By Kira Hamman
A friend recently lamented that the tomatoes she has so painstakingly raised all summer have finally ripened, only to reveal themselves as mealy disappointments.
She wanted to know why.
Was it them? Was it her? Was it the position of the planets?
The answer is maybe, maybe, and, uh, maybe. Mealiness happens when the natural sugars in the tomato are converted to starch, changing both the flavor and the texture of the fruit, and this can be caused by either nature or nurture. Avoiding it may not be entirely in your control, but there are some things you can do to make it less likely.
First, choose the right variety, because some kinds of tomatoes seem predisposed to mealiness. I put paste tomatoes in this category, as well as some beefsteak types and most of the very early producers. These types won’t necessarily be mealy, but they seem to become so more often than other types.
Second, watch your watering. Too much or too little water, or too little and then too much (also known as overcompensating) puts stress on the plant and can cause the fruits to develop a number of problems, including mealiness. A good soaking every two or three days keeps plants quenched but not damp.
Third, tomatoes are sun-worshippers. If the temperature drops below about 50Â°F, they get grumpy, and a grumpy tomato is a mealy tomato. This is beyond your control, of course, but you can make sure they get enough sun to stay warm during the day and you can cover them if a night is supposed to be chilly.
For the same reasons of temperature, tomatoes kept in the refrigerator are apt to become mealy, so store your tomatoes on the counter. Don’t store them for long, though — overripe tomatoes can be mealy, too. Finally, if you do get a mealy one, don’t give up. As long as your plant continues to set fruit, you can still solve the mealiness problem by making sure the green tomatoes get the right treatment.