Q: I have heard that it is good to put plants in the same family together. Can you tell me which are the main plant families grown in vegetable gardens?

Answer: When you put plant families together in the garden you are practicing an excellent cultural control measure for fertility and pest management. Plants in the same family tend to have similar fertility requirements and pest problems. When you plant by family, it is also easier to rotate crops in the garden. Beans and peas are in the Fabaceae or legume family. Cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins are in the Cucurbitaceae family. Tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers are in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Try planting in family blocks this year by putting your tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in the same part of the garden, your squash family in a block, and your legumes in a block. Keep records of where you plant each family this year and then next year plan to move your families to other parts of the garden. Okra and corn are not related to other vegetables you plant, but could still benefit from crop rotation.

Q: How do I avoid getting blossom end rot on my tomatoes and peppers?

Answer: Blossom end rot is an abiotic disorder that causes water soaked areas at the blossom end of the fruit. It is caused by the roots of the plant getting insufficient water and calcium. The rapidly developing fruit will begin rotting at the basal ends when this occurs. There are no pesticides that can applied to stop or prevent this problem because it is not caused by a living organism, but rather soil conditions. To prevent blossom end rot, plant tomatoes in soils that are well drained and warm. Such soils as heavy clay that are colder than 70 degrees Fahrenheit exacerbate the problem. Be sure to fertilize with a complete fertilizer and maintain the soil pH between 6.5 and 7.0. Make sure the soil where the tomatoes are planted is evenly watered and not allowed to go into drought conditions. Two tablespoons of gypsum can be spread around the base of each tomato plant and watered in. Be careful not to cultivate too deeply when hoeing around tomatoes. The shallow roots are easily damaged by deep cultivation which could also lead to disruption of water and nutrient flow up from the roots to the fruits.

Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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