It really hurts when you go to harvest that big, beautiful tomato that you’ve been patiently waiting for, only to come to a sad realization:
The tomato split all the way down its side, seemingly overnight.
To make matters worse, over the coming weeks, you notice most of the tomatoes are splitting, preventing you from gathering that big, beautiful basket of perfect tomatoes that you’ve always dreamed of.
To further complicate things, these tomatoes are essentially cut open; which means you have to use or preserve them right away.
It doesn’t matter what time of day it is or how busy you are; they just keep coming!
So, how do you make this problem go away?
Is it possible to grow and harvest tomatoes, without wanting to pull your hair out?
Well, it’s going to take a bit of preparing, planning, and hands-on intervention to get those perfect little tomatoes; but, it’s definitely possible!
How To Prevent Splitting and Cracking Among Tomatoes
Picking the Right Varieties for Resistance to Splitting and Cracking
I hate to tell you this, but some varieties are just going to split and crack to some degree as they ripen on the vine, no matter what you do! One of my favorite tomatoes, Purple Cherokees, are a leading offender. From cherries to beefsteaks, there are many that are prone to splitting. But guess what? I still indulge in them (the Cherokees), they are still a favorite, and I just cut the damage off; I don’t mind. Any time is a good time for a tomato feast, am I right?
Personally, I’m more concerned about the tomatoes that need to be processed at the same time (canning, for example); the slicers? I just eat them as soon as I can that day.
For some more reliable varieties that will resist splitting or cracking, you might want to take a look at:
- Yellow Pear
- Sweet 100
- Park’s Whopper Improved
- Arkansas Traveler
- Big Boy
- Black Cherry
- Burpee’s Big Girl
- Chianti Rose
(There are more varieties available, too! These are just examples.)
Keep an Eye on Your Watering!
Never subject the tomato plants to water stress, or you’ll encourage cracking and splitting. You have to be sure that the plants have consistent moisture, rather than long periods of dry weather/soil followed by soaking rains or watering. If the plants are dry, give them some water but don’t soak them; instead, water a little bit more every two days to keep the soil moist.
When the plants are exposed to dry or drought-like conditions followed by excess moisture, the plants take up too much water, which makes its way to the fruits. This causes a build-up of pressure, causing the skins to rupture.
Don’t water your plants right before (or right after) rainstorms. You’ll likely overwater them.
Speaking Of Which… Tomatoes Need Proper Drainage for Perfect Fruits!
Tomatoes can grow with wet feet. They won’t be happy about it, they won’t produce as well, but they’ll do it. They’re little troopers, honestly! If possible though, you should provide them with the best drainage that you can when you plant them.
Now, I grow my tomatoes in this thick Tennessee clay. Some varieties (as I mentioned) don’t crack much at all, if at all. For me, an ugly tomato is still a super tasty tomato; but when it really matters for me, I’ll use a variety of techniques to keep their little toes dry.
I choose not to make extreme adjustments to my soil and clay. Clay has many positive properties that go along with the negatives, besides, excavating clay and replacing it with rich, fertile soil would exceed my “I think I’m going to faint” financial threshold. Instead, we’re slowly, very slowly building it up.
Anyways, carrying on! Here are some ways to keep their toes dry:
- Plant the tomatoes on hills or slopes, or mound up hills of worked soil to 12” high in a well-draining location. You could even use stacked cinder blocks for micro-beds.
- Build a raised bed, and plant the tomatoes in it. Use logs, twigs, and stones in the bottom to assist with drainage for the truly difficult varieties (let me just bring up those Cherokee Purples again…)
- Containers are ideal for planting, as you can move the containers to a covered location if you don’t want your fruits to get wet. This is important for the larger beef steaks if you’re trying to grow them for show or photography.
- Fabric grow-bags are excellent for growing, as well; and they can drain incredibly fast. However, you have to make sure they stay moist, or you may face more severe water stress during heatwaves.
Always Pick Your Tomatoes Before a Storm
If you have tomatoes that are just about ripe, go ahead and pick them if rain is coming. Give them a few days on the counter, and all will be well in the world. Some tomato varieties are notorious for splitting when rainy weather moves in. The water sits on the top of the tomato, causing it to split. Of course, this moisture will also make its way up into the plant from the ground; the same principle as above applies here, too.
Thus, storms can provide two reasons for your tomatoes to, literally, crack under the pressure!
Pick Vulnerable Tomatoes When They Begin to Ripen before They Crack
If nothing else works, just resort to picking the green fruits that have some color appearing. Sure, they might not be as delicious as a vine-ripened fruit, but I’ll tell you this:
The tomatoes that my toddler loves to pick way too early (and, way too green!) always ripen up into delicious tomatoes after 1 to 2 weeks. They’re still better than the tomatoes you buy in a store! At the very worst, they’d taste the same. But that’s usually not the case, thankfully.
By picking the fruit early, you’re taking it off of the vine before pressure can build inside of the fruit. It will ripen overtime on your counter, it’ll take a while, but you’ll have a tomato that will store for longer, taste great, and you won’t be forced to figure out how to preserve 30 cracked tomatoes on a Tuesday night after coming home from work, with plenty of homework to help with already. It’s not only going to allow you to keep the tomatoes for longer; it’s going to preserve your sanity, too!
Don’t Allow Fruit To Hang Out On the Vine Once Ripe
As soon as a fruit is ripe, pick it. If you leave them on the vine, the greater the chance that it’ll crack. Leaving ripe tomatoes will also slow the plant down and weigh it down; there are no benefits to leaving ripe fruits on the vine. Fruits will eventually fall from the vine, but they tend to split before they do.
Not all of them do; but in my personal opinion, I believe the ripe tomatoes are meant to split. This allows the seeds to disperse more easily, and birds can easily see them. It just makes sense from a survival perspective.
If They’re Green and Already Cracked…
Well, there’s no better reason to enjoy fried green tomatoes than this, is there? A green, cracked tomato will rot before it has the chance to ripen. Gather up any other poor quality green tomatoes (such as those with pest damage, odd shapes, or those that fell off of the vine during a storm, etc), and have a yummy batch of fried green tomatoes for dinner!