Editor’s note: Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, appears during the growing season. It features timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.
By Darrin Parmenter
For whatever reason, this was a tough year for tomatoes.
I’m sure many of you had success beyond words; however, I seemed to have heard more stories of poor yields this year than I have in previous years. It didn’t help that May and June were so wet and cool; nor was it beneficial to have cool nights (temperatures in 40s and low 50s) during the active-growth season of late June and July.
But if you do have tomatoes on the vine, here’s hoping that the next two to four weeks prove frostless so those fruit can hopefully ripen.
Some helpful steps for tomato care this fall:
If you have lots of unripen fruit, Google “green tomato recipes.”
Clip off any flowers or small fruit. Sorry, but they aren’t going to make it
Remove any ripe or near-ripe fruit from the plant. You want all of the plant’s energy to go to the borderline fruit.
When temperatures get below 50 degrees, the plant hormone that stimulates ripening, ethylene, can slow down or stop. Hence the ever-green tomato in September. Therefore, even though we are currently not too nervous about freezes, covering the plants with frost cloth (or even blankets, sheets or towels) at night will help keep in the heat and assist in the ripening of those rosy tomatoes.
To protect your plants from a forecasted frost, the tried-and-true method of covering the garden with blankets and sheets works well as long as the fabric remains dry. If the fabric absorbs water, evaporative cooling can lead to colder temperatures adjacent to the blanket. To recharge the heat stored in the soil, fabric must be removed in the daytime. Don’t use vinyl or plastic tarps to cover crops unless you are sure they won’t touch the plants, as they will freeze where the plastic touches them.
When a freeze is imminent, look for fruits that are at least a lighter green, or ideally, have the slightest blush to the blossom end. I have had success in ripening these by layering them in a box, no more than two layers deep, separated by some newspaper. Place a couple of ripe tomatoes in the box to stimulate the ripening process, and then place the box in a dark and dry spot and check it frequently. No need for the windowsill – remember, tomatoes need temperature, not light, for ripening.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at email@example.com.