Cracking up

I think most gardeners sort of lust for the perfect tomato (not ALL, since we know that oddballs like Kylee at Our Little Acre and Steve aka The Grumpy Gardener are proud freaks tomato haters). And I'd say I probably do grow a perfect tomato every summer. But I'm not content with one perfect tomato. I want bushels of them. This year I have nine tomato plants growing in three areas and despite the fact that we've had a hot summer, which the tomatoes should have loved, I'm disappointed with the yields I'm seeing so far.

What's even more disappointing is a rather mysterious thing that is crashing my perfect tomato party. In almost every case, I've picked a perfectly lovely tomato, admiring its ripe red skin and perfect form (or if it's less than perfect and one of those oddball tomatoes then I admire its uniqueness) but by the time I get it to the basket in the house its skin is split. Sometimes these splits show up longitudinally and sometimes in a pattern that looks like a bloodshot eyeball.

This Black Krim was darn near perfect when I picked it off the vine. Five minutes later it had cracked almost all the way around its equator.
It's not the end of the world, of course. The tomatoes are still perfectly good for eating. But you can't really keep them and you certainly can't share them with friends, so it's another excuse to hurry up and eat them quickly. That's not really a problem now when they are taking their own sweet time ripening, but if they all decide to ripen at once this could become a big problem.

So what's behind this cracking skin? Watering. Inconsistent watering makes for weak-skinned tomatoes and with the drought we experienced in the middle of summer, the watering of the tomatoes was as inconsistent as it could have been. This is the same reason that tomatoes crack on the vine. Basically they suck up all the water they can, expand and their skins just crack under the load. But that doesn't really explain why they crack within 10 minutes of picking them as mine have been doing.

I have an unscientific theory: As soon as the nutrient and water source to the tomato is cut off (that is, once it's removed from the umbilical cord of the vine) the skin loses just a tad of moisture content, causing it to shrink. And with its plump, juicy, meaty tomato guts lurking inside, the skin just can't contain all that without cracking.

An interesting note is that the one tomato that has not cracked yet is the one my dog Hudson is growing in a container on the patio, which has received extremely consistent watering (virtually every day).

My mom told me to try cutting them off the vine and therefore taking a bit of stem with the tomato but I've not noticed that this made much difference. I've now resorted to trying to pick tomatoes before they are completely ripe—which most tomato scholars insist is just find as they will ripen fully off the vine once they get to a certain point. I've not had any skin cracking on the tomatoes picked before their peak.

So the dream of a haul of perfect tomatoes isn't dead yet. I'll just have to be a little more patient instead of biting into them in the garden. 

1 comment :

  1. I'm not sure if your theory is right, but it's a pretty good thought. I have one heirloom tomatoe which is splitting, but the others are all right (Early Girl and Sweet 1000s). What I found works is to pick them slightly underipe - l leave them on the window sill to finish ripen. Not the perfect answer for those of us who love to venture out to the garden, pick and eat a tomatoe right away. But they last a little longer that way.


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