Get the most out of your tomato harvest
Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, and when they're left on the plant five to eight days after the fruit are fully colored, the flavor only gets better.
Check plants regularly and keep harvesting, so the plants continue to produce throughout the fall. This also reduces problems with insects and disease attacking overripe or rotting fruit. Store the mature red tomatoes in cool, 45- to 50-degree conditions with high humidity, and they'll last about seven to 14 days.
Consider pinching off the growing tip of indeterminate tomatoes now. These plants will keep growing and producing new flowers and fruit until the frost kills the plant. By pruning off the tip in September, the plant will direct its energy into ripening the existing fruit instead of producing more tomatoes that won't have time to mature.
When frost is in the forecast, be prepared to protect your plants and harvest. Cover plants with sheets, lightweight blankets or floating row covers in the afternoon. All but the row covers must be removed each day when the temperatures are above freezing. Since row covers allow air, light and water through to the plants while trapping the heat, they can remain in place until the end of the harvest season.
Once you grow tired of fighting the frost, consider picking any tomatoes that are starting to show some color and allow them to finish ripening indoors. The blossom end of the tomato should be greenish white or starting to show the color of the tomato variety you're growing. Store green tomatoes in a cool 60- to 65- degree location to extend their storage life.
Spread out the tomatoes on heavy paper or wrap them individually in newspaper so the fruit do not touch. This prevents one rotten tomato from spoiling nearby fruit.
The green tomatoes will ripen over the next few weeks. Speed up the process by moving a few tomatoes to a bright, warm location a few days before they're needed.
Next season consider growing some short season tomatoes like Fourth of July that start producing fruit earlier in the season. Extend your enjoyment by growing a few tomato varieties such as Garden Peach, Golden Treasure, Long Keeper and Reverend Morrow's Long Keeper that last longer in storage.
And don't let the rest of the green tomatoes go to waste. You can use them for frying, chow chow, green salsa and other tasty treats.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including "Small Space Gardening" and "The Midwest Gardeners Handbook." She hosts The Great Courses "How to Grow Anything" DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment TV and radio segments. Myers' website, MelindaMyers.com, features gardening videos, podcasts, audio tips and monthly gardening checklists.
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