Soggy Bottom Blues: Tomato Blossom-End Rot

| 9/6/2013 9:31:00 AM

Pam TinninFarmers are never satisfied. The weather’s too hot or too cold, rain comes at the wrong time, we take lambs to the auction and find the bottom has dropped out of the market, a weasel squeezes through cyclone fencing sunk in concrete and kills four of my eight hens – all these things happened in the past six months, but the most frustrating has been the attack of blossom-end rot (BER) on the tomatoes.

BER tomato

Kentucky Beefsteak tomato ruined by blossom-end rot; at least the sheep will eat it. 

My husband Zack and I raise a variety of organic produce, including different kinds of squash, cucumbers, peppers, melons, okra, and tomatillos, but heirloom tomatoes are our largest crop – well, usually, as well as our most popular. Not only are they late this year, but about a quarter of our 150 plants are decimated by blossom-end rot – there’s nothing nastier than reaching through the leaves to pick a luscious red or gold tomato and have your fingers squish through a nasty, rotting brown bottom.

We have had BER before, but never like this year. We’ve read and re-read all the info we can find, and the authors all seem to offer two main reasons for the cause – either a calcium deficiency in the soil or inconsistent watering.

So now we’ll test the soil, and Zack will reconfigure the drip irrigation system and change the water timing in that section. One old-timer at the feed store told me that if we pick all the BER tomatoes and get rid of them, the second round of tomatoes will be just fine. Hey, it’s worth a try, so I diligently pick the “bad” tomatoes and throw them to the sheep.

Now, whenever I go out to work in the field, the sheep crowd the fence blatting over and over, hoping for a tomato or two. I can’t blame them – this time of year the grass is dry and dusty. We supplement their meager grazing with a flake of hay, but the pastures won’t have much to offer until those first fall rains.