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MSU Extension Service

Home Grown is an educational, entertaining, question-answer column seen weekly in "News from the Genesee MSUE Office," a weekly newsletter for Genesee County Master Gardeners. Special thanks to the Genesee, Oakland and Livingston county MSU Extension offices for providing this service.

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This week's HomeGrown

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I am having tomato trouble. The bottoms of some of my tomatoes are flat, black and leathery. The top part of the tomato looks good but the bottom is rotted. My friend told me that this is a calcium deficiency and I have been piling on the egg shells and it is still happening occasionally. How do I get more calcium?

You don't. Believe me when I tell you that you have more than enough right now. You have a condition on the tomatoes that is called Blossom End Rot. It isn't an insect or a disease. Technically, it could be called a calcium deficiency but that deficiency happens because there isn't enough moisture in the tomato plant to transport the available calcium to the far reaches of the tomato fruit. Lack of consistent moisture sounds so common and boring. But, in reality, this is what's going on. Water can fail to be transported by the tomato plant for several reasons. It could be the plants are not watered regularly or deeply enough. It could be that the root system is not large enough. That could be a nutrient problem. The cure is getting a soil test and following the recommendations for next year's bacon and mayo team member. The most likely cause is blistering hot weather with huge demands for moisture by the plant. Even with a good root system, it may not be able to suck up enough water to supply the demands. You said this is happening occasionally. This lets out the possibility of a big problem. Keep watering and don't add egg shells. Michigan was the bottom of prehistoric oceans for bezillions of years. All that marine life with shells gave their tiny lives to your soil to supply it with calcium. It would be very rare in Michigan to have a calcium deficiency.

I have Black-eyed Susans in several of my flower beds. On bunch is exhibiting some weird problems. There are purple blotches or staining on almost all of the leaves. If it is bad enough, the leaf dries up. Is this a virus? I can't find any bugs walking around.

It is actually an insect but it doesn't walk. There is a tiny insect called a Triozid attached to the leaf in the middle of some of the purple spots. It is small, oval and flat. It looks like a scale insect. There are no legs or head, just a tan flat thing surrounded by purple. As this psyllid begins to feed, it causes the discoloration. In purple areas without the insect, it could have already completed its life cycle. The cure is pretty simple. Spray the underside of the leaves well with Insecticidal Soap or Sevin. The soap is less toxic. Buy insecticidal soap to guarantee quality. Repeat once a week for a couple of weeks. Killing the insect won't fix the purple-blotched leaves, but you should probably not get any more. Watch next season for the first purple spots and kill them while they are babies. You will cut down on those unsightly two-tone leaves and improve plant vigor.

I have some stacked firewood. When restacking the wood, I found small holes in the wood and some sawdust that was as soft as baby powder. Do I spray the wood?

Do no spraying. This is Powder Post Beetle damage. They feed on dead wood. Spraying the wood is not going to get the guys inside the wood. When you burn sprayed wood, you can create several dangerous conditions. The most important is you inhaling chemical-laden smoke. This wood may burn at a higher temperature and could have a potential of causing a chimney fire. It's best not to test either theory. Put this wood first on the list to be burned when it gets cold. Don't store the wood in the house except for a very short time. You don't want your little beetles wandering around the house.

Gretchen Voyle, MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture
Agent 517/546-3950


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