Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trouble Shooting in the Garden

My garden is far from perfect and each year it seems my gardening skills are challenged in new and different ways. Something different dies, wilts, shrivels up, doesn't produce, or turns yellow without my full understanding of why or how. I go through the usual list of things that could be wrong hoping to find the problem:

Are bugs, worms, and/or slugs in the garden?
Are we watering too much?
Are we not watering enough?
Are the plants getting too much sun?
Are the plants not getting enough sun?

After addressing all of the most typical gardening problems, I turn to the gardening experts. This year has been no different. After having the worst crop of tomatoes I have had to date, I went running to the closest garden center looking for some answers to my latest gardening challenge.

I planted a variety of tomatoes, added quality compost to the soil, staked them appropriately, watered them with love, and waited for their fruit to grow. Initially, the plants did great and before I knew it, little green tomatoes were evident on each of the plants. Then, with no prior warning, the plants growth seemed stunted. Not just one tomato plant, but all of the tomato plants stopped growing. At first I thought it was just slow overall growth and doubted a real problem since it was obvious that fruit was growing and riping on the plants. But then the leaves turned yellow and began to die. It was at this point that I could not deny a problem existed and sought some gardening advice.

The problem seemed unanimous: my tomato plants had a calcium deficiency. It turns out that calcium deficiencies are a plant disorder common in acidic soil and are caused typically from a lack of calcium in the soil itself. I found a great website that helped explain the problem as well as how to treat and prevent the deficiency in the future.

One solution to get more calcium back in the soil is by adding rinsed, dried, and finely crushed egg shells two inches below the surface of the soil. Egg shells contain valuable nutrients, such as calcium, which are essential for cell growth in plants. Fast growing plants, such as tomatoes, quickly deplete the surrounding soil of calcium, and for the plants to thrive, the calcium needs to be replenished.

Another option, one which should be used on larger gardens suffering from calcium deficiencies, is to add lime to the soil. My understanding is that there are four different lime products available for purchase: Calcium Carbonate, Calcium-Magnesium Carbonate, Calcium Oxide, and Calcium Hydroxide. Each lime product is unique and responds differently when applied. Check the product label carefully to determine which product is best for you. Or better yet, ask the gardening center expert which one he/she recommends!

Whichever lime option you chose, the calcium will increase the pH of your soil. If you already have a high pH soil, then Calcium Sulfate Dihydrate is the recommended product for you since it will lower the pH of your soil as well as add calcium. This product is best either when growing an acid loving crop, such as tomatoes, eggplants, or peppers, or when your soil is alkaline (having a pH value greater than 7).

One word of caution however. Over-liming can cause more damage to your plants than the actual calcium deficiency. Because of this, it is important to follow the directions on the product label. Adding calcium to your soil at the right time and in the right amounts can help you prevent and treat calcium deficiency, and produce a healthier crop, but you need to consider all of the above variables for success.

Whew. I liked it best when the solution was just some simple egg shells.

No comments: