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Get it Growing: Go green ... with tomatoes
Although there is still a lot of time left in the tomato growing/ripening season, many home gardeners already are thinking of two important things: how to keep the tomato plants healthy late into the season and how to handle the green tomatoes that are on the vines when the season is coming to an end.
Most tomatoes need temperatures above 60 degrees to finish the ripening process. As the days shorten and temperatures begin to decrease, be prepared to give the plant a final boost and to take steps to save that final tomato harvest.
To keep the plant “energized,” apply a dilution of fish emulsion in these final weeks of the season. Direct the plant’s energy to the fruit that is large enough to mature and ripen by removing the very small fruit and flowers as they have too little time to develop into fruit.
Adjust the watering schedule as air temperature and hours of daylight decrease. Avoid overhead watering. Check regularly for signs of fungal growth that is common in cool, moist conditions. Remove and discard any diseased fruit or vegetative material.
As night temperatures begin to decrease, cover the plants with a row cover to protect them. If a light frost is predicted, a sheet will provide more protection than row cover. Row cover is light enough that it can be left on during the day. Anything that is more opaque than row cover should be removed during the day.
There are various methods of ripening green tomatoes. The one that seems to be most successful is picking the more mature green fruit and ripening it indoors.
This process requires you be judicious in the selection and handling of the fruit. Choose the tomatoes that are the most mature and have lost the ‘intensely’ green look. Keep only those tomatoes that are free of blemishes. Handle the fruit gently to avoid bruising. Wipe each fruit to ensure it is dry and clean. Space the fruit on wire or slatted shelves so air can freely circulate around the fruit.
Ripen the fruit in a room that has sunlight but keep the fruit out of direct sunlight. Check each fruit every one to two days and discard fruit that has any indication of spoilage. Be rigorous in checking; one spoiled fruit can quickly affect others.
The temperature of the room should be about 60-62 degrees. A room temperature of 55-60 degrees will slow the ripening process so you can enjoy the traditional Fried Green Tomatoes recipe shown in the sidebar or other delightful green tomato recipes such as Stewed Green Tomatoes, Ham and Green Tomato Soup, Green Tomato Relish, Pickled Green Tomatoes and Green Tomato Chutney.
Is this a new meaning for the phrase “Go Green”?
Judy English is a Washington State University-certified, Clallam County Master Gardener.