Watering strategy for best flavor?
I may have learned something this year about getting great tasting tomatoes. It's probably old news, but I thought I'd share my experience anyway and ask a few questions.
First, a little background. I'm a tomato growing newbie, having grown tomatoes for the past 4 years. Aside from my Cherokee Purples which always taste great, most of my tomatoes have tasted mediocre at best. I've tried a number of varieties with similar bland results, including Big Beef, Supersonic, Fabulous, Super Fantastic, and Celebrity. But they've always tasted watered down, barely better than store bought. I've read on this forum about how overwatering dilutes the flavor, and I've tried for the past 2 years to reduce the amount of water I apply with my drip system. Every year I get excited about finally producing some decent tasting tomatoes, but in the heat of summer when my tomato plants start shriveling up, I get scared and start watering them again.
This year, I gave some of my Supersonic and Fabulous seedlings to a neighbor who did not give them much water. The other day I visited him, and checked out his plants. They were some of the most anemic looking tomato plants I've ever seen. Barely knee high and sparsely leaved, with half of the leaves turned brown. Most of the tomatoes had blossom end rot, and the fully-ripe tomatoes were golf-ball sized. I took a few home to make salsa out them, and bit into one to taste it. I was floored. It was perhaps the best tasting tomato I've ever had. The next one and the one after that were the same way.
My tomato plants were decent sized, maybe 4' high by 5' across, with thick foliage and dozens of baseball-sized tomatoes. And they all taste bland! It's clear to me that I must be overwatering them, but I haven't figured out how to keep the leaves from curling up in the heat of summer without watering them every few days. Perhaps that's my problem. Do I need to let the leaves curl and the plants wilt to get good flavored tomatoes? Is it possible to get big, round tomatoes and great flavor at the same time, or do larger tomatoes automatically mean more water and less concentrated flavor?
Here's something else that I noticed. The tomato on the left is one of mine and the one on the right is my neighbor's.
Same tomato variety, but his is slightly heart-shaped, while mine is globe-shaped. When I cut into mine, it spills juice all over the cutting board, while his stays mostly intact. I noticed in the past too, that when I had smaller, heart-shaped tomatoes from a plant that normally produces big globe-shaped tomatoes, that they had more concentrated flavor. Perhaps I could use the shape of the tomatoes as an indicator of optimal watering? Heart-shaped = good, globe-shaped = too much??
One other difference between my garden and my neighbor's garden that might be relevant - I tend to plant every square foot of my garden, and the base of my tomatoes are surrounded by kale, chard, beets, etc. They shade the roots of the tomatoes and the bottom foot or so of leaves, but the tops of the tomato plants get good sun. Could the soil temperature have something to do with my bland tomatoes?