After reading the post I just put up on Blossom End Rot (BER), a new reader is still puzzled about why she has it.
Here’s her situation:
She is a second year gardener.
Her first year of gardening she laid bales of straw down on top of sod and planted her tomatoes into the straw. The tomatoes had BER.
The second year (this year) she laid the decomposing straw on top of the ground to form rows.
Somewhere along the line she had added some leaves.
Then she dug holes with a post hole digger into red clay, 12 inches or more, and then put in all the following amendments:
Egg shells, shrimp shells, chickety doo doo, organic tomato fertilizer, vegetable garden fertilizer, and bone meal.
She planted the seedlings two feet apart and pruned to one main vine.
When she still had BER she “ran to the nursery expert and based on that conversation gave each plant a drink of lime.”
Her indeterminate tomatoes still got BER. Determinate tomatoes did not. (Determinates are tomatoes that bear a set number of fruit rather than bearing until frost like indeterminates.)
She wants to do what she needs to do this fall to get better results in 2015. She wanted to know if that means planting winter rye, adding her compost in the spring, and maintaining a thick layer of mulch throughout the growing season.
Certainly all of this is good. But will it end her BER?
My best guess is that it won’t. Not next year anyway.
Looking at the Big Picture
The obvious problem that I see is lack of soil preparation and soil improvement.
As I have said in many previous posts and in my book, soil preparation and improvement are the first steps in creating the most productive and healthiest garden possible. Those two things are what will help almost any problem you have with disease and pests. And over time the results will be cumulative.
Deep Soil Preparation
Loosening the soil deeply allows plants to grow bigger since they will have more room for roots. They can go deeper to get the nutrients and water they need.
If you’re unable to dig to accomplish the initial preparation, which gives you a head start, then nature can do it for you. BUT, it will take longer. You can use cover crops over a period of years that send down deep roots to loosen soil. The biomass of the cover crop can be laid back on the bed to decay and recycle the minerals it has mined from the soil. (I have a bed right now, started last year, that nature is preparing for me. It’ll be two more years before it’s ready.)
If you allow soil to remain compacted, it can cut down on production by as much as 50%.
Adding Organic Materials
Adding lots of organic materials (such as leaves, crop residue, dried grass clippings, twigs, manure free of residual herbicide) is what improves the physical condition of the soil, also known as tilth. Compost is fine to add, but there is something about adding raw organic materials and allowing them to decay in the soil that makes the soil better. Once decayed these raw materials become organic matter in your soil.
With sufficient levels of organic matter, the soil’s appearance and structure will change. It’ll start to drain properly and at the same time will hold more water for when the crops need them. Soil life will increase. It’s microbes (soil life) that transfer the nutrients (feeds them) to your plants.
Popular “Quick Fixes” Are NOT Soil Improvement
Adding things like egg shells, shrimp shells, chickety doo doo, organic tomato fertilizer, vegetable garden fertilizer, and bone meal is not really soil improvement. (Although you can certainly add your egg shells and shrimp shells as part of your organic material. Just keep in mind they can draw undesirable critters to your garden.)
Thinking that these things will “fix” your garden problems is a concept that comes originally from the chemical companies via their marketing to sell their chemicals. Human nature has always been on their side. At one time or the other we all fall for the hype and the make-believe until we learn otherwise.
“Organic” is popular and becoming more so all the time. It’s easy to exchange the mind set of a “quick fix” chemical to what we think might be a “quick-fix” that’s acceptable for organic gardens.
The No-Effort or No-Work Way
There are many fast no-work ways to get a plant to grow and produce fruit. You can find them all over the internet and in books and magazines. You may have chosen one of these ways. Perhaps it suits your purpose.
Want to Work with Nature for More Success?
If you have chosen to partner with nature and garden organically, then good soil is the basis of your food production and your success. Without it, your crops will struggle.
As long as you continue to focus on the “quick-fixes” with actions that do not improve and replenish the soil you get more poor soil, poor crops, disease, pests, etc.
When you focus on the big picture of improving and replenishing your garden soil (adding organic materials), it gets better. And so do your crops.
If you want success for the long haul, deep soil preparation (whether by you or nature) and improving the soil is the way to go. How long it will take, depends on how good or bad your starting conditions are.
Your return on investment will be crops with higher yields, fewer disease and pest problems, and drought resistance.
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