Tomato season is in full swing.
So that means the prize winners are reaching their full glory…
The beer can: a Canadian unit of measurement
…and it is time for some tips.
Is this tomato ripe?
You can tell when a tomato is ripe and ready to pick by its colour and feel.
As your hard green tomatoes begin to ripen and change colour, they will pass through a few shades before they are ready to pick and eat. If you’re not sure what they’re supposed to look like when they’re ripe, look up your tomato variety online or in a seed catalogue.
But in real life, a good way to tell is by giving them a squeeze.
Take hold of the tomato and squeeze it gently. Ripe tomatoes should be firm but have some give to them, especially on the bottom and on the shoulders.
If you’re still not sure, the best way to tell is by picking it and eating it. The flavour and texture will let you know if it is ready. If you do end up picking a tomato too early, just leave it to ripen on the counter.
Now, we all know what a ripe red tomato looks like, but what if you are growing yellow, orange, green striped, or purple tomatoes? What if it is called Black Pineapple? Ivory Egg? Black Prince?
A few ripe tomatoes
Green-striped tomatoes like Green Zebra or Green Moldovan turn a lime-green or yellowish colour when they are ripe…
with a little red on the bottom.
Black Pineapple: the reddish one in the middle is ready to go.
Sungold - when it turns orange, let it get orange-er. The one on the right is ready.
Ripening tomatoes can crack if they are exposed to wild fluctuations in moisture. Say it has been hot and dry and maybe you forgot to water for a few days and then there is a 2-day rain and KAPOW! The tomato cracks open.
If this happens, pick the tomato and eat it because it will not keep very long. Just cut off the cracked bit.
A vegetable tragedy
This travesty is a disease known as blossom end rot.
Blossom end rot occurs when a lovely ripening tomato starts to develop a dark, watery spot on the bottom. The decay spreads quickly and eventually leaves the bottom of the tomato a sunken, scabbed over mess.
The sad truth is that once the bottom starts to turn dark, it cannot be stopped. This particular tomato is done for. Your only option is to pick it and toss it in the Yard Waste bin (maybe not a good idea to put it in your compost).
The problem usually starts with the first (lowest) set of tomatoes on the plant. Sometimes if you pick tomatoes that are showing signs of the disease, the rest of the plant will recover and the other tomatoes are not affected. Sometimes, though, the whole plant is doomed.
Blossom end rot is a calcium deficiency in the plant that can be caused by:
- Uneven watering. Maybe the plant wasn’t watered enough during a period of hot weather, or maybe it has been watered too much and has been sitting in cold, wet soil. Maybe there is a clog in your soaker hose next to this particular tomato. Planting a tomato too early in the chilly spring can also make it susceptible to blossom end rot. Make sure to water regularly, deeply, and uniformly.
- Your soil may not have enough lime and therefore not enough calcium. The only way to know this is to get your soil tested (For instructions, see “Time to Bring in the Scientists”). An easy way to add calcium directly to the plant is to add a handful of bone meal to the planting hole when you plant the tomato.
- Shallow root systems. In order for the tomato plant to take up the calcium and nutrients it needs through its roots, the plant needs to have its feet rooted in deep, well-drained soil. Planting other plants too close to the tomato can also interfere with the tomato’s root system.
- Not enough phosphorus (P). Tomatoes need a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus - this is the middle number in that triplet you see on the fertilizer box. The middle number should be higher than the other numbers.
If you want to read more about this crappy disease and what you can do to prevent it, head over here.
An advanced move
Since we are almost in September and the long, warm days of summer are beginning to wane, you may want to take a good hard look at your tomatoes and decide whether or not these tomatoes are going to ripen on the vine before it freezes or at least turns cold.
To ripen your tomatoes faster, gradually stop watering. Depriving the plant of moisture stresses the plant and forces the tomatoes to ripen. Around here, we back off on watering in mid-August (to twice a week) and by the time we hit mid-September, we have stopped watering them completely.
Some handy tomato tools
Tomato preparation is made a lot easier with two handy tools:
A serrated knife. Your bread knife is the only knife worth using on a tomato. No squishing, spurting, or sawing.
The tomato shark. A melon baller with teeth. We don’t go for the one hit wonder kitchen utensils around here, but this serrated little number scoops out the stem (and seeds, if you don’t want those) very nicely.
And suddenly, every drop of water from the hose is worth it.