Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Eggshells?

“What is this a photo of?” you may ask. Why, it’s a quart-sized container full of ground eggshells. But why do we have such a thing? Where did it come from? These are all valid questions, and we have the answers, but they may be less than satisfying.

Last year we planted each tomato seedling with 1/2 C. bone meal, hoping to stave off the dreaded blight known as blossom end-rot. We had no previous experience with this heartbreaking scourge, which renders tomato fruit black and rotten on the vine, but we didn't want to take any chances. And whaddaya know--by July we had quite the healthy crop of black, withered tomatoes as far as the eye could see. End-rot is not a disease but rather a side-effect of uneven water supply. Calcium is supposed to help the tomato plant regulate its water intake during periods of drought and deluge. According to Wikipedia, "blossom end rot can happen even though sufficient calcium is present if watering is irregular." Great. So you're damned if you do, etc.

So what the hell does all of this have to do with a quart of ground eggshells? First, Mark is totally anal about the compost and doesn’t like to put eggshells in there because they take so long to break down. This may have something to do with the fact that he is the one who ends up screening the compost and picking out perfectly preserved eggshell fragments. Second, since they are essentially comprised of calcium, Mark now saves our eggshells (along with those of anyone else he can convince) as a readily available calcium source. He painstakingly peels off the inner membrane, air dries them, and then pulverizes them with our industrial-sized mortar and pestle. Sure, we don’t have enough hours in the day to read great books or do laundry in a timely fashion, but somehow we always make time to crush eggshells the old-fashioned way (although I’m not sure there is any other way to crush eggshells, actually). Incidentally, seashells are another great source of calcium. We're investigating beachfront property as we blog.

So if you’ve come to our house and cocked an eyebrow at a row of empty eggshells on our kitchen windowsill, now at least you know why. All I can say is that our tomato plants damn well better appreciate it. We're not even sure that the added calcium will make a difference. Oh yeah, did we mention that the quart-sized container has enough calcium for a whopping 8 plants? Yay. It's three omelets a day from now until May, baby. And the end-rot problem? We're already laying out the plans for our elaborate, state-of-the-art, permaculture-unfriendly drip irrigation system. But that's another impossibly exciting story...

4 comments:

Sound Bite said...

Why would you peal off the inner membrane? Is that just to hasten the drying process?

Mark said...

I only do it because the membrane turns into a papery substance when it dries. I was finding a lot of little pieces of 'paper' in the ground-up eggshells. I'm pretty sure this is an unnecessary step, I may even be losing extra calcium in the process. I may be some kind of maniac as well, the jury is still out.

Ruth Ferguson said...

Do you plan to use bone meal again this year? I'm planning to put my first tomato plant out soon, thanks for the info!

Mark said...

Hi Ruth, I do plan to use the bone meal again. I will probably do a 1/4 cup of both ground egg shells and bone meal. There is no guarantee that the added calcium will stave off end rot, but the phosphorous in the bone meal will still promote lots of flowering.