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


  1. Hello, I just found your journal and will be reading through it. I'm in Zephyrhills and have always been confused about the growing seasons in Florida. I never understood why they say the second one starts in September when all your plants will be killed in the freezes we always get in January or February? I just got my seed order from Tomato Growers and am eager to start them but think I should wait until the month is over. Seems March is the real Spring for us. My biggest problem with tomatoes has been leaf footed bugs and stink bugs that stab the fruit and raise their babies on the plants. Gosh they are aweful. What can be done about them without using pesticides?

  2. Destroyah,

    Sorry I didn't respond earlier! My blog commenter wasn't advising me about comments on older posts, so I missed it. You're further north than me, so you're right: you're not truly growing on a South Florida schedule. You're more of a "shoulder season" grower. The pros follow the warm weather north, and move into Zephyrhills in March and April. Ideally, though, you want to start them as early as possible to avoid the heat later in the season.

    As for the leaf-footed bugs and stink bugs, I'd recommend using an organic pesticide like Bayer insecticidal soap or Neem oil. Both are rated for organic growth and, with weekly applications, will help control the problem. Also, handpick any critters you see. If you can, get in the habit of checking your plants every morning or every other morning when you water.

    Good luck!

  3. ljb said.
    if you put basil plants aroung your tomatoes, you will not get hornworms. These worms will wipe out your crop.
    may 15, 2010

  4. I've heard about interplanting basil, but never tried it myself. I tend to grow in containers, and hornworms actually aren't all that bad. I use BT if it gets really bad, but mostly I just handpick them. I've yet to have a serious epidemic of hornworms. But maybe next year I'll throw some pots of basil among my tomatoes. After all, you can never have too much basil!


  5. Hi, great information, love the photos, congrats. I have grown tomatoes in containers and in the garden and had success with both. Best tip I was given was to pick tomatoes when just starting to colour and ripen in the kitchen. Seemed to work OK had great tasting tomatoes.
    how to grow tomatoes

  6. I never seen Tomatoes in such condition..Thanks for making us aware of catfacing..It gives completely different to look to Tomato althought it doesn't affect their still but still we should take care of the things which are mentioned above to protect our Tomatoes from Catfacing..

  7. Quite a few of our initial tomatoes have terrible catfacing. Our beds are above the ground, and I'm suspicious that we don't have our watering correct yet. We installed dripper hoses this year that take about 2 hours to leave a sufficient looking moisture ring around each plant and feel well-watered to touch. Our pattern has been to water every other day but the soil gets dry on the off days. Is it better to keep the soil moist every day, or are we watering too often. Also, although our plant leaves are beautiful green and healthy-looking, some are curling on days when the soil dries out.

    Appreciate any help with this

  8. It sounds like you still haven't hit the sweet spot with watering yet. I'm not sure the catfacing is caused by the watering however; it could just as easily be the variety. As for watering, they like a lot of water, delivered consistently. A mature beefsteak tomato can transpirate 1.5 gallons of water daily. So remember that the water requirements will significantly rise when the plant gets bigger. I'm afraid, though, that nothing will change catfacing once it starts. The process begins very early in the fruit's development and only become visible as the tomato matures.