Ask The Gardener: Blossom end rot, replacing onions, pest and more

Posted on: July 16, 2019 | Written By: Doug Oster | Comments

Everybody Gardens editor Doug Oster gets asked a lot of questions. A lot. And he doesn’t mind offering gardening advice. But rather than just limiting those answers to the person who asked, we thought it might be a good idea to share that wealth of knowledge with everybody.

There are three ways to send in your questions:

  • Email askdoug@535mediallc.com
  • Submit your question on our “Your Garden” section of our site
  • Send us a message on Facebook.

(The questions may be lightly edited for grammar/clarity/etc.)

Question 1: Blossom end rot

Andrea: We have one or two tomatoes with blossom end rot in the community garden. (Doug wrote about the Vandergrift Children’s Garden here.) They water twice a day unless it rains. Is this too much? Is it a calcium deficiency? The garden is beautiful otherwise.

(I bought Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew and put it on the kale like you suggested, and the kale is beautiful!)

Doug: I doubt it’s a calcium deficiency. The calcium is usually there; it’s just that the plant can’t uptake it for one reason or another. For the first time in 10 years, I had a tomato with blossom end rot, which makes me believe it’s a weather/watering issue. The good news is that often times it’s just certain varieties and the first tomatoes that are hit with the rot. Also, sometimes tomatoes can heal the bottom of the tomato and still be edible.

I think that is too much water, even for your raised beds. Ideally you would soak the soil under the plants in the morning twice a week. Mulch is another key when fighting blossom end rot. It keeps the soil evenly moist. I would give the plants a thick layer of straw and cut back on the watering.

I’m sure all the kids at the Children’s Garden are thrilled you saved the kale!

Question 2: After onions

Colin: I just had a very successful onion harvest – about 60 pounds – and am wondering what to plant in the just-harvested bed. This bed is in-ground (not a raised bed), and I have generously amended it (post-onion harvest) with lots of organic material, including mushroom manure (delivered in the spring), pelletized alfalfa and chicken manure.

Obviously, onion-family plants should not follow (and I will rotate the bed to other uses next year, likely for tomatoes). What about the balance of this year? Any suggestions? I’d hate to leave it fallow for the rest of this season.

Doug: Bush beans would my first choice if you like them. Other possibilities would be (from seed) Swiss chard, beets, kohlrabi or maybe even some summer lettuce. If you can find Simpson Elite, it’s slow bolting. If you could find fresh cole crop plants like cabbage, that would work too.

tomato

Question 3: Pest problem

Lee: I had my first “real” pest incident. Seems it happened overnight or very early morning. I went out around 10 a.m. and had about 10 growing tomatoes gone. Just curious what you think might be the culprit. I live in an area with deer, rabbit, chipmunks, etc. Here is a breakdown.

  • I think it happened at night or early morning.
  • The tomatoes were eaten clean. No damage to stem or leaves really.
  • Some were two feet or so high. Not sure what reaches that level.
  • Still green but not all were small. Some medium-sized fruit.

Doug: That’s unusual. I can only guess and I would say raccoons. To know for sure, sprinkle some flour down around the plant and see what kind of tracks you are seeing. For now, I would surround the plant with some fine netting to protect them from whatever it is.

Question 4: Maple tree

Donna: I have a maple tree in my yard that has green moss from top to bottom. It is also losing bark, and there are no leaves on the top branches. Is there anything that can be done for this tree? I really do not want to lose this tree. I don’t know how old the tree is. It was here when I bought the house, and I have been here 20 years.

Doug: This is a case that should be seen in person by a certified arborist. They will come for free to diagnose the problem for free. I like Davey Tree, as I’ve used them for decades.

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Doug Oster is manager and editor of Everybody Gardens with a passion for gardening and a love of sharing is experiences with other gardeners. You will also find Doug’s gardening contributions in the Tribune-Review each week. He’s an Emmy Award winning producer, television host and writer. Oster is co-host of The Organic Gardeners Radio show every Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh. Oster’s Outstanding Documentary Emmy was awarded for Gardens of Pennsylvania, a one hour special he conceived and produced for the PBS affiliate WQED. Doug appears every Thursday morning on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today live at 9 a.m. “Gardening is fun, he says, enjoy every day spent outside tending vegetables, flowers, shrubs and trees.”