Fruit Cracking in Tomato

in HortTechnology
Author: M.M. Peet 1
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  • 1 Department of Horticultral Science, Box 7609, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7609.

The environmental and physiological causes of cracking or splitting of soft fruits and citrus as they ripen are not well understood. This paper explores factors contributing to radial cracking in tomatoes, gives suggestions for prevention of cracking, and suggests directions for future research. Fruit cracking occurs when there is a rapid net influx of water and solutes into the fruit at the same time that ripening or other factors reduce the strength and elasticity of the tomato skin. In the field, high soil moisture tensions suddenly lowered by irrigation or rains are the most frequent cause of fruit cracking. Low soil moisture tensions reduce the tensile strength of the skin and increase root pressure. In addition, during rain or overhead irrigation, water penetrates into the fruit through minute cracks or through the corky tissue around the stem scar. Increases in fruit temperature raise gas and hydrostatic pressures of the pulp on the skin, resulting in immediate cracking in ripe fruit or delayed cracking in green fruit. The delayed cracking occurs later in the ripening process when minute cracks expand to become visible. High light intensity may have a role in increasing cracking apart from its association with high temperatures. Under high light conditions, fruit soluble solids and fruit growth rates are higher. Both of these factors are sometimes associated with increased cracking. Anatomical characteristics of crack-susceptible cultivars are: 1) large fruit size, 2) low skin tensile strength and/or low skin extensibility at the turning to the pink stage of ripeness, 3) thin skin, 4) thin pericarp, 5) shallow cutin penetration, 6) few fruits per plant, and 7) fruit not shaded by foliage. Following cultural practices that result in uniform and relatively slow fruit growth offers some protection against fruit cracking. These practices include maintenance of constant soil moisture and good Ca nutrition, along with keeping irrigation on the low side. Cultural practices that reduce diurnal fruit temperature changes also may reduce cracking. In the field, these practices include maintaining vegetative cover. Greenhouse growers should maintain minimal day/night temperature differences and increase temperatures gradually from nighttime to daytime levels. For both field and greenhouse tomato growers, harvesting before the pink stage of ripeness and selection of crack-resistant cultivars probably offers the best protection against cracking. Areas for future research include developing environmental models to predict cracking and exploring the use of Ca and gibberellic acid (GA) sprays to prevent cracking.

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