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August 16th, 2011

The Cause of Cracked Tomatoes

My ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes are cracking like crazy—vertically, horizontally, all over. Other tomatoes are fine. Please help!

blog-dougAs you have discovered, some varieties of tomatoes—often the ones with thin, tender skins—are more prone to cracking than others. In fact, genetics is the most significant factor leading to tomato “growth cracks.”

Weather is a frequent contributing factor. A heavy rainfall (or generous irrigation from the gardener) causes nearly ripe fruit to suddenly swell with moisture and the skin to split. Some experts say that too much nitrogen fertilizer is another cause. Fruits that are exposed to direct sun, rather than being shaded by the tomato foliage, may also be more likely to crack.

To limit cracking, strive to maintain steady soil moisture. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers. Keep foliage dry and clean and therefore better able to resist fungal diseases that lead to leaf loss. Harvest crack-prone varieties a day or two shy of maturity, especially if a heavy rain is forecast.

Despite your best efforts, you’re still likely to find a few cracked fruits. Just carve out the cracked parts and eat the rest.  —Doug Hall

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March 1st, 2011

A Sophie's Choice of Tomatoes

dougIf you had room to grow only one tomato plant, which variety would you choose? Would it be a hearty heirloom slicer like ‘Pink Brandywine’, a sweet pop-in-your-mouth cherry like ‘Sungold’, or a chef favorite like ‘Amish Paste’?

Thank goodness this is just a rhetorical question for me. I have room at home and in the Organic Gardening test garden for dozens of tomato plants, and I devote the space to as many different varieties as possible. At the magazine’s tomato-tasting event last summer, the diversity of tomato flavors was obvious to all. In addition to the basic flavor variables of acidity and sweetness, some varieties add wildcard flavors: smoky, fruity, earthy, zesty. Yum.

Last year, we trialed eight tomato varieties in the test garden. As I selected the test varieties for 2011, I tried to limit myself to eight again. Obviously I was not up to the task; we’ll be growing 12 varieties of tomatoes this year. And there are others that I’m still having second thoughts about. Maybe we could squeeze in a couple more?  —Doug Hall

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