It’s such a rewarding feeling to pick a fresh tomato from our own garden. But if they start to have cracks forming on the skin as they’re ripening, then that’s a sign you need to make some tweaks to your gardening habits to avoid any more of your tomatoes splitting.
Cracks or splits on the tomato’s surface are mostly caused by changes in moisture levels within the soil, like when there’s a period of heavy rain followed by dry weather. This results in the tomato flesh growing and expanding much quicker than the skin itself — causing it to burst and split.
When this happens, you might think all the hard work, effort, and patience that went into growing your tomatoes has gone to waste. But, Food & Wine explains they are safe to eat in most instances, as long as the split isn’t too deep into the tomato. In this case, you can slice around that area of the tomato to eat the unaffected parts. If the split is bigger, however, there’s a possibility that bacteria, fungi, or insects might have crept into the fruit and you should avoid eating or cooking with it.
Larger splits tends to happen with cracks that run vertically toward the stem.
Horizontal cracks, on the other hand, are often more shallow, so it’s easier to cut around those areas of the skin and use the tomatoes.
So all is not lost if this happens, but there are also easy ways to prevent the tomatoes in your garden from splitting in the first place. Try these three tips so that your spring and summer harvest remains in great condition!
Consistently Water Your Tomatoes
Consistently watering your tomato plants can ensure they get the right amount of moisture at all times and prevent any cracks or splits. How often you water them will depend on the type of plant. According to the experts at Gardening Channel, the soil from baby tomato plants and seedlings tends to dry out quicker, so they’ll need to be watered often. They suggest checking the tomato plant at least once a day and lightly spritzing it with a spray bottle to keep the top of the soil hydrated.
For larger tomatoes grown directly in the ground, they recommend giving them one to two inches of water per week at the beginning of the season. As the weather starts getting hotter (like when spring finally turns into summer!) and the plants start growing larger, you’ll probably need to water them twice each day. The morning and late afternoon are the best times for watering because the temperatures are slightly cooler during those parts of the day.
Retain Moisture Within the Soil
After establishing a consistent watering schedule, keeping moisture within the soil is super important to prevent the tomatoes from splitting. A gardening must-have that helps with this is mulch. It not only maintains the hydration of the soil, but also keeps weeds away by blocking out any excess sunlight from hitting deeper within the soil. You can buy a bag of it from your local gardening supplies store (Buy at Home Depot, $3.48) or make a DIY version with leftover coffee grounds.
Make sure you spread a two to three-inch thick layer of mulch on top of the soil to prevent it from getting dry and to ensure that your tomatoes are plump and free of any splits or cracks.
Pick the Tomatoes Early
Once your tomatoes look bright red and ripe, it’s tempting to let them sit on the vine for a couple days longer to get a sweeter and more intense flavor. But you should actually pick them off the vine before they turn that vibrant shade to prevent cracking or splitting, according to the experts at Den Garden.
This is because it lessens the chance of your tomatoes being exposed to an unexpected rain storm, which is a recipe for cracks to start forming. If they have a light pink blush color, then they’re perfect to pick and store at room temperature (55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit) on your counter to speed up the ripening process.
Your blemish-free ripe tomatoes will last about one to two days at this temperature according to the experts at Food52, which is their recommended way to store them. So take advantage of this short window of time by using tomatoes for a variety of seasonal recipes like salsas, salads, or even roasting them with other delicious veggies like asparagus for a healthy side dish!
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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