By Larry Hodgson
Question: My homegrown tomatoes are bland tasting. What can I do?
Answer: This is actually quite a frequent problem … and a most disappointing one. After all those weeks of care, you finally harvest your first tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) and discover they are soft, watery and flavorless! What went wrong?
Well, the problem could be a poor choice of varieties: some tomatoes are just naturally not as flavorful as others, although that can be a question of opinion.
Notably, store-bought tomatoes tend to not have much flavor: they were designed to produce massive amounts of easily shipped fruits with a long shelf life, not for taste. Plants grown from seed from those tomatoes tend to be just as insipid.
Heirloom tomatoes are often said to be particularly tasty, but so are many modern hybrids … those developed specifically for home gardens, that is. Just not those bred for commercial tomato production.
However, most home gardeners are not growing “supermarket tomatoes”, but garden varieties. If they’re not offering the taste they should, the main cause is likely too much water.
Water Well, But Not Excessively
As the fruit reaches maturity, extra watering can cause it to expand in size, giving you a bigger tomato, but with a diluted flavor. As a result, tomatoes watered twice a week or more tend to be less tasty. You’ll have better success with a deep, thorough watering about once a week (and only if there is not enough rain), especially as the fruits approach their final size. When possible, always let the soil in which your tomatoes grow approach dryness before you water again.
Lack of light can also be a factor. Make sure you grow your tomatoes in full sun if you want the best flavor.
Careful fertilizing is also important. Many gardeners find they get good results when they apply compost and an organic slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season, but then complete with occasional treatments, about every two weeks, with a soluble complete fertilizer (one with a full range of major and minor elements) like ones derived from algae or fish.
Which fertilizer should you apply? The actual NPK numbers have little importance and “tomato fertilizers” will give no better results than all-purpose fertilizers. For ecological reasons, avoid fertilizers with NPK numbers greater than 10 (15-15-30, for example), as the unused minerals will likely do more harm by polluting water sources with excess minerals than helping the plant.
Finally, you might need to consider improving the quality of the soil in your garden. Very heavy soils and very sandy ones are not good choices for growing tomatoes.