Why Do Tomatoes Split as They Ripen?
Plus, how to prevent it.
You've watched your home-grown tomatoes spring up from yellow blossoms to ripe, ready-to-pick fruit. But one day, you find that your gorgeous crop has cracked. Luckily, new tomatoes will grow and you can redeem your garden from this common setback. But first, find out why tomatoes split, how to prevent it, and whether you can eat split tomatoes after all.
Why Do Tomatoes Split?
Tomatoes split when they receive an inconsistent amount of water. Though cracking is more common in ripe tomatoes, it can affect green tomatoes as well.
Heavy rain tends to be the culprit when it comes to cracking, especially for tomatoes that grow in dry conditions. On the other hand, tomatoes can survive downpours only to split after a sudden shift to dry weather. Forgetting to water tomatoes and suddenly drenching them causes cracks, too.
This happens because excess water causes the inside of the fruit to grow much faster than the skin on the outside. The skin bursts, resulting in vertical or horizontal cracks.
How to Prevent Tomatoes from Splitting
Though you can't control the weather, you can take these measures to prevent cracks.
Tomatoes like a steady supply of water and need about an inch of water per week during the summer. Rain will contribute to this amount, so you can water your tomatoes less when the forecast brings summer showers. During dry weather, water the plant every two to three days.
Use the right hose
A drip hose or soaker hose will bring tomatoes with a slow, steady supply of water. Both drip irrigation and soaker hoses deliver water to the plant's roots, where it most benefits the plant.
Mulch helps plants retain moisture. Whether it consists of wood chips, bark, straw, pine needles, or plastic, mulch can help your tomatoes absorb just the right amount of water.
Check your fertilizer
As heavy feeders, tomatoes sometimes need the extra nutrients in fertilizer. The best fertilizer for tomatoes depends on the elements unique to your soil and whether your soil lacks nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. When it comes to preventing splitting, however, too much nitrogen fertilizer can actually cause your tomatoes to grow too fast and split.
You can pick tomatoes as soon as they turn slightly pink. This change in color marks the breaker stage, when tomatoes have reached their full size. Because tomatoes will continue to ripen even off the vine at this point, you can pick them and keep them at room temperature (ideally between 70 and 75 degrees F) till you're ready to eat them. That said, you can leave them on the vine to keep ripening, but picking them early can safeguard them from unexpected rainstorms.
Can You Eat Split Tomatoes?
In short, most cracked tomatoes are safe to eat. But take into account the size and depth of the crack. If the tomato split runs deep into the fruit, there's a chance insects, bacteria, or fungi have entered the tomato. This especially applies to cracks that run vertically from the stem down. Horizontal cracks, however, tend to be shallower and heal themselves more easily, which makes tomatoes with this kind of split more salvageable.
What to Do With Split Tomatoes
This goes without saying, but if you don't want the damaged skin visible, you can simply slice your tomatoes around the splits. You can use split tomatoes in recipes like Italian Stewed Tomatoes; Bell Pepper, Tomato, and Potato Indian Curry; Garden Tomato Salsa; Pizza Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes; Linguine Pasta with Shrimp and Tomatoes; and much more.