Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Learning from Failure – Blossom End Rot

When I started my garden this year, I knew that I needed to add calcium to the soil – or at least I was pretty sure that it was needed. Now that things are ripening, it turns out that I was right. The tomatoes and peppers are both on track to be a near-total loss due to blossom end rot. I have beautiful red tomatoes, but when they are turned over, what you see is a big black spot of rotting tomato. The peppers have a rotten brown spot on the end.

I had tried to locate a local source for pelletized gypsum, but couldn’t. I should have looked harder. I could have used a special tomato fertilizer, but that is sold in small containers that would have cost far too much to fertilize the whole garden. I have since found a source that is about an hour away, and will be stocking up on it for next year.

The key points:

  • Never assume that things will always turn out the way they are supposed to turn out. I’ve had great luck with both tomatoes and peppers, but in different soil.
  • Know what will grow well in your garden as it is now. If you’re depending on what your garden produces, don’t waste space on “nice to have” crops. Stick with what you know will work.
  • It all comes from the soil. If it needs something, get it and add it.


  1. Earl Juneau

    I’m fortunate in that I have no blossom-end-rot, and the reason is my asian neighbor next door. I asked him to save eggshells from his restaurant and o boy did he, I received a 5 gallon bucket full. I’ve used about half in two years and I have a very small garden. Crushed and spread in my compost pile, garden beds, and containers I never have the problem anymore. Anybody can do the same, surely everyone has an asian restaurant or two nearby. Same goes for coffee houses. I wonder being I have so many Mexican restaurants nearby?

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Excellent idea! We save all of our eggshells and add them to the compost pile, but we don’t have enough to even begin to make a dent in the whole garden. For those with a small garden, it’s a great way to go.

      We’re already planning a trip to pick up some pelletized gypsum to use in the garden. It’s too late for this year, but I’ll have it ready for next year.

  2. Judy LeRoux

    Once you have blossom end rot you Cannot plant the tomatoes family there again for two to three years. During that time adding biodynamic nutritional products to the soil will help. Also there is a liquid calicium and potassium that you buy and spray to help prevent the disease process.
    Plus do you not have a mulch pile from your home kitchen? That provides all kinds of nutrients including eggs shells.
    We are adopting a no plastic household, between radiation and plastic humans are killing this incredible planet. While we cannot do so much about radiation we can eliminate plastic usage and must as it now is found even tiny planktons.
    We use Josephine Porter Institute biodynamic preps, your garden literally glows with health. It’s wonderful.
    Kind regards
    Judy LeRoux

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Judy, thanks for commenting.

      Although we practice crop rotation in our garden, I have never seen anything indicating that blossom end rot specifically calls for not planting in the same location for two or three years. This disease is caused by environmental factors rather than being a virus or bacteria or pest or other soil-borne disease. I wouldn’t hesitate to replant there the following year as long as 1) the soil has been amended with calcium, and 2) watering is controlled so that the calcium can be taken up through the roots. Even if there is adequate calcium in the soil, drought or root damage can keep that calcium from reaching the plant. Normal crop rotation practices still apply though.

      We compost everything except weeds. The problem is that our garden area is far larger than the compost pile could possibly supply. The compost pile is only used for potted plants and for seed starting, and that sort of thing. For the main garden area, I’ll be getting the gypsum in 50 pound bags. It’s all a matter of scale.

  3. Don Setzco

    My experience is a wheel barrow or two of cow fertilizer to each raised bed every fall provides more than adequate feed for all vegies. I have not experienced blossom rot. I do now know science of all that is in that stuff, but it works.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Don, if you’ve got a good supply of cow manure, you’ve got it made. Judging from your web site – – you have a good supply. Thanks for the input!

  4. Dan Methvin

    I live next to a potato field. When the farmer spreads dolomite every year some gets spilled in the barn lot where he loads the spreader. I scavenge several hundred pounds and pile it by my greenhouse. Every planter pot gets a small handful. This year I also used a blossom rot spray containing calcium. Best tomato crop I have ever had.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Scavenging works great if you have the opportunity – glad to see someone taking full advantage of it.

  5. Wyandotte

    I wonder if a supplement intended for human consumption could be suitable for tomatoes if you need immediate results. I just noticed one tom. with BER. My plan is to apply some Natural Calm, a powder that you mix with hot water, then a chemical reaction occurs and you have a ready-to-drink, easily quickly digested Ca/Mg + potassium + Boron drink. By the way, BORON is essential for the transport of Ca within the plant. And I don’t see why the Mg would do any harm.

    It seems to me that tomato plants would respond more quickly than if you just put egg shells into the soil. Egg shells need time to work and even then if you have alkaline soil, I don’t know. Or you could place the egg shells in vinegar to release the calcium. What do you think. Tk. you.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      I think the best option for a short term fix would be foliar spraying with a liquid (of course) fertilizer that has calcium. Plants absorb through the leaves a lot faster than through the soil and then the roots. I tried that once, but it was already too late in the season so I didn’t give it a fair trial. I don’t remember what the name of it was, but I remember that I looked it up under calcium and blossom end rot. If something is available made for the purpose, I much prefer going with that rather than trying something else that “might” work. I am reminded of an on-line discussion regarding Y2K preparations where one woman said she was stocking up on dog food, because if all else fails, she could eat that. Really? How about just stocking up on real food? It just didn’t make sense that because something COULD be used that better options would be ignored. That’s certainly not like what you’re describing, but I get a laugh out of that every time I think of it, and perhaps you will too. Thanks for writing!

      • Wyandotte

        Thanks, Stephen, for your good advice. Now about that dog food. She wants to kill 2 birds with one stone. She could always feed the for-humans food to the dog, but the other way around? GAH!

  6. Daniel Garner

    Whenever my tomatoes have shown BER, I mix about a handful of regular old Epsom’s salt in a gallon of water and use that instead of the hose when I go to water them.

    • Stephen Clay McGehee

      Interesting. Blossom End Rot is typically due to a lack of calcium, and Epsom Salt is Magnesium sulfate. It could be that your plants were not getting enough calcium due to some chemical imbalance in which the calcium was available, but unable to be used by the plants until the Epsom salt corrected that imbalance. That’s just a guess on my part. Either way, it’s something I’ll have to try myself to see if it works in my situation. Thanks for writing!

      In addition, Epsom salt is generally good to use no matter what.

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