by Matt Gibson
Are you having problems with your cherry tomatoes splitting? Sometimes cherry tomatoes split on the vine before they can be harvested. Splitting cherry tomatoes is a common occurrence for many vegetable gardeners, and is usually due to a change in moisture levels in the soil around the tomato plant. Here’s a guide to preventing cherry tomatoes (a type of tomato that is particularly susceptible to splitting issues) from splitting, cracking, and catfacing on and off the vine.
If there was an extended dry period, and then a large rain, or sudden extreme overwatering, your cherry tomato harvest may become too full of water and expand too quickly for the tomato skin to adjust, causing the outer skin to split from the pressure. The inside of the tomato grows faster than the skin and the tomato cracks under pressure. All kinds of tomatoes are susceptible to splitting, but cherry tomatoes, due to their size, are the most likely tomatoes to split.
For a gardener who is planning to eat their own produce, seeing tomatoes going to waste is a disaster. Luckily, there are lots of ways in which you can keep your precious tomatoes from going to waste.
How to Water Cherry Tomatoes: Evenly, Deeply, and Often
The most important thing you can do to keep your tomatoes from splitting is to provide a consistent, evenly distributed, and ample source of water to your plants. The summer time is the prime time for splitting, so the summer months are the most crucial time to keep a strict watering schedule. During the entire season, water your tomato plants deeply every two to three days.
Water the plants down low to the ground, as spraying will get the leaves wet, which can lead to hard-to-kill diseases such as leaf blight and septoria. Water deeply, but make sure that the soil is draining properly. If there is any standing water, rot and fungal infections can become an issue. Deep watering will keep rainstorms from being the reason for splitting, as the plants will be used to a healthy dose of moisture, and will be less likely to expand the fruit too drastically.
Watering often will also keep your tomato plants from having to endure drastic changes in moisture levels. Without having to suffer sudden shifts from dry soil conditions to wet soil conditions, splitting will cease to be an issue.
Watering deeply, making sure that you provide an evenly distributed layer of one to two inches of water to the entire garden bed that you are using for tomato cultivation at least once per week, will eliminate the possibility of cracked tomatoes. If you are growing your tomatoes in containers, watering should occur once per day, as containers tend to drain and lose moisture at a faster rate than planting directly into the ground.
When to Pick Cherry Tomatoes
If your tomatoes are near ripe, go ahead and pick them a little bit early. If you leave them on the vine and a rainstorm comes a roaring, your tomatoes could be exposed to an overwhelming dose of extra H2O. Since tomatoes continue to ripen off the vine, go ahead and snatch them up before the next storm comes barreling down.
Growing Cherry Tomatoes in Raised Beds
The more compact, drier soil of a flat-earth garden is more prone to issues with cracking and splitting. Growing your tomatoes in a raised bed may solve the issue entirely. Raised beds allow heavy rains to drain away more sharply and quickly through their less compacted and stepped on soil.
Mulching Your Beds
One of the issues that can cause tomatoes to split is fluctuations in the temperature. This is especially true for newly transplanted tomato plants and temperature fluctuations during the springtime. The best way to prevent splitting that is caused by temperature changes is to mulch your tomato plants, adding a two-inch layer to the top of your garden beds. Red plastic mulch is the best choice for tomatoes, but any organic mulch,such as wood chips or plastic, will help prevent cracking, conserve moisture in the soil, and prevent the spreading of disease.
Provide Ample Drainage for Cherry Tomatoes
Proper drainage is key to providing a consistent and sufficient supply of water to your tomato plants and it can also help you avoid cracking and splitting. If you are planting directly into the ground, make raised beds for the location or locations in which you are growing tomatoes. If you are using containers, try adding crushed seashells to the bottom of the container before adding in the potting mix. Not only will the seashells improve the drainage, but the extra calcium that they provide, will strenghten the skin and stems of the tomatoes, making them less prone to splitting and cracking.
Correct Tomato Harvesting Technique
Oftentimes, tomatoes crack just from being haphazardly removed from the vine. Instead of plucking your tomatoes by hand, harvest your tomatoes by cutting them off the vine just above the calyx with a pair of pruning shears or a sharp pair of scissors.
Grow Resistant Cherry Tomato Varieties
One simple solution is to grow a different variety of tomato that is less likely to split, crack, or catface. If you are growing cherry tomatoes, a similar size and type of tomato that is less likely to split on or off the vine, is the grape tomato. If you live in an area with lots of fluctuation in rainfall and you don’t like to water your garden manually, you might consider growing grape tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes.
Many tomato varieties have a thick skin, and the thicker the skin, the less likely to split and crack. Most modern hybrids have been developed to resist cracking and splitting as well, so there are plenty of split resistant alternatives if you do a little research before deciding which varieties to grow.
Should Cracked Tomatoes Be Thrown Out?
Cracking, especially on larger heirloom tomatoes near the stems, is perfectly natural and should not keep you from harvesting them or leaving them on the stem. Even split tomatoes are still perfectly edible, though they are much more at risk for developing rot or inviting pests that you do not want to consume. While the tips and tricks discussed in this article will help prevent splitting and cracking, you will still probably run into split tomatoes occasionally. Fortunately, they are still perfectly edible, so feel free to harvest and eat them after checking for bugs or discoloration.
Sometimes, tomatoes will even split once they are off of the vine, when you are just sitting down to enjoy them atop a fresh bed of lettuce and croutons. The cracking always occurs right after you rinse them off. This is because washing them off allows water to pass through the membranes of the skin, causing the fruit to swell and possibly split or burst. As long as a lot of time doesn’t go by after the tomatoes split before you consume them, you are most likely perfectly safe to do so.
Videos About How To Keep Your Tomatoes From Splitting?
Check out this step by step guide from Project Diaries about keeping your tomato harvest safe from cracking and splitting:
This video teaches you how to prevent splitting, catfacing, and cracking and explains the three main reasons why splitting naturally occurs, highlighting an extremely useful way to regulate the watering of your tomato plants, a drip irrigation system:
Watch this tutorial video to learn when is the best time to pick your tomatoes to avoid having them split open before you can get them on a dinner table:
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