Competition will make friends lie to each other. We know this.
When we're in a tomato-growing competition with co-workers and someone offers this bit of misinformation in an email thread, "You know they love to drink milk, right?" we know to be skeptical. And when someone counters that new research says we should shield tomatoes from the sun with an umbrella between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, it can be dismissed as playful banter before battle.
But the most devious tactic is to dispense bad advice that seems plausible, and be nice and sweet and innocent about it. So amid the straight-faced but obvious chain of deception, Lynne Rossetto Kasper chipped in, "I hear tomatoes love to be watered a lot." And, of course, we thought, tomatoes DO love to be watered a lot. What a friendly tip.
That's what I had in my head when I set the timer on my sprinkler. And that's what ruined my tomato crop.
Most of the tomatoes cracked open as they were ripening. The ones that didn't split immediately were heavy, saggy water balloons -- so thin-skinned and delicate that they popped when my gentle hands picked them.
"Splitting is the result of too much water," plant breeder Joseph Tychonievich told me in an email, albeit 3 months too late. "Especially if the plant was dry when it started forming the fruits and then got a lot of water once they were getting close to ripening."
So he caught another one of my faults: inconsistent watering. Tomatoes prefer a steady, predictable flow of moisture throughout the season, which may mean compensating in times of drought or throttling back on the sprinkler after a rain storm. The latter did not occur to me.
Also, Tychonievich said, "More water will give you a more mild flavor. When you see those splits, that's because lots of water is moving up through the roots, and that's diluting the flavor. If you grow them on the dry side ... there's less water moving into the tomato, so the flavor's going to be more concentrated and more intense."
Dry farming is even a thing commercial growers do now. Good to know.
So at this point in the summer, a couple things were ruined:  I wasn't going to be a contender at the Minnesota State Fair. My entry into the cherry tomato class was an empty plate.  I wasn't going to be able to sit in the garden and eat these fruits straight off the plant, nor would I be able to serve them raw to my family on a salad.
It's not that I'm superficial (though the State Fair is). Tomatoes with flesh wounds are still perfectly delicious, unless you've seen bugs crawling in and out of the cracks. Then it becomes a mind game. They're not here, but THEY'VE BEEN HERE.
One solution fixed all of my problems: Lynne's recipe for Oven-Candied Summer Tomatoes.
Who cares if they're all cracked? I'm going to cut them in half anyway. Who cares if my overwatering produced a bland flavor? I'm about to concentrate my own juices. And who cares if stupid little critters walked their stupid little feet all over my food? After being in the oven for 6 hours, those germs have got to be gone.
Here's the product of one entire summer:
In the end, Tychonievich let me off the hook, admitting maybe it was his variety's fault after all. (And to support this, I submit that no other tomato plant in my garden carried splitters. They were all watered the same.)
"I'm guessing that the bees got at the flower that became the fruit I harvested seed from," he said, probably hanging his head. "They carried in some pollen from another variety in my garden. In other words, you've got a new hybrid on your hands."
See, this Lynne Rossetto Kasper tomato is genetically very young. Popular commercial varieties have been bred for consistency over dozens of years and produce fruit of predictable size and shape. Plants from immature varieties sprout surprises.
"Each year, I've been breeding to stabilize it, but there's probably some genetic variation left in the seeds you all got," Tychonievich said.
That genetic variation could mean, hypothetically, that seeds from the same plant yield tomatoes the following year that are thin-skinned instead of thick. It could mean that the tomatoes are more prone to grow with lobes like conjoined twins instead of as individual round cherries. And it could mean that they take after their mother (the Black Krim) instead of their father (Matt's Wild Cherry) in flesh color.
Or it could mean all three. And when you're picking seedlings to take home in May, you would never know the difference.
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