Weird Tomatoes: Hormones or Hybrids?

On a trip to the hardware store for some bamboo stakes I stumbled onto something very intriguing… Tomato Blossom Set. The label caught my eye as I passed the shelf – it said:

“Speeds Harvest”.

Really? What is this stuff? Aah plant hormones. Interesting. We just ran a Grubbycup article about the benefits of natural plant hormones in the Spring 2015 issue of the magazine: see US 6/UK 8. And so, I had to see if it works, because speeding up the time of harvesting tomatoes is something any Northern gardener will try. We’re in a hurry, all trying to beat early frosts.

So I got home and abandoned the staking project for a while to go juice up the tomatoes with some ripening hormones. Its best to read the whole label before applying anything you’re unfamiliar with, so I did and it says it also increases yields thanks to the cytokinan as kinetin. On the back it tells you the product provides Biological Grow Power to promote blossom set and fruit development before it goes into the directions for application. Sounds good to me, especially when you add what it says this stuff does on the Bonide website:

[alert type=white ]”Nearly every blossom will produce larger, meatier, almost seedless tomatoes, ripening up to 3 weeks earlier. Also for use on other veg. plants!”[/alert]

Who could resist this?

So, I applied it to the blossoms and leaves around them on all my tomato plants. There are 30 of them, representing at least 12 different kinds in various sizes and colors. Most of them are heirloom types. Now to see what happens when that first flush of blossoms and young fruits turn into ripe tomatoes.

A few weeks later I was texting glam shots of my beautiful Green Zebras developing on the vine to a friend. Instead of commenting on their assets, she wanted to know what was wrong with the fruits.

WHAT? They’re huge, and seem to be coming on rather early for this variety. Who gets suspicious of bigger than usual tomatoes?

“They’re weird,” she replied. “What’s wrong with them? They don’t look normal. They’re all lumpy.” She grows them too, so is very familiar with these tomatoes too.

Normal Green Zebra Tomatoes

Normal green zebras – Courtesy of Squirrel & Pear

Until she said that I never really noticed that they weren’t shaped like Green Zebras should be. Instead of being very rounded, they’re all fluted – on top of being overly large. I started checking out all three plants closely. They look more like pumpkins than tomatoes. They’re loaded with developing fruits at various stages of growth. Weird tomatoes all, and there’s a number of siamese triplets and quadruplets joined into one massive conglomerate. The cluster thing happens occasionally on many tomato plants, but to have so many on just 3 plants seems overdoing the strange. Odd, I don’t remember this ever happening before. Not in all the years I’ve been growing them.

Deformed Green Zebra Tomatoes

Weirdest one of all.

They don’t look at all like Green Zebra tomatoes beyond the fruit color and markings. Maybe the seeds were mismarked? Nope. There is only one yellow and green striped tomato out there, so it’s not due to mistaken identity. Next I searched for ‘lumpy green zebra tomato fruits”. Nothing. I tried ‘fluted’ and ‘rippled’, and still got no results like I needed.

Okay… maybe some natural hybridization occurred during growing the seed last year? So, I call Johnny’s Seeds to inquire about this weirdness, which led to a tomato guru asking for more info and photos. And while I was typing up all the details I could remember for him, I remembered the hormone spray.

He’s never seen Green Zebras do this either, but the kinetin hormone can cause this fluting of fruits, though it’s hard to say that this is the case here, because no other tomato plants out there have oddly shaped fruits. You’d think if it was going to make them grow weirdly, it would cause all of them or at least more of them to do this.

Should you decide you need faster ripening tomatoes and grab the Tomato Blossom Set Spray – be forewarned. Your fruits could become deformed from what it does to the bloom – bypasses the need for pollination, which leads to them having very few seeds. Not that they won’t be edible and just as tasty as without the extra boost. Some say that it makes their tomatoes mealy, but that can be caused by other things like too much water and poor nutrition too. So far the few that have ripened tasted great and weren’t mealy inside.

But since I only applied this once, instead of repeatedly as the label suggests, by frost it will be clear what’s what here. And so we await later fruits to see if it was the hormone spray, or there is something really odd with these particular 3 Green Zebra tomato plants. It could wind up being that they are a natural hybrid. Certainly hope they taste like they should. A summer without Green Zebra deliciousness? Unthinkable.

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.