Since temperature affects how a tomato will ripen, or not ripen, I was thinking that as the weather starts dipping into the 40s and 50s in our gardening zone, there is cause to envy the tomato, even as they hang out in the chilly night air. Wouldn’t it be great if humans, like the tomato, stopped “ripening” when the temperature went under 60 degrees?
Brad: The aging effect takes a hiatus in winter? … I could get behind that.
Tomato lovers can benefit from temperature’s effect on the tomato — and now’s the time. Consistently warm temperatures help ripen tomatoes and, naturally, cooler temperatures slow the ripening process to a near standstill. So, before frost hits the plants and causes fruit damage, gardeners should harvest all those green tomatoes and bring them inside for storage — and eventual ripening. With proper storage techniques, the fruits can last well into December and even January.
Mary, outside of freezing, canning and pickling, I know you’ve used two techniques to store our fresh tomatoes.
Mary: For fresh tomato storage, I either box or hang them. I prefer boxes as it saves space. An unheated garage or cellar works great for tomato storage. After picking your developed, green tomatoes, wash and dry them carefully. Wrap each fruit individually in a sheet of newspaper and place them in a box. If you store the wrapped tomatoes in a single layer in a cardboard box, you lessen the chances for rotten fruit. Place the box in a cool area of your garage or cellar. Make sure to unwrap a tomato each week to see how they are progressing and remove any ripe or rotten fruit.
Another technique I’ve used sparingly is to just pull the plant out at the roots and hang it upside down on a rafter in the garage (or cellar). As the plant wilts, it still provides sufficient nutrients to sustain the tomato as it begins to ripen. This is a good option for those of you who use upside-down tomato pots. You can just hang the plant indoors “as is.” There will still be some growth and ripening of your fruit. My experience has been, however, that the fruit tends to split more when left on the vine and hung.
Brad: I’ve noticed that the tomatoes that have already ripened a tad on the vine — generally those more light-green in color — tend to eventually ripen well when in storage. However, tomatoes that are still dark green might not ever get to real “ripeness.” However, they are candidates for other uses. We’ve all heard of fried green tomatoes, but if you spend some time on the Google machine, you can find recipes for chutney, pickles and even pie made from green tomatoes.
Mary: So here’s to slicing into a newly ripened Brandywine in December! And may our readers all ripen as slowly as their tomatoes this winter.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears regularly in the Home, Garden section. Master Gardener interns Brad and Mary Drury are two of five columnists featured.