What Makes Tomatoes Mealy?

Miss Chen
Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown vegetables at home, in part because they are considered relatively low-maintenance vegetables. Still, their being low maintenance does not make them immune to damage incurred from natural conditions such as extreme temperature changes. A failure to protect your tomato plants from such conditions can result in poor-quality fruit yield come harvest time.

Tomatoes and Temperature
Among vegetables, tomatoes are one of the most sensitive to temperature, particularly cold temperatures. Tomatoes are originally native to South America and even though they are grown practically everywhere in the world today, are still sensitive to extreme cold. Cold temperatures convert the natural sugars in the tomato to starch. Additionally, colder temperatures expand the water on the inside of the tomato, changing its texture irrevocably. This is why experts always warn against storing tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Avoiding Mealy Tomatoes
To avoid mealy tomatoes on the vine, mulch your tomato plants with sphagnum peat moss to mediate extreme shifts in temperature. If you start your tomato plants indoors before transplanting them outside, keep them at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. Flower drop and, later in the season, fruit drop are indications that the tomato plant has suffered damage due to cold temperatures, so if you notice either of these symptoms, you may need to take steps to protect your tomatoes during the winter or plant more winter hardy cultivars.

Spotting a Mealy Tomato
Most tomato lovers have likely had the experience of buying a tomato from the grocery store only to find it mealy on the inside. To avoid this disappointment, grasp the tomato before you buy it and check its firmness. If the tomato skin has some give and does not feel firm, the chances are good that it will be mealy on the inside and you should buy another one instead. Also consider notifying the grocery store that they have mealy tomatoes on the shelf.

Other Considerations
If you frequently experience problems with mealy homegrown tomatoes, don't immediately assume that you cannot grow tomatoes in your climate. The issue with frost-damaged tomato plants is not temperature alone, but the interaction of the temperature outside with the specific cultivar you are using. A good alternative therefore is to inquire nurseries or look at online or mail order plant stores as to the availability of tomato cultivars that are more well-suited to your geographic area's lowest winter temperatures.
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