Mealy/mushy tomato advice

huckleberrynwAugust 19, 2011

This is my first time posting, but I have learned so much about tomatoes from all of you -thank you! I've grown a few tomatoes in containers before, but this is my first foray into more serious gardening.

I just started harvesting "big" tomatoes (i.e. non-Sungolds) early last week and so far all have been mushy/mealy. Early girl, Dorothy's Delight, and Patio have each produced a few fruit so far and they are mushy to varying degrees. I was hoping it was just the first fruit, but now it's a week later and it's still happening.

I'm wondering if I'm watering too much or if it's the cold temperatures we've had. Or something else? Or maybe I should pick them sooner and let them ripen indoors? Mostly, I want to know if there's something I can do to fix it.


- My tomatoes are in 2 raised beds, each 3X10 and raised about 10 inches.

- The beds are new this year. I filled them with a gardening soil mix, added tomato tone, and covered with a layer of compost.

- I planted large nursery starts in late May.

- There are 5 plants per bed, mostly indeterminate, and it's quite a jungle with lots and lots of green fruit set. I've staked so the fruit is off the ground and occasionally pruned suckers to keep them somewhat manageable and off of the path.

- They get full sun, morning to evening.

- I've been using drip irrigation on a timer that waters them for 30 minutes every morning (that is 10 gallons per bed/day). We don't get rain in the summer, so that's their only water source.

- Our summer has been quite cool. August is usually our hottest month and we've been in the high-70's during the day and in the mid-50's at night.

- I've picked the fruit the first day that it was completely red.

Oh, in case it matters, the other plants that haven't ripened yet include: Brandywine, Momotaro, Roma, Costoluto Genovese, Black cherry, Yellow Mortgage lifter

So... what do you think? Can I fix it?

Thank you for any advice!

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Are your raised beds damp on the surface for most of the day? My in ground tomatoes I water less than every day. I had the same problem last year with my container tomatoes, not raised beds like yours, one knowledgeable forum member suggested that my watering should be more consistent, yet my containers are pretty typical ie, water from the bottom, no "excess" moisture at the root level. So this year I made an effort to ph test and my ph levels were above 7, I lowered the ph with vinegar to the desired 6.5-6.8 for tomatoes, this year's crop is less mealy, not sure if ph was the problem. High ph can inhibit phosphorous uptake which is necessary for blooming and fruiting, not sure that causes mealy

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 5:16PM
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Thank you for your reply!

The top of the soil (covered in compost) feels dry even right after watering except where the drip is. Around each drip there is about 6" of wet and that is gone by mid-day. Finger-deep it seems to always feel moist anywhere that I test.

I haven't tested pH, but maybe I should?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 5:29PM
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Yes I would ph test, there are inexpensive ph test kits, Ace Hardware carries Luster Leaf Products ph test kit which was inexpensive, you put the soil sample in the container, add the little capsule powder in the kit plus water, and the results are color graded which comes on the kit. I also think you may be watering a bit too much if finger deep the soil is always moist even late afternoon. I know that when growing grape vineyards the best grapes are a little stressed for water at harvest, granted tomatoes are not grapes, yet the folks I know with the best tasting tomatoes do everything when it comes to nutrients/soil amendments but are stingy on watering late in the season. Holding back on water is not possible in a container self watering system (where the mix "wicks up" just the water it needs from the bottom) and since your raised beds are sort of in between a container and ground, you probably have to water them a lot or else the side of the bed facing the sun goes bone dry, but the back of the bed not facing the sun is probably too wet. In my raised bed of peppers I have the front facing the sun getting drip in the afternoon whereas the back of the box doesn't, talk about engineering! Good luck solving the mealy problem

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 7:13PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Don't wait until the fruits are completely red. Pick when have a good reddish blush; let ripen on the counter -- not in the sun.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2011 at 7:34PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

"Finger-deep it seems to always feel moist anywhere that I test."

Cut back on the water by at least half. You are overwatering. Your 5 plants per bed need about 30 gallons of water a week and you are giving them 70 gallons. Excess water will affect the texture and flavor of tomatoes. Consider changing your watering schedule to an hour every 4-5 days, or 90 minutes weekly.

Until you get the schedule adjusted, check the moisture level daily. When it is dry with just a hint of moisture, then water. If it is moist as previously stated, don't water, check again the next day.

Pick any tomatoes that are breaking or nearly ripe just before you water and allow them to ripen on a table or counter indoors out of the sun as Jean said.

I hope that helps.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 10:31AM
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Thank you for all your replies!

I will cut way back on watering. Is it better to give them 60 minutes once per week, or spread it out to 10 minutes per day? Either one is easy because it's on a timer.

I will also start picking them sooner.

Thank you!!

    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 6:02PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

"Is it better to give them 60 minutes once per week, or spread it out to 10 minutes per day?"

It is better to water deeply once a week than water shallowly multiple times. (Unless one's plants are in containers, but that is a whole 'nother kettle of worms.) When you water shallowly, you train the plants to seek water near the surface of the soil. This makes them more reactive to variations in moisture, temperatures, and other environmental factors. Deep watering encourages them to send their roots deep so that the moisture is more consistent and temperatures are buffered by the soil depth.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2011 at 7:04PM
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