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There is something going on with my tomatoes this year. I’ve babied them right from the start making sure they had adequate organic compost and calcium (Quoddy Lobster Compost and pulverized eggshells) in their planting holes, fertilizing them on a regular basis (Lobster & Kelp fertilizer), and making sure they were given at least an inch or two of water weekly during the awful drought we had this summer. There are plenty of them on strong vines with very little signs of any disease…not even one tomato hornworm attacked them the entire season. So why do they look like this…

 

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 …and this?

 

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There are yellow and green shoulders on the majority of them. It’s not the appearance that I was disappointed with but when I cut into them, the top portion of the tomatoes was unripe and hard. I was essentially composting a third of most of the harvest.

 

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Cross-section of my disappointing tomato harvest! Notice the difference in appearance between the ripe and unripe portions.

 

Onto the computer I went. The internet is a wonderful resource when looking for an answer to a gardening question … you just have to make sure that you type key words in the search box. So when I typed in “Why do my tomatoes have yellow shoulders?”, my answer quickly popped up. As a result, I have found a new favorite website that seems to have all of the answers to any tomato growing issues I’ve ever experienced! It’s www.tomatodirt.com and here’s what they had to say:

There are a couple of reasons that tops of tomatoes stay green or yellow while the rest of the fruit ripens. The first has to do with lycopene production. Lycopene is a plant pigment which gives tomatoes their red color. The ideal temperature for lycopene development is 65-75º F. When temperatures rise above 75ºF and stay sustained, lycopene production is inhibited. The irony is that tomatoes like heat. Plants tolerate higher temperatures than 75ºF consistently throughout the summer. But it’s the fruit’s exposure to the direct sun that dictates what happens on its shoulders. The upper portions of tomatoes generally receive the most exposure to heat or sunlight. As sun strikes tops of tomatoes, temperatures in the fruit rise, inhibiting lycopene. Without precautions, those portions cannot produce lycopene. They stay green. Another reason tops of tomatoes may stay green has to do with chlorophyll, the pigment that gives plants green color. Excessive heat prevents chlorophyll from breaking down. So when ripening green tomatoes are in the direct, hot sun for hours on end, chlorophyll hangs on. Put together chlorophyll’s stubbornness with lycopene’s inhibition issues, and green reigns where red is meant to break through on tomato tops (tomatodirt.com).

Seems like this summers’ weather was the perfect storm for this condition to happen. So now, what do we have to do to prevent this for next year if the same weather pattern exists?

• Plant the tomatoes closer together so that there is more foliage to protect the ripening fruit from too much direct hot sun.

• Plant less heirloom tomatoes which are prone to this condition.

• Suspend a shade fabric over the plants with ripening fruit during stretches of very hot, sunny days.

• Prune less vigorously.

Live, look into and learn …. and plan for the next years gardening season!

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