BER (blossom end rot) - conflicting information

Brian_THJune 10, 2012

According to Dr. Carolyn Male, university studies have shown that adding lime, eggshells, Tums, and especially calcium chloride sprays, have no effect at all on BER. The physiological condition - unless the plants are in highly acidic soils - is not affected by our attempts to 'cure' it via chemicals.


The FAQ on the issue from Ohio State Univ. also more or less backs this up:

However various suggestions on GardenWeb and even a FAQ here advocate adding various types of calcium-rich materials to the tomato garden to "treat" it.

THEN AGAIN, this page from a noted school for agriculture, Clemson Univ., states:

So - which do we believe? Carolyn, are you out there?

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I go with Dr. Male for the most part. I get BER without fail in my container tomatoes early on. I started listening to Mike McGrath on NPR because he's entertaining and so then I thought his eggshells would work for me, nope. After awhile I realized why he doesn't get BER, he plants out late, so that uneven spring weather doesnt impact him much. I don't get it in my garden, but I'm sure my containers are from me not knowing how to water when they're young and it's wetter out.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 8:43PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Yes, I'm here and I'm going to again cut and paste what I wrote before and call your attention to the paragraph below that starts with the sentence..... the old information about BER...... b'c that's the crux of the problem. That is, you'll find some University sites and some private sites and many other sites who still maintain that the single cause of BER is lack of soil Ca++ and don't mention anything else, which is why in that paragraph I said that the old info is going to take at least another generation before the correct info is found almost everywhere.


Here's my cut and paste again.

(With BER there is NO problem with absorption of Ca++ though the roots. The problem is maldistribution within the plant that can be induced by a number of stresses which include uneven delivery of water, too much N, growing in too rich soil, too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry you name it.
As the plants mature they can better handle the streses that can induce BER so usually it goes away.

The two exceptions are first, if the soil has NO Ca++ as confirmed with a soil test, and that's a rare condition, and second, if the soil is too acidic in which Case Ca++ is bound in the soil.

Again, adding lime, egg shells and on and on can not and will not prevent BER b'c absorption of Ca++ thru the roots is OK.

Paste tomatoes are especially susceptible to BER and I think someone in a post above mentioned that.

If you go to the top of this first page and click on the FAQ link and scroll down you'll also find an article about BER in case some of you have never looked at the FAQ's And there's some darn good articles there as well, but I wouldn't pay any attention to the variety list b'c it's way out of date.

The old information about BER being caused solely by lack of soil Ca++ has been shown to be wrong with research that's been done in the last 20 years or so, but it's going to take another generation before the real story gets into books, websites, magazines, etc. Most of the better websites already have the correct information.

BER affects not only tomatoes, but peppers, squash, cabbage, cauliflower, etc., and it's a huge multimillion dollar problem for the industry, which is WHY all that reasearch was done. For instance, when tissues were taken from a plant that has BER fruits and was assayed for Ca++, the normal level of Ca++ was found, it just wasn't getting to the blossom end of fruits. And there's also a condition called internal BER where the fruits look fine, no evidence of BER externally, but when you cut open the fruit the inside is black

Hope that helps

Betsy had added at the end of my article the following, with which I agree.

(So, what it comes down too is: Tums do not work, nor do egg shells, milk, and other "home remedy" treatments. Foliar spray only works in some cases. Time and good management practices work best.)

So, you can believe what I wrote above, or noting what I said about wrong or incomplete information still being out there and make up your own collective minds about BER by doing as much online research as I have in the past 20 years or so. ( smile)


    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 8:46PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Carolyn has posted on this question here many times and likely will stop by again in the near future. Meanwhile the search will pull up any number of discussions in which she participates.

One such response:

Inconsistent moisture is one inducer of BER and mulching can help, too much fertilizer is another one b'c it causes stress to the plant, and high winds can also induce it as a stress, but lack of calcium is no longer felt to be an inducer for the majority of folks unless their soil has no Ca++ or their soil is acdic, which binds up Ca++ in the soil and that situation can be fixed by raising the pH.

In the last 20 years or so there's been lots of new data to show that Ca++ is not the major problem. And it's the impact to commercial veggie and fruit growing that has led so many Universities, etc., to do that research b/c of the monetary impact on the industry.

Stop Rot has not been founbd to be useful. Directions say to spray it on the fruits, but the tomato epidermis does not allow any molecules to enter. If it did the mature fruits would blow up after every significant rain.Spraying it on the foliage is also highly controversial as many University studies have shown.

Ca++ needs to get to the distil portion ( blossom end) of the fruits and when there is stress the movement of Ca++ in the plant is altered/

If preventing BER with Ca++ alone added in almost any form, and that includes eggshells as well, worked, the tomato industry would save millions of dollars each year b'c BER not only can affect tomatoes, but also squash, peppers, Cabbage, and several other crops.

The FAQ here does not advocate any particular fixes and goes so far as to state that "quick fixes are difficult" (which is a polite way of saying impossible). Further it goes out of its way to add all sorts of qualifiers such as "some claim", "recommended by many", "suggestions", etc. there by offending no one why allowing folks to make up their own mind.

While some few do post and make the claim that they have found the "cure" or the sure-fire way to prevent it be it TUMS or egg shells or whatever none of those claims are supported by any research whatsoever and are, in fact, coincidence based. And there are far more posts here disputing those claims than there are cure claims themselves.

As Carolyn has alluded to above if indeed a cure or quick fix for BER exists then why do so many experienced growers skoff at those claims and why is the commercial industry spending millions of dollars each year on research into the problem?

Every year at this time we beat the poor BER horse to death. Any number of us can claim until we are blue in the face that BER is a Ca mal-distribution issue caused by inconsistent soil moisture levels or by excess N. But in the end each person has to make up their own mind as to who to believe, which sources they find to be the most legit.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 9:02PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

See I said she'd stop by while I was typing. :)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 9:03PM
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I get it on perhaps a maximum of 5% of my fruit - I have 28 plants this year of many different varieties and always get more tomatoes than I can fit in my, and my neighbor's, freezer, besides the hundred or more we eat during the season in sandwiches, salads, etc., - so I do pretty good with BER.
But I do run across the ol' add lime/eggshells/crushed tums et al quite a bit on the 'net, and it does appeal to "common sense" rather than science, but as an engineer, I'd rather go with the science. :-)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 9:07PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

For instance, when tissues were taken from a plant that has BER fruits and was assayed for Ca++, the normal level of Ca++ was found, it just wasn't getting to the blossom end of fruits.


Above is another snippet from what I wrote and oh how I'd like to link to that article but no can do b'c the original link disappeared from my faves.

What it's saying is that yes, Ca++ normally does get taken up by the roots and can be found in the tissues of the tomato, other than the two situations I mentioned which were NO Ca++ in the soil as determined by soil testing and soil too acidic in which case the pH can be altered to counter that.

I forgot to say that what I wrote refers to inground tomatoes. When growing in continers, EB's or otherwise, usually the mix added to the containers is not pure soil, rather, usually a combo of soilless mix such as Pro=mix and friends and then usually bagged composted cow manure, and in that case Ca++ should be added to whatever is in the container mix.

Finally, I've signed off on every post I've ever done as Carolyn, not Dr. Carolyn, forever, probably since 1983 and I do prefer Carolyn. The Dr. Carolyn wasn't even known, really, until my book on heirloom tomatoes was published in 1999 and there it was on the cover.

There are times when the Dr, bit is used but that was in my professional life, and always Carolyn for private life and gardening. After all, I was raised on a farm where we had acres and acres of tomatoes and almost any other other crop you want to mention, as well as orchards, some of which contained trees that the Shakers planted since it was my grandfather who bought our acreage from the Shakers in 1905/


    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 12:34AM
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texasjack(Houston Tx)

Dear Carolyn,

Thanks for the addendum about container vs in ground. As a novice, but intense container hobbyist, I was going nuts over what sounded like completely contradictory advice.


Texas Jack

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 2:49PM
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