The Kansas City Star
Between hot weather and uneven moisture, tomato growing is tough. These tips may help
Ice cream, sweet corn and tomatoes are some of the best flavors of summer. More than any other vegetable, tomatoes have a wide variety of home remedies to grow the best-tasting fruit or produce higher yields. Some of these recommendations shared have validity, while others have no effect.
Midwest summer conditions make tomato harvest unpredictable. Heat and uneven moisture will decrease fruit set and quality. Managing weather patterns is a challenge, but here are some research-based tips to make sure you enjoy tasty tomatoes this summer and into fall.
Fluctuation of water
Uneven moisture slows plant growth, reducing flowering and fruit set. Tomatoes produce best when actively growing. Starting and stopping the growing process due to lack of water disrupts the plants’ ability to produce flowers.
When the fruits split or crack before harvesting, it is often a result of uneven moisture. An influx of water after stress results in the rapid growth of the fruit, causing the splits.
New hybrids are bred to be more crack resistant. Heirloom varieties tend to be prone to cracking because of their less firm skin and meat, which many people desire. Mulching around the plant to conserve moisture as well as timely watering are the recommendations.
Lack of fruit
Tomato plants set fruit best with nighttime temperatures in the 60s and daytime highs in the 80s. Temperatures like these are not as common in Kansas City.
Temperatures over 95 degrees, which frequently occur in our area during the summer, hinder pollination. Hot, windy days dry the pollen before it has time to fertilize the fruits. Tomatoes are wind pollinated, and drying winds kill the pollen, which lowers pollination.
Controlling weather patterns like these is not possible. The best recommendation is to continue to provide good care and even moisture. A healthy plant will recover more rapidly as the stressful periods come and go.
Slow to ripen
Temperatures in the 90s also affect fruit ripening. Tomatoes maturing under hot weather fail to develop the deep beautiful red color. Instead, tomatoes ripening under heat are more orange-red in color. The flavor is the same, just not the color.
Achieving red fruit in a hot summer can be accomplished by picking at the breaker stage. This stage occurs when the fruit has reached about half green, half pinkish-red in color.
At this point, the plant forms a layer of cells across the stem, stopping the movement of sugars, which creates the flavor. In other words, all the flavor compounds are inside the fruit at this point.
Pick the partially red tomato and ripen it indoors under home temperatures. Once fully ripe and deep red, the color is more appetizing and the flavor is the same.
Indoor ripening is controlled by temperature, not exposure to light or dark. The optimum ripening temperature is in the mid 80s.
Picking at the breaker stage may help protect the fruit from the neighborhood squirrels as well. They have a knack for getting the bounty a day or two before you.
Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Have a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to email@example.com.