Question: My mom lives in Ohio and is having a terrible problem with groundhogs. They've eaten her watermelon and cucumber plants, and even her marigolds. What can she do?
Answer: Woodchuck, whistling pig, groundhog -- the names are different, but the animal is the same. These rodents love to munch a whole host of garden plants, especially broccoli, lettuce, and beans. If they're hungry enough they'll go after watermelons and cucumbers, too.
The best way to control woodchucks is with a fence. Here's one option: Purchase a sturdy wire fence that stands 4 feet tall and has small holes in the grid. Stake the fence around your garden in spring before the woodchucks have found it. When building the fence, bend the bottom one foot of fence at a 90-degree angle and bury that section 6 inches deep into the soil. As the woodchuck comes to the fence, his natural inclination is to dig straight down to go under it. He'll encounter the buried fence and move on. To prevent him from climbing the fence, don't attach the top 2 feet of fence. As he climbs his weight will pull the fence back onto himself.
You can also use repellent sprays, such as hot pepper and predator urine, on the parts of the plant you won't be eating. It's best to use a combination of sprays and reapply after a rain.
Question: I live in Wisconsin and have a problem with blossom end rot on my tomatoes. What can I do to save the crop?
Answer: As the name implies, blossom end rot occurs at the bottom (blossom) end of the developing tomato, causing it to rot before it ripens. It's caused by a calcium deficiency in the cell wall of the fruit, usually the result of fluctuating soil moisture. If you have a dry period followed by heavy rain storms, followed by a dry period again, blossom end rot often results. It's worse on elongated tomato varieties, such as San Marzano. Any fruit that develops blossom end rot should be picked and composted.
To prevent new fruit from getting this disorder, mulch under your tomato planting with a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of straw to conserve moisture, and water the plants regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. There are also calcium sprays you can apply to your tomatoes to prevent the disorder from occurring.