August is here, and the long wait for fresh tomatoes and peppers from the garden is just about over. Now is the time not to let your guard down. Besides the constant weeding of the garden, keep monitoring for potential problems.
One of the problems that crops up most years is called Blossom-end rot or BER. This disease is not caused by a fungus, bacteria or any other type of pathogen. BER is considered an abiotic disease, or a physiological disorder caused by stress. Stressors may include too much water, not enough water or drought, or anything else that has caused stress to the root system.
Though this disorder commonly affects tomatoes, it can also occur on peppers, melons and eggplant. This abiotic disease is easily identified as a brown, leathery rot developing on or near the blossom end of the fruit. It starts with a dry, brown lesion the size of a dime and generally increases in diameter as the condition worsens. In time, lesions often become covered with a secondary black mold.
Did you notice the word fruit? That is not an error. Botanically, fruits and vegetables are classified depending on which part of the plant they come from. Fruits develops from the flower of a plant, while other parts of the plant are categorized as vegetables. Fruits develop seeds, while vegetables can consist of roots, stems, and leaves. Since tomatoes, peppers and melons have seeds they are botanically classified as a fruit. Lettuce, Radishes, and carrots are therefore classified as vegetables.
BER is caused by a lack of calcium in the developing fruit. Calcium is one of the secondary macro nutrients needed by plant’s. The primary function of calcium in plant growth is to provide structural support to cell walls including the fruit. Calcium cannot move freely from one part of the plant to the next. Calcium deficiencies are caused by fluctuations in a plants water supply.
Lucky for us in Northwest Ohio, calcium is in abundant supply in our soils. Limestone and dolomitic limestone are our underlying bedrock in our area that was left behind approximately twenty thousand years ago by the melting and retreating Wisconsin Glacier. Limestone primary element is calcium. Dolomitic limestone primary elements are calcium and magnesium.
In a nutshell, when we add fertilizer to the soil, bacteria in the soil breaks down the fertilizer elements, into a useable form that plants can take up. These same bacteria also break down the naturally occurring elements in the soil including calcium. Plants cannot take up these dry elements, rather the elements, are absorbed into the water that is in the soil. Water is obtained either by natural rainfall or supplemental irrigation. Plants, therefore, are on a liquid diet!
Back to the BER. If our root system is compromised from stress such as to much water this abiotic disease may show up. Too much water in the soil replaces the oxygen in the soil. Roots need oxygen to grow and take up the water and nutrients into the plant. So, the stressor may be too much water.
If you see fruit with BER, you should remove the affected fruit. Once a fruit develops BER, it will not regrow or repair the infected area. Remove the fruit; otherwise, the damaged area will serve as an entry point for disease-causing bacteria or fungi.
The good news for most gardens is BER does not cause damage to all the fruits. Most of the time, calcium will balance out in the plant. Though early fruit may be damaged, subsequent fruit should be ok.
Though the fruits may be damaged, they are still safe to eat. Make sure you harvest before any secondary fungal black mold grows on damaged blossom end.
The 148th Wood County Fair runs through Monday. For those who would like to chat with me, I will be available in the Home and Garden Building daily through Friday from 10 a.m.-noon.