Normally, a hot dry year would favor vegetable production as long as growers have adequate irrigation. However, when daytime temperatures inch up over 100 degrees Fahrenheit as we’ve seen several days this year, we begin to see problems with many vegetable crops.
Pollen begins to die and that affects fruit set and several disorders become apparent. One thing growers might see is blossom end rot, which simply is a rot at the blossom end of a fruit. Tomatoes usually suffer most, but eggplant, cucurbits and peppers all can succumb to the problem. It is technically caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant or the fruit. But in many cases, it’s not a lack of calcium in the soil, but rather an environmental factor that stops the plant from taking up calcium. Plants take up calcium via their transpirational system. As plants move water through the roots to the leaves, calcium moves into the plant. But in areas of severe drought, blossom end rot will appear because there is no water to move the calcium to the plant. To make matters worse, calcium is immobile in the plant, meaning it can’t move from an area of low demand to an area of high demand, so even temporary deficiencies can cause permanent damage.
When temperatures exceed 100 degrees, many plants will close down to conserve water, thus closing the path for calcium to get inside.
So, don’t be surprised if you are seeing blossom end rot on your tomatoes that were developing during the most recent heat wave.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to correct the problem; once blossom end rot appears it can’t be reversed. The fruit is safe to eat, just cut off the bottom part and remember you are not able to commercially sell them.
Since summer is only two-thirds over, there are some things you can do to prevent future occurrences of blossom end rot. If we see high temperatures again, try to minimize them for the plants by providing some kind of shade and giving them adequate water.
For more information about how extreme weather can impact your vegetables, contact the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service at (859) 236-4484.
Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agriculture/natural resources.