenge).  The only other comment I have is regarding variety.  Now no offense, but this Pantano variety (mixed above with Romas) is not my favorite.  They’re horribly unattractive and thus unappealing to my palate.  Does that make me a bad person?

Besides, they were no where as easy to grow as my Romas.  And since my goal is sauce, I think I’ll stick with the Romas.  I also grew a San Marzano variety this spring, but they didn’t fare as well.  I think it was a water issue, as in, my sprinkler was malfunctioning (unbeknownst to me!).  Never good–especially with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing.

Live and learn.  And love those tomatoes!

Transplanting Tomatoes (before the official start of spring!)

Are we lucky to live in Florida, or what? 

Sure, I run the risk of one last freeze.  Happens every year.  Nearly.  But maybe I’ll be spared this spring.  After all, Mother Nature tortured me in December…  Do you think she could be so cruel?

Nah, me neither.  She’s an all right gal.  So what if I don’t agree with her sense of humor, or her downright obstinate ways when it comes to wielding her power, but she has been good to me.  Overall, I can’t complain.  (Are you listening, Mrs. N?  I’m the good one!)

So out the door these sproutlings went, straight into the garden.  I started them early January and yes, I did have to drag them inside a few times and spot them a sweet place by the warm and blazing hearth.  But just look how they’ve rewarded me.  Aren’t they grand?  Real beauties.  My kids helped clear the row of hay and I tilled the section with ease.  Once you know the secrets of preparation this part is EASY. 

Then, I gingerly pulled each out and placed it into a hole amended with a mixture of my very own compost (AKA homemade dirt), epsom salt and eggshells.  Brilliant.  And the key to eliminating blossom-end rot.  I hope.  Formed a well around my babies and watered them in.  Finito.  Easy as tomato pie.

Mud pie.  I meant mud pie.  Last time I tried to make an authentic Italian tomato pie for my husband, things didn’t go very smoothly.  Time-consuming, irritating…  It was the crust that gave me issue.  And my handy-dandy Cuisinart contraption that promised to do the hard mixing did nothing of the kind! 

False advertising, if you ask me.  But I digress–into the land of disappointment (where I do not care to dwell).  My tomatoes are in!  Who has time to weep?

I have a watering schedule to attend, fertilization needs to consider…  And companions.  Who shall I plant next door?

If you think I haven’t already arranged for that play over in my excel program, you’re kidding yourself.  What else do you do during winter?  Besides scour the seed magazines and drool over the gorgeous photos and plethora of produce. 

Beats Christmas shopping.

Tomatoes, Eggshells and Epsom

I’ve decided to start my tomatoes, a little head start on the season, if you will.   Tomatoes, because I’m still reeling from the devastating loss of my gorgeous fall crop.  Nasty Jack Frost nipped them right before my eyes, days before they matured to peak perfection.  Bad Jack Frost.

But I will not be shaken from the garden.  My roots are grounded, my will is strong.  Granted the old man is still hanging around (blustering old fool), but I won’t be intimidated.  In fact, I will outsmart him!  I’ll start my tomatoes indoors, near a warm sunny window–where he can’t get to them.  We’ll laugh and we’ll frolic and we’ll watch the old blow hard scourge the landscape into a frightful state–while we’re snug and secure indoors.  My tomatoes soon will realize it’s safe to sprout, and will poke their tiny green heads from the soil, followed by their skinny little bodies.

And I will feed them eggshells.  The secret for beautiful, robust, blossom-end rot free tomatoes!  It’s the calcium, you see (in addition to even watering and good potting soil) that will set their fruits strong and sure.   Plus, for good measure, I’ll throw in some Epsom salt.  Read somewhere these were wise moves and I’m a wise woman!  I believe it has something to do with adding magnesium and sulfur to the soil.  Magnesium helps promote chlorophyll formation and sulfur helps activate plant proteins and enzymes needed for growth. 

Hmmm….  Very interesting.  I feel a lesson coming on (watch out students).  Elements found in the garden will be ones you never forget–not after the gardenfrisk is through with you!

Anyway, deep breath, back to my tomatoes.  They’re off to a good start.  Found a strange squash or cucumber sprouting in one seed cell (which was promptly removed).   Not sure how it ended up there, other than a case of mixing compost and potting soil.  Which can happen.  It’s busy around here come this time of year, what with seed saving and sprouting trays, compost buckets, potting soil, dog chasing, kid ruckus…I’m lucky I managed to save any seeds at all! 

My tomatoes and I are ready–let the spring games begin!  A tad early, but tomatoes are fussy.  They don’t like it too cold or too hot.  And while some of us may have forgotten what the summer heat feels like here in Central Florida, too busy heating their frost-nipped extremities, I have not.  Nor will I allow myself to believe the heat won’t really hit until July.  It froze twice in December, didn’t it?

Mother Nature and I are friends, but she does deserve a certain degree of my humble regard.  After all, she does reign queen when it comes to gardening.