tomato health check: blossom end rot, anyone?

blossom end rotACCORDING TO MY AUGUST 1, 2010 scientific Facebook focus group (kidding, but four-dozen people did reply to my question about how their plants were doing) it was generally a thumb’s-up tomato year then so far.  But with multiple hot, dry spells locally (even though I had been watering!), I kept worrying about the dreaded blossom end rot. And there it came, as expected—though hopefully not to stay.

Blossom end rot, which (just as it sounds) is a rotting of the fruit that begins as a watery spot on the blossom end, also affects peppers and eggplants. It’s a physiologic disorder—not something caused by a virus or fungus or bacteria, like so many other tomato ailments, but rather by physical stressors that prevent the fruit from taking up enough Calcium to come to ripeness in prime condition.

The watery spot transitions to a dry, sunken lesion (it looks as good as it sounds, above, served up on a non-silver spoon).

Why the deficiency of Calcium, though? What did I do wrong? Various factors can bring it about, including soil that suddenly goes dry (as in a fierce heatwave), excessive fluctuations in soil moisture, over-application of high-Nitrogen fertilizers (not guilty!), root-system damage, or the excess of other soil salts, among other causes.

On August 2, 2010, I didn’t see many more affected fruit—yet.

Like many of my Facebook friends (join us there?) from the Finger Lakes to Tucson, Michigan to Massachusetts, at that time, I did see this, though: generally late ripening. I was just then starting to get my first tomatoes, despite all the heat (which actually can slow down fruit set, as counter-intuitive as that may seem with a heat-loving crop).

And so I waited for enough fruits for that thrilling first pot of sauce. What about you? What’s the view into your slice of tomato life?

(Want more tomato dish? All my tomato posts–wisdom, whimsy and even recipes–are collected here.)

  1. elizabeth says:

    had just one! that had blossom end rot this year, so far.
    the first one, actually :(
    i have been harvesting about two weeks plus (iowa).
    but since, i have had problems with cracking tomatoes.

    and the dreaded blight.

  2. Becky says:

    My tomatoes are doing great ~ southeastern Wisconsin. I have several on the vine but they aren’t ripening. I’m growing in raised beds this year and these are the healthiest tomato plants I have ever grown. no fungus, rot, or anything so far. now if they would only ripen!

  3. Hi, Margaret. We’re doing fine over here in Poughkeepsie. So far we’ve picked over 130 full-sized ripe tomatoes off our 15 or so plants, and have seen very little BER. Maybe only a handful and that was all at the beginning of the season. I did read somewhere that BER often occurs more at the beginning of the season, probably due to the roots still being young and having not yet dug deep enough to withstand dry periods. Makes sense to me. One thing I’d mention is that if any of your readers see excessive BER, then it might be a good idea to get a soil test and determine if your soil is too acidic. It likely is, and a proper treatment of lime tilled into the soil should improve calcium uptake the following summer.

    Glad to hear your crop hasn’t been majorly affected by this!

  4. Jenny says:

    Well it definitely happened to mine; only the heirlooms. I’m in the foothills part of South Carolina, and we just finished two long weeks of really hot humid weather. I kept two amish paste ones and have been feeding them a paste of ground up calcium pills and water (even slathered some on the green tomatoes), but it might all be too little too late. I pulled out all 8 heirloom plants in the dedicated tomato bed (all different varieties, I was so excited but had zero usable fruit once they ripened and rotted!!) and have already planted greens for fall.

    My hybrid cherry, sweet 100, and yellow pear are prolific, but not to such great numbers that I’ll be able to make sauce or put anything away for winter. Good snacking though.

    If only I’d planted in manure like I *knew* I should…..

  5. we’ve seen a few of our tomatoes with that end rot, but it’s random and rare. But we’ve definitely been looking out for any continuing rot. Scary.

    thanks for the info, we never knew what it was called. Always such a huge educational experience here on your site.

    Our tomatoes are doing so well, we’re giggly with excitement, like kids in a candy store. Last year was a disaster, total tomato fail. So far this year, we’ve collected almost 50 pounds of tomatoes and we’re just entering August. A round of tomatoes for all!

  6. terryk says:

    I ventured back into vegetable gardening late this year and only bought 2 plants at the nursery. They are not producing well and I had one two tomatoes that had problems. One could have been blossom end rot the other was soft on the side of the tomatoe.

  7. I have found some tomatoes with mild cases of BER. Most of the tomato is fine just a little place at the end and it looks dry and healed. Nothing like your photo. It seems to be on the earliest tomatoes and now all is looking good.

  8. lia says:

    We haven’t had a single edible tomato yet, all due to BER. I just keep plucking off the rotting ones and discarding, hoping eventually some will form without the rot. I think it was due to that heatwave the week after the 4th of July, even though mine get constant water (growing in Earthboxes) that was the week most of the plants were setting fruit.

  9. Rulalenzka says:

    Here on the Claverack/Ghent border the tomatoes are fine but the peppers have BER.
    Go figure. They are encountering the same watering and weather.

  10. Co-Op Gardener says:

    The gardens here in the SF Bay Area, for the most part, are suffering through the coolest summer on record in over 50 years. So, that means my gardens are extremely late. The only things that have ripened for me are green beans, basil, and one zucchini. My tomatoes are ripening sooo slowly, but thankfully, so far, no blossom-end rot (BER). Last year, I got pounded pretty good with BER, so this year I enrichened my soil with some extra calcium, kept my watering consistent, and now the only mystery is the weird unseasonably cool weather.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Paul. Vigilance! Such a good practice for a gardener. Thanks for saying hello, and see you again soon, I hope.

      Welcome, Lia. I am so sorry; this is such a disappointment — to watch fruit set and then fail. Ugh. I hope for you that the next flowers will yield some healthy late tomatoes!

      Welcome, Co-op Gardener. Here much of the spring/early summer was unseasonably hot; as you say the mysteries of weather. Sounds like you are well ahead of the rest of us in your prevention tactics; bravo! See you soon!

  11. TomW says:

    Note that the Roma and other paste type tomatoes are more susceptible to blossom end rot.

    Out here in the Pacfic Northwest, we can be jealous that you even have ripe tomatoes. Well those of us who are growing earlier varieties and have started them indoors in February are starting to enjoy harvests. Its been cool and cloudy out here this year. Last (hot) year I had Stupice by the end of June. This year, they will be ready in a week or two.

    Its also important to maintain even moisture to avoid BER. Often a disfigured tomato can be saved. Just slice it in half and eat the top.

  12. Judith says:

    Here in southern Ontario I’m finding my tomatoes are so slow. No BER, but it looks like my leaves have blight (something I escaped last year when so many people were hit). It’s been a hot spring and summer but we’ve had a fair amount of rain. I have paste tomatoes, a chocolate cherry, Grightmire and Celebrity. They’ve got fruit developing in various stages but I’ve only one ripe tomato showing (on the cherry).
    I’m looking forward to my first harvest to enjoy a toasted tomato sandwich with a smidge of salt and a dab of mayo. Bliss.

  13. angel says:

    My Paul Robeson had blossom end rot. I picked all the affected fruit a while ago, and the current fruits are slow to ripen. I’m in the Chicago area where we’ve had the hottest July in a long time (or ever?). I also have a Patio Princess growing in a barrel that look ripe, but the tomatoes are all white and tasteless on the inside.

  14. Bren says:

    I have found a lot of end blossom rot this year on my tomatoes, every plum tomato was affected; cherry tomatoes were all perfect. Heirloom tomatoes (Black Krim and Pineapple) I got only 4 or 5 of them this year, very disappointing.
    The Better Boys did very well, they were the only reason I had BLT’s this Summer and why I have gained weight. Eating a BLT sammich every day for lunch is not good for your waistline lol. :) Bren

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Angel, and thanks for the latest tomato report from your garden.

      Same to Bren — the heirlooms have won my heart, but also sometimes break it, too. :(

      See you both again soon, I hope.

  15. TC Conner says:

    Ms. Margaret, have you heard of dropping one generic Tum into each planting hole when you first set your tomatoes in? We’ve been doin this for years and rarely do our tomatoes have blossom end rot.

  16. Kristina says:

    I live in Southern California and planted 9 different tomato plants this year, of them, 3 or 4 had some amount of blossom end rot. It’s so depressing, given the amount of effort which goes into the garden.
    My Yellow Boys were hit the worst, almost every single piece of fruit on the plant. Also, a lot of the plants ended up being smaller and producing smaller fruit than I expected. The exception? My Brandywine, which is HUGE, bearing 14 oz (avg) tomatoes.

  17. Brent says:

    Over near Hudson, I’ve had pretty good luck with my heirlooms this year. I planted 12 varieties and have had tomatoes for over three weeks now – much earlier than last year. I suspect (and I hope I’m not jinxing this…) that this weekend will be my big harvest. However, I had two tomatoes (Green Zebras) with BER this past weekend off of a plant that has already given me three or four tasty and healthy specimans.

    My two best producers were, unfortunately, mislabeled at the nursery. I suspect one may be Black Krim and the other is an early, very sweet, red variety. Since I don’t know for sure what I have and can’t buy them again next year, I would love to save seeds from these plants. Is there a tried and true method for saving seeds or is it as simple as it sounds?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Brent. The person to trust, I think, re: saving heirloom tomato seeds is Amy Goldman. Her info is here. Hope that helps!

  18. Mary-Jane says:

    No BER this year (terrible last summer) on Early Summer and Black Krim, but I have a sort of blight (lower leaves turn yellow). However, I have lots of fruit and have already eaten 4 Early Summer. This yr. planted in almost 100% compost which may have helped.

    Love the Tums idea!

  19. Marguerite says:

    I had BER once, years ago and was lucky enough to learn of an organic method for controlling it. I have never had it again.

    When I plant my tomato plants, under the root ball I put a handful of crushed eggshells into the hole. With that abundance of calcium at the root zone, I have never had it again. One year I forgot to do it and zap! Got it. I never forgot again.

  20. Diane says:

    Here in central Italy we’ve been eating tomatoes for several weeks already. I’ve seen some BER, but not bad. We just cut it away and use the rest of the tomato. My bell peppers have it, or something similar, however, with big black sunken spots on their sides, where they’ve touch the pepper stalk. Strange. The frying peppers are doing fine.

    Canned 27 jars of tomatoes two days ago from the garden. I mostly use the cherry tomatoes for my fresh sauce (a daily thing here in Italy :) ) as they are just sooo good and there are literally hundreds ripe every few days. Easy to freeze too to use in September.

  21. Sara says:

    I save eggshells all winter. When the tomatoes are forming flowers sprinkle a handful of crushed shellsl around the base of each plant. I haven’t had any BER for years, except for the year I was too late getting the eggshells down. In Nova Scotia we’re lucky to get a ripe tomato before September. We keep trying though.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Sara. Another good idea…I always just toss them into the compost, but maybe this is more productive. Thanks.

      @Diane: 27 jars? Are you trying to make me jealous? :)

  22. Kerry Nolan says:

    My problem is even more dire. I generally grow my tomatoes in a sunny spot in my New Jersey yard and this year, the flowers are dying. My plants are 6 feet tall and full of foliage, but I have harvested only three tomatoes. What can I do to encourage the flowers to bear fruit in the time we have left??

  23. dd says:

    Maine has been so unbelievably hot , that I may have toms b 4 the frost!!! I
    However, my leaves on the bottom are yellow w some black spots. I’m hoping this is from H2O splashing up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.