QUESTION: Last year my small tomato garden did pretty good, but some of the tomatoes began to rot on the bottom. Someone told me it was because of the lack of lime in the soil. What do I need to put in the hole in order to have good soil for growing tomatoes?
It sounds like your tomatoes developed the condition called blossom end rot. It’s generally due to a lack of calcium, but other factors could also contribute. Tomatoes need adequate moisture as they grow, but they should also be planted in soil that drains well and that contains the nutrients they need. So you may have to do more than just putting something in the hole.
In fact, any good garden begins with good soil. If the soil in your tomato bed is clay or sandy, you can improve it by working in compost, leaf mold, rotted manure or other organic matter. I’ve heard garden experts describe good soil to be the texture of moist, crumbly chocolate cake.
Before adding lime, it’s a good idea to have the soil tested to see what amendments may really be needed. Your county’s Extension service can provide the necessary instructions on how to have that done. A soil test also shows the soil’s pH – the measure of the acidity or alkalinity in the soil (tomatoes prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0). The cost of the test is reasonable (a basic soil test at the Soil, Plant & PestCenter in Davidson County, Tenn. is $7 per sample, and includes the soil pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium in the soil).
Back to that question about what to put in the hole: I’ve heard some gardeners say they crush a couple of eggshells and place them in the bottom of the hole when they plant tomatoes. You could try it; it wouldn’t hurt, especially after you’ve improved the soil with all that other good organic matter.