Column: The Garden Girl – Problems with Growing Vegetables

July 13, 2014 20:45 pm · 42 comments



Those of us that are growing vegetables can have our share of problems. Blossom End Rot, lack of pollination, pincher-bugs, tomato hornworms and rats are some of the most complained about problems of vegetable growing in our Claycord home gardens. Some of these problems have simple remedies, while others have more of a cross your fingers approach. What works for you, may not work for me, what worked last year, may not work this year. Gardening is sometimes easy and sometimes a mystery.

Blossom End Rot is a dark, circular shape section rot found at the end of a squash, or on the bottom of a tomato. Blossom End Rot has two argued causes; some say it is a calcium deficiency, and other say its is caused by uneven watering. Once an individual vegetable shows signs of Blossom End Rot that particular piece is done. You should remove the infected vegetable before you waste your plant energy trying to ripen it.

If you see signs of Blossom End Rot, mix ½ teaspoon of Epson salt with water and thoroughly water into the soil surrounding the plant. A large size tomato plant may need an entire gallon of Epson salt infused water. You should repeat this process again seven days after.

Prevention of Blossom End Rot is encouraged. Applications of Agricultural Lime should be applied to soil in the earliest days of spring, well before planting. Carefully follow package directions for proper application. Those who home compost should incorporate egg shells in their mix. This way they’ll have a nice bank of calcium in their composted material to be used when prepping the beds for vegetable installation. Also, some vegetable fertilizers have trace amounts of calcium in their formulas. Look for these types of fertilizers to use during the growing season.

Uneven watering is just that. It is inconsistent. It may mean that you may water daily, then miss a few days, stressing the plant. Perhaps when you water, you aren’t applying enough, leaving your plants in a perpetual state of stress, never allowing them to fully hydrate. When a plant is stressed it is more likely to acquire problems of fungus and pest. Keep in mind tomatoes, and squash like deep watering once to twice a week.

Lack of pollination is problem that has no reflection of the color of our thumb. It means that a plant isn’t showing male and female flowers at the precise time that a pollinizer (bee) is present. When the magic between flowers doesn’t happen, vegetable yields won’t happen. Years ago, at a Clayton Valley Garden Club meeting, one of the night’s speakers told the group to encourage male and female blossoms you should crush some of the squashes foliage with your hands and leave the damaged leaf on the plant. This kind of aggravation may initiate the plant to produce male and female flowers. Telling which flower is which is simple. In the early morning, look in the center of a blossom. It is easy to tell. If you spot both a male and female flower one morning, take pollinating into your own hands and brush pollen from the male flower into the center of the female flower.

Pincher bugs have been chewing their way through the gardens of Claycord this growing season. It must be their year. Rolling up and taping tubes of newspaper can be effective. Lay to tube in the garden at night, and the Pincher bugs will crawl in to the tube in the morning. Simply throw the tube in to recycling in the morning. If that method isn’t working for you, application of Sevin can be sprayed or spread depending on the form it is purchased in. If you want to use an organic product, use Spinosad, which is found as a spray, or a dust. Whichever product you use, please follow package directions.

Tomato hornworms are a problem that can come and go. Some years you have them and others you don’t. Two products to spray on your plants are B.T. or Spinosad. They are both proven to eliminate tomato hornworms. If spraying isn’t your thing, go hunting at night. Rumor has it that you can spot tomato hornworms on your plants if you shine a black light on them in the dark. They say the hornworms will glow. Let me know if that works.

Rats are a dirty secret of the vegetable gardening community. Rats have a taste for only the ripest fruit or vegetables in the garden. They would rather partially eat their chosen piece while it hangs on the plant and then move on to another fresh piece. Traps and netting the plants seem to work the best. Please do not use any poisons.

Now it’s your turn. How do you care for your vegetable garden problems. What remedies would you like to share?

Happy Gardening.

Nicole Hackett is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio and Gardens, located at 6780 Marsh Creek Road in Clayton, 925-672-0207.

Nicole writes for the Clayton Pioneer Newspaper, and She is also the Clayton Valley Garden Club 2012 President.

1 ??? July 13, 2014 at 9:26 PM

Thank you Nicole! My garden sucks this year :( I think I started my cucumbers 2 late & apparently something is getting 2 my tomatoes b4 me:( grrrrr!!!

2 Original G July 13, 2014 at 9:45 PM

Earwigs / Pincher bugs like my garden. Using empty rinsed tuna can. Put in about 1/4″ Soy Sauce then 1/4″ of cooking oil (cheap canola) and set out in garden next to the plants. They go for the soy sauce and suffocate in the oil.

Had a problem with ants, for them Boric acid sold as roach powder, Pound of it goes for about $4.50 at the large hardware chains, still have half of one bought 5 years ago.
Using refried bean cans rinsed, put in about 1/4 teaspoon of the boric acid, then 2 tablespoons of sugar and fill can up about 1/3 of the way and mix until dissolved. Put them out and don’t be surprised if next day can is covered in ants. May have to give them a refill but it will take care of them.

Had problems in past with tomatoes being half eaten. This year ran tubing from drip irrigation system up to the top of one of my 3 1/2 foot around, 6″x6″ squares, 5 foot tall concrete wire tomato cage and put one emitter to fill a plastic bowl for the birds. Turns out small finches about size of a humming bird are stopping by regularly for a drink. So far have not had single tomato partially eaten. Also put a drain line on the bowl so overflow doesn’t splash mud on tomatoes leaves.

Tomatoes early girl and agro paste don’t seem to be ripening up where stem connects. End up having to cut out the unripe part.
Anyone else seeing this?

3 Marianne July 13, 2014 at 10:21 PM

Wonderful article, for some reason I haven’t had any problems with my garden. So sorry for those of you who have.

4 milly July 13, 2014 at 11:25 PM

My vegetable garden is doing pretty good,I do feed the birds and they seem to be eating the bugs …thanks for the tips..

5 Antler July 14, 2014 at 2:45 AM

One of my favorite subjects! And there are so many marvelous tips for me to try!

Question: To stop blossom-end rot, you suggest adding a half teaspoon of Epson salts to water. Is that to one cup of water?

And the first one to tell the rest of us how many half-teaspoons should be mixed into a gallon of water wins free parking at the nursery! ;-)
Am I right? (Only kidding Nochol!)


6 Vandy July 14, 2014 at 7:05 AM

I love your column. One question I have today: is it really appropriate to trap insects in newspaper and then deliberately throw them into recycling? I think that might not be good for the recycling process. That being said I still appreciate your boundless ingenuity.

7 VikingPrincess July 14, 2014 at 7:06 AM

Garden girl
Excellent and helpful article. All of your articles are helpful. Just recently referenced your Lavender article and purchased Providence Lavender plants.
My tomatoe plants have grown to enormous unruly sizes this year I trimmed them back or the rest of the garden suffers from crowding. Amazing. Only have two plants and one has managed to outgrow the cage and attempt to topple it over. The “blueberry” tomatoes have behaved just fine.
Also found a new fruit/melon called “honeylope”. Looks like a honeydew that is smaller thn a cantelope and tastes like both Mmmm.
Love your green tips too. Will try the newspaper trick if my fertilizer with the diatoms does not do the trick.
Thank you garden girl.

8 ??? July 14, 2014 at 7:13 AM

water your veggie the veggie garden that always helps!

9 Silva July 14, 2014 at 7:25 AM

In Oakland I plant and walk away. In CLAYcord I amend the soil and water, water, & water some more. This year I planted the exact same veggies in Oakland & CLAYcord. I’m harvesting many pounds of delicious veggies in Oakland and nothing to speak of in CLAYcord. CLAYcord tomato’s are flavorless, apart from a cloying sweetness. Oakland tomato’s are packed with flavor and just the right amount of tartness. Delicious! And the zucchinis in CLAYcord look like that picture. :(

10 Durwood July 14, 2014 at 7:37 AM

I had the rot problem on my beefsteaks, but only those. The early girl, cherries, and romas all produced a ton so far and are delish. All 4 are in the same garden bed with the same soil mix and water (well water on drips twice daily). I will try the epsom mix on the beefsteaks this week!

I do have something eating the tomatoes (beefsteak only again) and I do think it is rats. they are also eating the grapes that are hanging low to the ground and the birdseed at the feeder.

I also get the occasional unfertilized zucchini, but since I get too many zucchini and yellow squash, I can’t eat them all anyways. Sometimes I take the flowers to cook those when I have too many squash.

Thanks for the tips, I am always looking for ways to improve my soil mix, sounds like lime might do the trick, at least for the tomato bed!

11 Veggieful July 14, 2014 at 7:41 AM

Great info- thank you! I was experiencing the zuchini’s and crooknecks in my garden turning yellow and dying and read about the need for lime in such cases a few weeks ago. However I could not find lime at the stores I visited so on a whim, I stuck some tomato fertilizer spikes near their bases and have finally succeeded in getting a few zuchini to grow correctly again but no luck with the crookneck-
Another question: my strawberry garden started somewhat nicely and got a few decent strawberries soon after planting the nursery seedlings a few months ago- however no fruit since! I’ve seen a few flowers here and there but no fruit. How can I encourage them to grow again?

12 Garden Girl July 14, 2014 at 8:33 AM

1/2 teaspoon of Epson salt mixed in one gallon of water. Sorry. My mind works faster than my figures.

13 Antler July 14, 2014 at 9:26 AM

Thank you for the ratio clarification! Happy day to you and Blossom!

14 anon July 14, 2014 at 10:51 AM

where is the lavender article? i need all the help i can get.

15 anon July 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM

is the lavender to draw bees? i need something to draw bees, my strawberry guava drop all the blossoms, i thought i was from over watering but i think its from lack of pollination. the tree looks good.
This article is so much better than the political one don’t ya think? we actually solve problems here and a lot less fighting. maybe people need to spend more time in the garden.

16 Mostly Fruit not Veggies July 14, 2014 at 11:16 AM

I gave up on most fruits and all veggies in my garden this year in favor of the all awesome chili fruit. I’ve never had much luck with that pesky tomato fruit so I won’t be having any fresh salsa. Due to the length of time it takes chili plants to mature the fruit is only just now starting to show up, with another month or so to ripen.
Have any of you noticed an uptick in the praying mantis population this year? I’ve presently got two or three hanging out, and at one point I had collected 10 – 12.

17 Enfield303 July 14, 2014 at 11:30 AM


Plant Salvia. We get all kinds of bees from dusk till dawn. Honey bees, Carpenter bees, Bumble bees, and things I can’t even identify all day long.

18 Garden Girl July 14, 2014 at 12:37 PM

@Mostly Fruit Not Veggies
For some time now Praying Mantis egg sacks have been sold at nurseries and garden centers. With egg sacks holding as many as 300 babies, and with few preditors an uptick in the population is a sure thing. Praying mantis are beneficial in the garden when young, but large adults seem to have a taste for butterflies and bees. They sit on lantana, rose and lavender stems eating beneficial pollinators all day long.
We stopped ordering egg sacks over 5 years ago.

19 Owl Lady July 14, 2014 at 1:27 PM

@anon – try planting some Bee Balm. They go crazy for it and it is pretty drought tolerant. And, I agree with you abut the fighting and spending more time in the garden. While I may get tired working in the garden, it is never tiresome, as the fighting is.

20 Original G July 14, 2014 at 1:39 PM

@Mostly Fruit not Veggies, Saw one baby about 3/8″ long last month and that’s’ it. Found one at work, will be releasing it into garden early in the morning. As with ladybugs want to do releases when it’s cool out, more of them tend to stick around.

21 Silva July 14, 2014 at 1:52 PM

Mmmmm. I’m getting chiles. Pasillas, jalapeños, scorpions, Thais, chiles de árbol, seranos! I have 15 pasillas now, from one plant. More on the way. Time for chile rellenos!

Last year I saw my first mantis ever in Concord. Very pretty. That’s too bad.

anon #15, this is much better that the Politics thread. I don’t much like bashing my head on the wall either.

22 Tomatoes July 14, 2014 at 2:16 PM

My tomatoes are doing really well this year and so far, they taste delicious. Last year we had the rat problem and I was hesitant to even plant them this year. But, I’m happy I did. I guess the rats found something better, thank goodness!
And yes, it is refreshing coming here and having everyone be nice to one another and share. Too much arguing and disagreeing going on these days.
Happy Gardening!

23 PhilthyPHRESH July 14, 2014 at 2:39 PM

I’m getting unwanted mushroom growth. Any advice on fungus prevention and eradication?

24 macawlady July 14, 2014 at 4:16 PM

I am seeing some blossom end rot in my tomatoes this year. I try to water evenly, but who knows? I think the extreme up-down temperatures we’ve been having lately, one day hot and next day cool, are affecting growth as well. Haven’t seen any hornworms this year so far. Cherry tomatoes are doing the best, we have more than we can eat. Happy growing, everyone.

25 Azomite is a great soil additive July 14, 2014 at 4:16 PM

Most nurseries don’t even know what Azomite is. The only place I can find it is at That stuff is great for remineralizing your soil.

26 Incognito July 14, 2014 at 4:21 PM

In the past, I’ve also purchased the praying mantis sacks, too! They are wonderful! And, now that is has been several years since I have bought them, still see many of them every year.

So far this summer, my garden has been great with little to no bug issues. Like others have stated, rats have had dinner on a couple here and there. No white flies of yet this year, and I am wondering if this is because it has been so dry.

There’s something to be said for growing your own harvest of veggies and herbs. Love the satisfaction of stepping into my backyard to pick for dinner. And, I know I don’t get sick of BLTs

27 Owl Lady July 14, 2014 at 4:22 PM

I am having the rat problem this year. SOOOOO gross. Anybody know how to get rid of them without using poison? Traps? We have owls and don’t want to have them eating the poison.

28 dembeeskilledmahboy July 14, 2014 at 6:31 PM

THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! These plants and gardens should be illegal to grow like cannabis is outdoors now! Because all these plants do is bring hordes of KILLER bees that killed mah boy! Think of the CHILDREN allergic to these KILLER bees and you all want to plant more flowers and gardens? Make all gardens illegal we don’t need no more bees killing children!!! You can ban cannabis flowers because of there smell but you cant ban every flower that attracts KILLING MURDEROUS bees that KILLED MAH POOR BOY!!!

29 Silva July 14, 2014 at 6:34 PM

Owl Lady, I have had the rat issue also, and at least they all seem to be roof rats in this area, not the wharf rats that are farther west, eew! I mowed down a large area of Algerian ivy which helped a lot, but I’m thinking your owls are probably THRILLED about them! And it does sound like poison wouldn’t be an option for you. I’ve tried several different traps, but thankfully never caught any. That can be horrifying. I once found a lower jawbone in a trap I set out for mice. :(

30 Antler July 14, 2014 at 8:08 PM

Ouch…..awwwwowie…..I’m staggering in from the Politics thread. Please may I just lie here on the ground and beg you for ‘mater sandwiches and salsa with lime tortilla chips?

Maybe if I sleep in my gardening gloves, I’ll feel all better in the morning! Have a nice rest, everyone.

31 Atticus Thraxx July 14, 2014 at 8:44 PM

Ah, the Politics thread…
“When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead”

Seasoned vet like you ought to know better.

Go vegetables! (to stay on thread)

32 Clayton Squirrel July 14, 2014 at 8:50 PM

The Garden Girl articles are 1000 times better than the politics thread. I just never go there anymore.

I was having a pretty good year in the vegetable garden but the deer have returned to nibble at my tomato plants and the tomato plants do not like that at all. The deer are not touching my pumpkin vines but I think a ground squirrel put know marks on a young pumpkin. Maybe it will just add character.

I almost forgot that you can scratch a word or design into the skin of a young pumpkin and it will be there in a whitish kind of scar when the pumpkin is big. I did that one year for CVHS.

33 Silva July 14, 2014 at 9:30 PM

Thank you Atticus Thraxx! One of life’s mysteries solved. I’ve never been able to figure out that lyric!

34 Dr. Jellyfinger® July 14, 2014 at 9:46 PM

Remember what the Door Mouse said…
Feed your head!

35 Marianne July 14, 2014 at 10:35 PM

lol :-)

36 VikingPrincess July 14, 2014 at 11:24 PM

Wow! Grown to quite a thread!

BTW – for snails and slugs I have used copper tags on twist ties on the plants etc. But copper is a different element these days and harder to find.
Any other green suggestions?

37 Wilma July 15, 2014 at 12:02 AM


38 Original G July 15, 2014 at 12:13 PM

Back to gardening.
Has anyone tried using stale beer in the garden to control slugs and snails?

39 Silva July 15, 2014 at 12:57 PM

Owl Lady, I forgot to say don’t throw things in the compost heap that are superfoods to rodents; nuts seeds & grains etc.

40 Owl Lady July 15, 2014 at 1:22 PM

@Silva – thanks for the info. The owls are fat and sassy from all the rats, and the rats are fat and sassy from eating my fruit. Food chain?

@Original G – I tried the stale beer and it didn’t work at all. I use organic Sluggo. Kind of expensive, but you don’t really need to use much.

@Antler – come over to my house. I’ll make you a ‘mater sandwich. I know the political stuff is enticing sometimes, but maybe not good for us because people get SOOOOO negative and ugly. Stay here and play for a while. XOXO

41 Silva July 15, 2014 at 1:53 PM

Owl Lady, :D. You may end up w/o a rat problem very soon!

42 Garden Girl July 15, 2014 at 3:42 PM

It was very exciting for me this week to see all you folks posting about gardening. This has been the most thread action that Garden Girl on Claycord has ever had! Thanks everyone.

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