Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Catfacing is a strange condition that produces deformed tomatoes like the one above. It occurs early in fruiting, when the blossom of the young tomato develops unevenly. As a result, the fruit is misshapen, with strange convolutions and unsightly bulges all over.

Because catfacing is a disorder of the very young fruit, it can be caused by anything that affects the flowers and teensy tomatoes at this stage. This includes extremes in hot and cold, excess nitrogen, and even inconsistent watering habits. So, once again, healthy tomatoes are grown by disciplined growers who moderate water, use correct fertilizer, and try to protect from weather extremes when possible (which, obviously, wasn't this year). Catfacing is also more common among larger varieties—the tomato shown above is actually a Belgian Giant that weighed in the neighborhood of 2 pounds.

There is good news, however. In most cases, catfacing doesn't affect the flavor of your tomatoes. If you're planning to process them into sauce or salsa (which I did this past weekend--woo hoo!), then you can still use them. If, however, you're planning on entering them into a centerfold competition, you're probably out of luck.

Also, catfacing tends to affect the older varieties more than newer hybrids, which have been bred for their round, consistent shapes. This means large-fruited heirloom and beefsteak varieties are especially vulnerable, while it's virtually unheard of in small hybrid cherry tomatoes. This season, I happened to be growing two large-fruited heirloom and beefsteak varieties (marvel strip and giant Belgium), so I had some catfacing.

All in all, though, it doesn't bother me much. I tend to grow more tomatoes than we can possibly use, so every fall I feel a bit like a slave to the harvest. At first, I'm so excited to get a few fresh tomatoes, but then I have to race to figure out ways to stay ahead of the flood of fresh tomatoes overtaking the kitchen. After all, tomatoes rotting on the counter stink, and my wife does not like things that stink. So I bottle my own salsa, crushed tomatoes, and spaghetti sauce, and I don't let a little catfacing or mild splitting get in the way.

Up Next: Fancy Soil Amendments—Lesson One From This Year