Why Tomatoes Split and How to Prevent It

Why Tomatoes Split and How to Prevent It
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Why Tomatoes Split and How to Prevent It

Different Types of Tomatoes and How to Grow and Care for Them

Just about every vegetable gardener will agree that tomato plants are a must-have in their vegetable garden. The flavor of a vine-ripened tomato just cannot be beat. Tomatoes are so versatile as they can be eaten fresh, canned or frozen. You can use tomatoes to make sauce, juice, soup, ketchup or tomato paste. Some gardeners use tomatoes to make tomato jam!

Choosing Which Type of Tomato to Grow

There are so many varieties of tomatoes available to the home gardener that it can be challenging to choose which to grow. You may find it interesting that there are hundreds of known varieties of tomatoes — and, in fact, some would say over a thousand! Here are some of your options, including: 

1. Cherry or Grape Tomatoes

This type of tomato is not about flavor. It is about size. A cherry tomato is about the size of a cherry and the grape tomato is obviously a little smaller than the size of a grape. If you love eating tomatoes fresh, you have to include at least one of these plants in your garden. You can grab a handful to eat right off the vine as you work in your garden. Pack a bunch in a sandwich bag for your lunch at work or keep a bowl on the kitchen counter for your family to snack on throughout the day.

2. Beefsteak Tomatoes

If you like tomatoes on your sandwiches, grow a beefsteak Whopper Tomato. These super large tomatoes will grow big enough that a single slice will cover your entire sandwich!

3. Plum Tomatoes

If you like to can tomato sauce or ketchup, these types of tomatoes are worth growing in your garden. Plum tomatoes are usually a little smaller and oblong in shape. They are very flavorful and will be meatier than a slicing tomato and have fewer seeds. You will not have to cook down these tomatoes for as long to get to a rich, thick sauce.

4. Slicing Tomatoes

These tomatoes are all-purpose tomatoes that can be used on a salad, a sandwich or canned and frozen for winter use. 

5. Yellow Tomatoes

Yellow tomatoes are becoming more and more popular for several reasons. Usually, yellow varieties are less acidic than red tomatoes. This is important for those who cannot tolerate the high acidity of some tomatoes. 

Another advantage is the variation in color. You can use red and yellow tomatoes together in your salsa, salad or other dishes that require tomatoes and enjoy the look of multiple colors.

6. Heirloom Tomatoes

Speaking of color, many heirloom tomatoes come in unique colors. They always have great flavor or no one would bother to grow them generation after generation. 

Many have strong disease and pest resistance, but you can help them to be even more resilient by planting a companion planting of marigolds or zinnias. Heirloom tomatoes come with fun sounding names like Black Krim, Cherokee purple or Mr. Stripey.

In addition to the above types of tomatoes, there are also organic tomato seeds and plants available, which is very important to many gardeners. Check out the new hybrid tomato varieties as most have superior disease and pest resistance as well. 

Growing Tomatoes from Seed

To have the greatest choice in tomato varieties, your best bet is to raise your tomatoes from seed. Obviously, no plant nursery can grow all the different varieties. They will usually offer the varieties that their customers like the best as started plants and then offer seeds of other additional varieties. 

Starting tomatoes indoors is not difficult, especially if you use a seed starting kit like a Park Seeds Bio Dome. This kit has everything you need to start seeds. Tomatoes prefer to be warm, so start your seeds in a warm room with plenty of light. If you are short on space that has a lack of either warmth or light, you may have to supplement with grow lights or a plant heating mat that is waterproof and placed under the growing plants. 

Check your seed packet for information on when to start your seeds indoors. It will tell you how many weeks ahead of time to start your seeds’ germination. You will then use that to count back from the estimated last frost date for your grow zone.

Once you have passed the last frost date, check the long-range weather for your area and confirm there is minimal chance of frost in the next few days. Gradually increase the amount of time your tomatoes spend outdoors in the sun, which is a process called hardening off. When your plants are able to tolerate being in full sun all day, they can be transplanted into the garden. 

If you bought your tomato plants from the nursery, you still need to go through this process. The leaves on your tomato plants can actually become sunburned if they do not have a chance to gradually get used to the full sun.

Interplanting Your Tomatoes

As mentioned previously, you can help your tomatoes be resistant to disease and pests by interplanting them with marigolds. Many of the insect pests do not like the scent of marigolds and will leave your nearby tomatoes alone as well. Lots of gardeners will plant a marigold between each tomato plant. 

There is another flower you should plant in your garden that will benefit your tomatoes and all the other plants in your vegetable garden. Plant zinnias! These easy to grow flowers are so colorful and bright that they make even working in the garden fun. Zinnias make great cut flowers for the indoor vase as well. 

Everyone loves zinnias. This is because zinnias bring in the pollinators. You need the bees and butterflies and even hummingbirds in your garden to pollinate the plants, including your tomatoes. Zinnias will also deter cucumber beetles and tomato worms.  

Both zinnias and marigolds are very easy to grow and can be started by direct seeding right in the ground. Of course, for an earlier start, plant the seeds indoors and transplant them in the garden when you are ready to plant your tomatoes. 

Why Your Tomatoes May Crack or Split

Once you have your tomatoes planted in the garden, check them regularly for any signs of trouble. Watch for leaf damage and check the backside of the leaves where many pests lay their eggs. 

One problem that gardeners sometimes have with tomatoes is cracking or splitting. The cracks can be vertical, or they may encircle the top of the tomato. It can be heartbreaking when your tomatoes are almost ready to pick and you discover they have cracked! What happened? Can it be stopped?

Usually, cracking is caused by a sudden increase of water to the plants. It can be a big rainstorm or maybe you were hoping for rain and allowed your plants to become dry. When the rain did not come, you went out and gave your tomatoes a thorough watering. 

The problem is that the interior of the tomato will plump up faster than the tomato skin can stretch and so it will split or crack. Your tomato is still edible — it just does not look very attractive.

How to Prevent Cracking or Splitting on Your Tomatoes

Cracking can be prevented by taking a few easy steps. First and foremost, put yourself on a schedule of regular watering for your tomatoes. Remember that tomatoes are susceptible to diseases that are more likely to occur if the foliage is frequently wet. 

Water your tomatoes right at the ground level to keep the foliage dry. If you must water with an overhead system like an oscillating sprinkler, water early in the morning so your plants have time to dry during the day. 

The best choice is a drip irrigation system with a timer. This will ensure that your plants get regular amounts of water and will keep the water off the foliage and on to the roots.

Using an Olla or Olla Alternative

Ollas are made of unsealed clay, which allows the water to gradually seep out into the ground making it accessible to the tomato roots. These are buried in the ground next to your tomatoes when you plant them. Only the opening is above ground so you can refill them as needed. 

Ollas can be used for many years, although you will have to remove them at the end of each season if you live in the north where the severe cold could damage them when the ground freezes.

A DIY method of achieving a similar effect as the Olla is to use milk cartons. There are two ways to do this. One method is to poke multiple holes in the bottom of the milk carton and partially bury it next to each tomato plant. 

The other method is to cut the bottom off the milk carton and invert it when putting it in the ground so that the spout is in the ground next to the tomato plant. Then, use your hose to fill the jug. With both methods, the water will gradually be absorbed right next to the root system of your tomato plants.  Use your hose to fill the jug every other day — or daily if there is a heat wave. 

The plants stay dry, and the tomatoes receive regular watering right to the roots, minimizing evaporation. The milk cartons can be saved and reused each year or you can recycle them at the end of the season. 

It is important to bury the milk carton deep enough to withstand the wind and not damage the roots of the tomatoes. That is why this should be done before or at the same time that you plant the tomatoes.

Mulching Your Tomatoes

Another important step to take when planting tomatoes is to mulch them. This will help to prevent evaporation of the water and help keep the soil from drying out. Mulching also helps to regulate the temperature of the soil. 

Another great benefit is that the mulch will suppress the growth of weeds that will otherwise compete with the tomato for water and nutrients from the soil.

Other Options to Avoid Splitting or Cracking Tomatoes

If you did not get around to installing one of the methods discussed above, how can you prevent cracking of the tomatoes? If you know there is going to be a big rainstorm right when your tomatoes are at their peak, the best thing you can do is pick the tomatoes that are ready. 

Pick all the ripe tomatoes for sure, but you can also pick the almost ripe tomatoes as well. Ripe and almost ripe tomatoes are the most vulnerable to cracking. Tomatoes will continue to ripen even after they are picked, so you can bring the not quite ready tomatoes into the house to continue ripening without cracking.

There is one more benefit to picking your tomatoes before a rainstorm or, for that matter, before you water the plants. As you can tell from the tendency to crack, tomatoes can absorb a lot of water. That water can dilute the flavor of your tomatoes. For the richest tomato flavor, pick your tomatoes before it rains or before you water. 

By following these simple suggestions, you can enjoy the full flavor of each variety of tomato that you planted in your garden without splitting or cracking.

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