Blossom End Rot – What Causes It?

I received an email the other day from one of my subscribers and he said, “I’ve read that blossom end rot is caused by calcium deficiency and/or inconsistent watering, however I also believe I read that it can also be caused by improper or insufficient pollination. Am I right or was the pollination in reference to something else to do with tomatoes?”

I answered: There are several factors which can lead to blossom end rot: insufficient available calcium in the soil, rapid early season growth followed by extended dry period, excessive rain which smothers root hairs, excessive soil salts which “lock up” calcium uptake (usually caused by a fertilizer which is too high in nitrogen or is applied too often and nitrogen builds up), and, cultivating too close to the plant which kills rootlets. There are different types of “rots”, some are caused by lack of pollination so you didn’t just imagine that. Keep blossom end rot at bay by providing uniform soil moisture, avoid high nitrogen fertilizers (and, follow application rates carefully no matter what you use), plant in well drained soil, and, when cultivating within 1′ of the plant, do not cultivate deeper than 1″.

If you have a problem now, you might want to buy a product that deals with blossom end rot. In the Midwest, we have had 10 times more rain this summer than normal, which is what caused this in my area.

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8 Steps to Successful Gardening—Step 4 Mulch

The fourth step is to mulch. Mulch stabilizes soil temperatures, maintains soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and breaks down over winter putting nutrients back into your garden.

You don’t have to go buy expensive pine straw. It is cheaper and more effective to just use regular hardwood mulch instead. I practically mulch the whole garden.

So do yourself a huge favor and mulch everything in sight with whatever mulch you like. If you have a large garden, I recommend you find the cheapest mulch around. If you have a small garden, well, it probably doesn’t matter. You could use pine straw, hay, black plastic or hardwood mulch.

And now I would like to offer you a Free copy of my Gardeners Journal so that you can easily document your gardening experience and track what you do. Click on “Subscribe to Master Gardener Girls’ Gardening Blog by Email” and I will send you a copy of this file.

Happy Gardening from the Master Gardener Girl!!

8 Steps to Successful Gardening—Step 3 Soil

The third step is to maintain healthy soil in your garden. The use of compost helps with maintaining healthy soil, but there are other things to consider:

Try to avoid walking on the soil in established gardens, because every step compacts the soil, and compaction makes it difficult for roots to grow. Create paths between rows or in beds, or place a board on the soil adjacent to areas where you work to distribute your weight more evenly over the soil.

Avoid working the soil when it’s wet. Otherwise, once it dries, you’ll wind up with big clumps of hard-packed soil. And finally, don’t overwork the soil, especially with a rototiller. Good soil isn’t powdery; it’s a mixed bag of particles of varying sizes and shapes.

Personally, I don’t use a rototiller because, in my opinion, the tines disturb the soil way too much. And I rarely turn the soil with a shovel. What I occasionally do is loosen the soil with a broadfork, which aerates the soil without disturbing its complex structure.

And now I would like to offer you a Free copy of my Gardeners Journal so that you can easily document your gardening experience and track what you do. Click on “Subscribe to Master Gardener Girls’ Gardening Blog by Email” and I will send you a copy of this file.

Happy Gardening from the Master Gardener Girl!!

Be A Smart Gardener – Grow Organic!

Anyone can plant an organic garden whether the purpose is for food, for satisfaction, for sale or to help battle global warming. Notice, I didn’t say you needed to be an organic farmer to recapture carbon from the atmosphere. It seemingly begins with the soil.

Gardening Tip #1–Return organic matter to the earth

This is easily done through composting. Everyone has access to the raw ingredients, items that you can compost, of organic matter. These items include those you already have naturally around the house. You will need a mixture of browns and greens. Greens are grass clippings, garden and kitchen vegetable scraps, plant and bush waste, coffee grounds and filters, manure, sod, weeds, and hair. Browns include fall leaves, newspaper, cardboard, corn stalks, dryer link, pine needles and cones, and sawdust. Put them in a pile and mix them up with a rake or a shovel. The purpose of adding composted soil to your garden is to provide aeration to your soil and acts as a fertilizer.

Gardening Tip #2–Check your soil.

Most of your local county extension centers will test your soil for a small fee. The results of the test will tell you the soil’s pH and what nutrients your soil requires to make it the right balance for growing most anything. You may need to amend your soil with bonemeal, greensand or dolomitic lime, which all are derived from natural sources and each help to provide for a particular need.

Gardening Tip #3–Love and be kind to your insects.

The best defenses against insect attack are preventative measures such as efficient water use, beneficial insects, and companion planting. Plants like a steady amount of water, approximately one inch per week. Don’t let them be too wet or dry. Most importantly, encourage natural predators to hunt in your garden

like ladybugs, birds, frogs and lizards. These beneficial insects can eat quite a few of the bad insects. Companion planting involves planting certain flowers and herbs in and around your garden that are compatible and in effect, will deter pests through their scents.

Gardening Tip #4–Weed wisely.

Tackle weeds with persistence and the right tools – not chemicals. A nice, thick layer of mulch keeps light from reaching weeds and straw and grass clippings nourish the soil as they decompose. For even better weed protection, use several sheets of newspaper or cardboard under these mulches as these will naturally decompose into the soil for more nourishment. Early in the season, you can suppress the growth of weed seeds by spreading corn gluten meal over the area where they’re growing. During the season, use a garden hoe to sever weed stems from their roots.

And now I would like to offer you a Free copy of my Gardeners Journal so that you can easily document your gardening experience and track what you do. Click on “Subscribe to Master Gardener Girls’ Gardening Blog by Email” and I will send you a copy of this file.

Organic Container Gardening Secrets – How to Garden easily from a Container

Do you want fresh organic veggies but don’t have space for a garden? It is your lucky day because I have the solution for you. Organic container gardening fits just about anywhere, and it’s even easier than having an organic garden plot.

Containers

Anything that you can put soil in can be a garden container. Some organic gardeners prefer to use natural containers, such as those made from wood or clay, but you can use anything. You can put a plant in an old toilet, a worn-out shoe, a milk carton or any other container that will hold dirt and won’t fall apart when it gets wet.

Make sure the container will drain; few plants like too much water. If necessary, you can drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of almost anything. Add about an inch of gravel or broken clay pots to the bottom of the pot. If you want to, you can put a layer of torn up newspaper or leaf mold on top of the gravel. The gravel helps ensure good drainage, and the leaf mold helps retain the water so the soil stays slightly moist.

Soil

Organic container gardening relies on organic, living soil. With a regular garden, you start with the soil you have and add organic material to it. With organic container gardening, you have to start out with organic soil.

Because you don’t have any subsoil, you need organic soil that will hold water without letting the plant’s roots get too wet. The best way to do that is to add peat moss to your organic soil. Compost and composted manure, mixed with peat moss, make great soil for organic container gardening. You can also use straight peat moss.

Plants

You can plant the same things in organic container gardening that you would in regular organic gardening. You can plant beans, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, herbs, eggplant – anything you want to – just that they will be in containers. Make sure you have room for the plant, and that you use a container of the appropriate size. Zucchini takes up the same amount of room on your patio that it does in the garden – and it needs a pot big enough to contain the plant.

Technically, you should use organic seed and/or plants for organic container gardening. Unless you’re planning to sell organic produce, however, the choice is yours.

Organic Practices

Organic container gardening is well suited for organic gardening practices, especially where pest control is concerned. It’s much easier to pick tomato hornworms off of a container tomato than it is in a large garden. You can easily wash each leaf and stem of a plant with aphids when it’s in a pot on your patio. You will rarely have problems with cutworms in organic container gardening. Slugs will still go for your plants and diatomaceous earth will still deter them; just sprinkle it on the surface of the soil in the pot.

You can even use insect control with organic container gardening. Instead of buying a package of ladybugs or a praying mantis egg sac, just catch a few and put them on the plants that have insect infestations. Ladybugs will stay wherever there are aphids, and they will make short work of the aphids.

Organic container gardening will allow you to have plenty of healthy organic produce to feed your family. If you have a sheltered area and can provide enough light, you can have vegetables from organic container gardening all year round.

Check out my article below on Companion Planting, which also has a link to my companion planting list. This also works in container gardening.

And now I would like to offer you a Free copy of my Gardeners Journal so that you can easily document your gardening experience and track what you do. Click on “Subscribe to Master Gardener Girls’ Gardening Blog by Email” and I will send you a copy of this file.

Happy Gardening from Master Gardener Girl!!

Growing the Best Tomatoes

“The most popular garden vegetable is the tomato. Varieties are available in a wide range of sizes, colors and shapes. Each having its own flavor and use.

Tomatoes can be propagated by seeds or clippings. They will germinate between 60F and 95F with optimum conditions between 75F and 90F. At 75F they will generally sprout in about 1 week. If you don’t grow your own seedlings and must buy transplants make sure you choose sturdy plants. The greener and shorter the plant the better, as they will grow best when transplanted. You should avoid plants that are tall and leggy, and those that have flowers on them already. If you do grow your own seedlings a grow lamp for supplemental light is a good idea. Even if you have a window that faces to the south the light the plants receive is not sufficient. Seedlings should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting them outside. The seeds should be planted 1/8 inch deep in a sterile seed starting mix in either cells or flats. After germination the seedlings grow best at 70F.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to transplant you seedlings outdoors if the soil or weather is cold as the temperature can shock the plants. Hot caps and other protection can help the plants early in the season. All covers must be removed if the temperatures exceed 85F. Tomatoes do better if they are planted deeper than the original containers they were started in. They should be set in the ground just below the lowest leaf, allowing the plant to obtain a stronger root system. Tomatoes need a constant supply of moisture, and if you don’t receive at least one inch of rain per week, supplemental watering is necessary. Mulching will also help retain water, and drip irrigation is a good way to supple water without wasting it.

If you plan on staking your tomatoes do it right after you transplant your seedlings. If you wait too long the plant will have developed a mature root system, and the stakes may damage them. Tomato cages are an alternative to tomato stakes, but as these have short spikes as well it is best to set these up as early as possible. The advantage of a tomato cage is the fact that you don’t have to constantly tie up your growing plant to the stake.

Once the plants begin to grow they need to be pruned. Snap off “suckers” so that there are one or two vigorous stems. This should be done when they are about 2 to 3 inches long. If you are staking your tomatoes you should tie the stems to the stake with soft string. Form a figure-8 with the stake in one loop and the stem in the other. This will give the stem room to grow and prevent constriction. You should start tying about 10 to 12 inches above the ground and continue as the plant grows.

Avoid fertilizing your tomatoes with too much Nitrogen as this will lead to excessive foliage growth and not enough fruit production. Heavy rainfall or inconsistent temperatures also lead to poor fruit growth. Unfortunately we cannot control mother nature. For most soils, you can side dress a 5-10-5 fertilizer and work it into the top inch of soil. You should start fertilizing when the fruits are about 1 inch in diameter and repeat fertilizing again when the harvest begins.”