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Monday, October 13, 2008

So many (green) tomatoes, so little time

New tomato blossoms dangle beneath darkened, frost-nipped leaves.

So what’s it going to be, Mr. Tomato Head? Are you coming or going?

This sight in my yard, the utter juxtaposition of the garden’s life cycles, amused me. Within hours it’s supposed to snow here. (Psst . . . don’t tell this guy. He’s banking on many more sunny days ahead.)

It’s not a bad philosophy really, to be filled with so much optimism that we never shut down. But I know the cold, hard truth. Emphasis on cold.

Unless you’re fortunate to live in a temperate climate, cold will come, and your tomatoes will not like it. It can break a gardener’s heart to see a plant not reach its potential! Yet don’t despair when forecast frosts come up against plants still full of fruit.

Squeeze more out of your plants by covering them with blankets at night, or by harvesting green tomatoes to ripen indoors. Covering your plants at night is helpful when you know that an early freeze will be followed by warmer temps again, in which tomatoes can still develop. In preparation for a hard frost (the sure sign of winter), an early harvest is the only way to go.

The best candidates for ripening off the vines are those tomatoes that already show a slight blush. Teeny green tomatoes most likely will not turn red; they have to be full-size to ripen. If you’re picking tomatoes to avoid a hard frost and aren’t sure if one is full-grown, go ahead and harvest it anyway; you have nothing to lose.

Store your tomatoes in a single layer in a dark place with a steady temperature (best on the cool side). Garages or unheated basement rooms are ideal. I like to use black plastic planting flats or the shallow cardboard boxes from cases of canned goods to store my tomatoes.

With large quantities, sort tomatoes by degree of ripeness, or shades of the rainbow, into your trays. It makes sense that all tomatoes of similar colors should ripen about the same time.

If you are bursting with green tomatoes, wrap them individually in a sheet of newspaper before placing in your storage tray. Open a few every week to assess level of ripeness. You may also bring some into your warmer kitchen to ripen when you’re ready to use them soon. Although I can’t explain why, I know this method works to preserve your tomatoes well past Christmas! Sure, these tomatoes may pale compare to those at the peak of summer, but it still beats grocery store fare. They are particularly good in cooked dishes.

Another option, if space allows, is to rip up your entire plant and hang it upside down inside, like in your furnace room. Hanging provides good air circulation, and another bonus is that this step may appeal to you as a faster way to harvest.

Rather than waiting for tomatoes to ripen you may also want to try recipes using green tomatoes. I haven’t done this yet, but would love to hear any of your tried and true favorites.

I have had great success with my end-of-season tomato harvests, often times exceeding the amount of tomatoes I gleaned during the summer. What a great way to extend the joy of gardening.



Zachary and Jennifer said...

I never realized that tomatoes could be extended so long. Nice tip!


Amy said...

Thanks for the great info about tomatoes. My mom has a bunch of green ones. I will pass on the info.

Chris The Gardener said...

What a great photo of the green to ripe tomatoes! Wouldn't that make a great clock face?

Anonymous said...

My favorite is green tomato relish--Joy of Cooking. this year, I ripened most of them so no relish!