In July we quietly suffered, patrolling the plants for the first signs of blush. As early August came and went, we paced the rows morning and evening, hoping for color in the green mass. By mid August, rumors of those who got a harvest began to swirl, whispered like Big Foot sightings or UFO encounters. But now the truth is out there, in the garden and on the vine.
Yes, folks, tomatoes have finally begun to ripen. This year along the Front Range tomatoes are slow to mature, leaving gardeners scratching their heads and wondering if they’ve done something wrong. Though the fruit was plenty, those green tomatoes just sat there, tantalizing us with promise but refusing to ripen.
Why do I consider the tomato the difficult diva of the garden? Aside from the hornworms, blossom end rot, spotted wilt virus, early blight, and Psyllids, the plant’s response to weather can drive you nuts. And that’s what many experts believe is going on with our love apples.
This season began with soil temperatures staying chill well into June. Unless your plants were tucked in with plastic mulch, the cool soil kept growth steady but slow until the soaring heat set in at June’s end. But despite the sweltering days our nights stayed cool; temperatures dropped into the high 50’s and recently went lower.
The nightly cool down slowed tomato plants, delaying the ripening of fruit until every gardener in the area lost their self confidence. Friends began reaching out for reassurance, texting and emailing their fantasies of filling their mouths with sweet, tangy tomatoes, begging to know what’s happening.
Even I succumbed, sidling up to buddies to ask, casually, if they’d gotten any ripe tomatoes yet. “You neither?” They said in response, after which we felt better for the shared torment.
Until this past week, when the fruit began to turn. Announcements on the arrival of the colorful bundles of joy filled my inbox; texts of the first harvest sent gardeners rushing to their tomato patch to comb through their plants. Songs of praise and encouragement filled the air as gardeners lifted their arms to the sky to find…
Don’t get me wrong – I love rain, and miss it more than I care to admit. But when it arrives just as tomatoes have begun to ripen, known as the breaker stage, the sudden influx of water can cause those love apples to crack. This is different than catfacing, which are indentations on the blossom end of the fruit caused, in part, by temperatures dropping into the 50’s during fruit set.
In advance of ripening the skin cells of tomatoes harden, leaving it unable to stretch if they get a sudden burst of water and resulting in concentric and radial cracking on the stem end. Concentric cracking are rings circling the stem, while radial cracking are splits that run from the stem down towards the bottom of the fruit.
Some tomatoes are prone to this, others a bit more tolerant, with certain cultivars doing this in the green stage. Like most of the quirks of a difficult diva, ignore the cracks from the rain; there isn’t a lot you can do about it. Cut off the damaged area, slice up the rest and enjoy.