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Calcium's the answer for tomato troubles

Friday - 7/29/2011, 10:29am  ET

A trick to ease tomato troubles

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Black bottoms on tomatoes? Calcium is the answer!

Gayle from Fairfax has a common complaint. She writes: "This is the second year in a row that my balcony tomatoes have ALL succumbed to blossom end rot. Every. Stinking. One.

All the sources I've consulted say the cause is 'calcium deficiency.' But I water the plants with the liquid left after cooking eggs and feed with compost -- I do everything but add crushed TUMS. Do you have any suggestions?

Oh, and as I write this, I also realize I've used the same pots each year and did not scrub them out over the winter."

Gayle -- the only pots I've ever scrubbed are the ones in the kitchen! Next year, you should grow your tomatoes in different pots to avoid verticillium wilt, but for now calcium is the issue and I doubt there's much of this vital nutrient in your eggshell water.

So, despite your mocking of the concept, you should dissolve some TUMS or another form of calcium carbonate in water and give that to the plants. I'll say use half a dozen 1,000 mg tablets in a regular size watering can. The next runs of fruit should be fine. Repeat this in about three weeks.

And next year, save up your eggshells from around New Year's on and put the crushed shells of a dozen eggs in each planting hole -- that totally prevents the dreaded rot!

Tamata troubles: DON'T spray without thinking! (Or even AFTER thinking )

Ann in Silver Spring writes: "Now that my tomatoes are turning red, they are being chewed at from the bottom. I am new to vegetable gardening, so I don't know what's causing this and how to safely treat it. I heard ads that suggested spraying the plants with Sevin, which I did twice, but it didn't work. Please advise."

Well, you blew the "safely" part when you sprayed that Sevin, Ann -- it's one of the most toxic of the chemical insecticides. And you never even saw any insects! That's strike two! Don't eat anything you sprayed!

Now, I suspect your "chewed bottoms" are actually blossom end rot -- a falling apart and blackening of the tomatoes' hinders due to a lack of calcium. As I told Gayle above, dissolve a handful of calcium carbonate supplements in a watering can and use that water on your tomatoes. Repeat this in about three weeks and your new fruits should be fine.

And everyone -- don't spray! It's rarely, if ever, the answer.

"Evil squirrels ate my love apples!"

Russ in Annandale writes: "Help! Bold, brazen squirrels have decided to raid our tomato plants with devastating results, consuming every fruit! Are they thirsty and hungry? Would a pan of fresh water and free peanuts in the vicinity deter their appetite for my cherished red fruits?"

Squirrels are evil servants of Satan, Russ -- placed on this earth solely to bedevil gardeners. Some squirrel lovers do believe that their tomato eating is a sign of thirst. So yes, put out some water, but no food -- you'll have twice as many tree rat tormenters if you do!

Get a motion activated sprinkler (the biggest brand name is the "ScareCrow") and point it at your plants to protect them for the rest of the season. (It sprays anything that moves with cold water when the bad actors come into its range.)

And next year, grow your love apples inside big metal tomato cages -- and cage the tops of the cages!

Comedy is easy -- peaches are NOT!

Bridget in Sterling writes: "My peach tree is three years old. The first year there were no peaches. The second year a deer ate both peaches. This year the peaches have little brown spots all over them and look terrible, but the peach itself is nice and firm. What are those little brown spots in the skin? Do I spray? If so, with what? What do I do?"

Well, first, you realize that peaches are the most difficult crop a home gardener can attempt, Bridget. You MUST prune the tree every winter, and remove most of the baby fruits every spring to get good peaches. And yes, there are many pests and diseases that will show up even when you do these essential chores. Luckily, there are highly effective organic sprays for them all -- things like Bacillus subtilis (sold under brand names like Serenade and Plant Guardian) for disease and neem and the spinosads for insect attacks.

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