How long do green tomatoes last?

What does it imply for our garden tomatoes when the days get shorter and the mornings and nights become cooler? It doesn’t have to mean the end of the tomato season quite yet.. here are some tips on extending your tomato harvest.

In season harvesting and storage

Tomatoes are best picked at their peak of ripeness when the color has reached its fullest hue. Tomatoes that break easily, such as cherry tomatoes, may be selected when they are just little underripe.

Tomatoes should be kept on a desk or shelf away from direct sunlight after plucked. If you wash them after plucking them, make sure they are completely dry before leaving them on the counter. Tomatoes usually keep for 3-5 days on the counter. They may also be kept in the refrigerator for a bit longer. (Storing them in the fridge doesn’t do them any favors in the flavor department, so ideally you store them on the counter and use them or process them before they need to go in the fridge.)

Extending the growing season

Missoula gets an average first frost, but that’s all it is. It’s not unusual for us to get early frosts that might damage our tomatoes. By the beginning of September, I started checking the weather prediction (particularly the overnight lows). The National Weather Service is my favorite spot to check the weather. They frequently provide rather thorough frost warnings (along with fire, wind, rain, and heat!). If you want to be geeky, they have a whole debate each week on weather patterns).

When frost is predicted, wrap up those tomato plants since their foliage is particularly vulnerable to frost damage. When the foliage is damaged or dead it can’t photosynthesize as well or at all, and your tomatoes won’t ripen. It is something we do not want to happen!

You may cover your tomato plants with an old blanket or sheets, but be sure to remove them in the morning so the plants can get some sunlight. A more costly alternative is to use air permeable row cover that enables light and moisture to flow through, allowing the cover to remain on your plants all day. If you correctly store the row cover during the winter and keep it dry, it should endure for many years.

Tip : It’s best if your cover doesn’t touch any tomato foliage, as that foliage will still be in danger of getting frost damage. Consider constructing a non-permanent frame, such as PVC tubing, around your tomato plants to which the cover may be hung. So don’t worry, any cover is preferable than none!

Extending your tomato harvest

As the end of the season approaches, the days are still hot but the evenings are cold…

As the tomato season comes to a close, water your plant a bit less. Alternatively (or in addition), you can use a shovel to sever the roots about a foot out from the plant on three sides. The increased stress will cause the plant to produce more fruit.

Remove any tomato blooms as well. They have very little chance of turning into tomatoes and without them the plant can give more energy to ripening the tomatoes that are more fully developed.

When day time temps start cooling…

Tomatoes cease ripening when the daytime temperature falls below 60 degrees. Once temperatures are consistently 60 degrees and threatening to fall below, start pulling off any tomatoes that have about 50% redness or more. Green tomatoes that are still on the vine will have a greater chance of ripening.

When the season is all but ended…

After it has cooled enough to prevent additional ripening, you have two options:

  • Gather all of your green tomatoes. Then keep them in a dark and cold basement or garage (but no danger of freezing exists). It’s the ideal time to create fried green tomatoes! Or, if you want to ripen your green tomatoes, put then on a sunny windowsill when you are ready to ripen them. Rotate the tomato over time to prevent one side from ripening too fast. Alternately, ripen the tomato on the counter in a brown paper bag. If you want the tomato to mature faster, add a banana to the mix. The banana produces ethylene gas, which causes the fruit to mature quicker.
  • Take the plant by the roots and pull it up. Shake it – go ahead, shake it like a Polaroid picture – to get all that dirt off so you can store it in a cool place in your house and allow the remaining tomatoes to ripen on the vine.

If you follow these methods, you may be able to offer fresh tomatoes from your garden for Thanksgiving dinner! If you have an abundance of tomatoes, you may freeze them whole or boil them into a tasty sauce or salsa before freezing. Frozen tomatoes may be stored for up to a year. You can also try your hand at canning tomatoes so they’ll keep even longer. Who gets tired of homegrown tomatoes, after all?

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