Tomato Harvest Time

By Charlie Nardozzi

As summer wanes, the tomatoes start to pour in. If you've managed to keep your plants healthy all summer, you're probably being inundated with red, orange, or yellow ripe tomatoes. However, some gardeners may still have a plethora of green tomatoes on the vine and concerns about whether they'll ripen before frost. If that's the case, here are some methods to get the most number of ripe tomatoes from your patch.

Harvest Before Frost

Starting now, keep watch for frost. Tomatoes on plants that have succumbed to frost become mushy and rot. But don't panic when the weatherman predicts frost and your tomato vines are still loaded with green fruit. Often if you protect plants from a night or two of light frosts, the weather will turn warm again and you might have as much as a few weeks to ripen more fruit. Protect plants by covering them with old sheets, plastic tarps, or burlap bags.

If a heavy freeze is predicted, pick all the tomatoes, even if they're small and green. These can be cut up and fried or even pickled.

Ripening Indoors

You can ripen large green tomatoes indoors. Place the tomatoes on a shelf and cover them with sheets of newspaper or wrap the individual tomatoes with newspaper. Tomatoes need warmth, not light, to ripen, so there's no need to put them on a sunny windowsill. Place them out of direct sunlight — even in a dark cupboard — where the temperature is 65-70 degrees F.

Every few days check the fruits and remove ripe ones or any that have begun to rot. The newspaper helps trap the ethylene gas tomatoes naturally give off. This gas hastens ripening. You can also place tomatoes in a paper bag with an apple or banana which also gives off ethylene gas.

Ripening in the Heat

Although tomatoes need warmth to ripen, heat can be a problem. Fruits won't form a red color when temperatures are above 86° F. If you live where summer and fall are quite hot, red ripening tomatoes left on the vine turn yellowish orange. It's probably better to pick at the pink stage and let them ripen indoors under cooler temperatures.

Question of the Week

Q. I grew popcorn for the first time this year and would like to know when I should harvest it and how to strip it off the cob.

A. Harvest popcorn when the kernels are full, firm, and beginning to dry on the ear --- about 50 to 60 days after tasseling and silking. After harvest, remove the husks and place the ears in mesh bags in a garage or any dry place with good air circulation and warm temperatures (60- 70 degrees F) for about 1 month. If the kernels begin to rot, the air is too stagnant. When you can rub your finger over the ear with a little pressure and the kernels fall off, it's time to remove the kernels from the cob. If you have a lot of cobs to shell, you may want to purchase a popcorn sheller. Another test for kernel readiness is to try popping a sample batch. If they pop poorly, either the ear was immature when you harvested or the kernels need to dry more. Store the properly dried kernels in a glass jar in the refrigerator.

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