Getting the most from tomatoes’ end of season

October 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Wind Energy Tips

When the rains flooded the area, tomatoes were in their heyday, ripening on the vine and promising a bumper harvest. But those plants greedily consumed the water Mother Nature threw at them, cracking the fruit, thinning skin, and leaving the tomatoes vulnerable to sunscald.

But if your love apples bounced back and you have a late flush of tomatoes, get ready for some quick action to save the rest of the harvest. Mother Nature is closing the door on our season, leaving us with a passel of tomatoes green and unripe. If your tomatoes made it through Friday’s snow unscathed, here are some tips for the next frost. If you picked your tomatoes in various stages of ripeness, here’s what to do with them.

Frost protection

Sheltering a plant this big takes tenting, using the heat stored in the ground to keep cold at bay.

How: The secret to success is draping the cover completely to the ground, trapping warmth into the tent. Anchor the edges so wind doesn’t lift it off. In the morning, remove the cover so the tent doesn’t turn into an oven and bake the plant.

Cover: If the night is dry, old blankets will work, but if they get wet the protection turns to threat, coating the plant in a blanket of ice. Thick plastic is better, but take care not to let it touch the plant. Where leaf and plastic meet, cold is transferred, damaging the leaves and fruit.

Tip: Frost protection works best on tomatoes already coloring up; green ones are harmed by chill. If we start having a run of cold nights, pick off green tomatoes and leave the blushed ones on the plant.

To speed ripening

Thinning: Immature fruit won’t size up or ripen by season’s end, so snip off blossoms and young fruit to leave the plant’s energy for full-grown tomatoes. New shoots and overloads of mature tomatoes also slow ripening; prune off suckers and young stems, then pluck a few green tomatoes for ripening on the counter.

Water: Cut back water to the plants to hasten vine ripening.

Harvest and storing

When the season is done, pull the plant from the ground and hang it upside down in a dry, sheltered area. Fruit should be harvested before completely ripe and allowed to finish on the counter or it may fall from the vine and create a mess.

Pick green tomatoes for storage from healthy vines, or pink ones to ripen on the counter. Prevent problems from rot — harvest when plants are dry, avoiding fruit that is diseased or has insect damage.

Mature green fruit stores best — those that are full-sized, glossy light green to white with a whitish “star”‘ on the blossom end. Should your tomato begin to color at the blossom end, known as a ‘breaker’, it will continue to ripen quickly for you on your counter and taste close to vine ripened.

Dark green tomatoes are immature and should be used right away as fried green tomatoes, in relish, or stewed.

To store: Sort tomatoes into groups that will ripen at the same speed — mature green, breakers, pinks and red. At room temperature, red tomatoes are ready within a day or two; pinks (30 to 60 percent colored) seven to 10 days; mature greens and breakers, up to 14 days.

How: Clip stems short, wash gently and pat dry. Store in a box with good ventilation at 55 to 68 degrees. Refrigerators are too cold for storage, destroying the enzymes for ripening. Check tomatoes frequently for spoiling.

Tip: To store longer, wrap tomatoes in newspaper and place one to two layers deep in a box. Keep in a cool, 55 to 60 degree room, out of sunlight.

After a frost

Once hit by frost, tomatoes break down quickly and are not suitable for canning. Cut off the bad spots, then use immediately in your favorite recipes, or chop and freeze them for winter dishes.

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