By Trisha Gedon
STILLWATER, Okla. – There is nothing quite like the taste of a tomato picked fresh off the vine. But with the season quickly coming to a close, some gardeners may feel a little sad knowing that vine-fresh taste is fleeting.
Fortunately, gardeners do have the ability to extend the flavor of summer just a little longer, said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist.
“We’re just now starting to feel the chill in the air, and gardeners may be wondering what to do with all those green tomatoes still hanging on their plants,” Hillock said. “Will they have time to ripen? It depends on when the state gets its first heavy frost.”
When local weather forecasts indicate frost, gardeners will need to go ahead and harvest their green tomatoes. Collect all of them that are at least close to the size they are supposed to be, Hillock said. Go ahead and pick the small ones to use for pickled green tomatoes or green tomato chutney.
Once the green tomatoes are indoors, do not pop them in the refrigerator. Their red color will not develop at lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Many gardeners are familiar with ripening tomatoes on the windowsill. If the just-harvested fruit has any redness to it, this is a great method to finish off the ripening process. Simply pick the tomatoes, wash and dry them, and set them out.
Hillock said that if the tomatoes are still fairly firm and not showing any red color at all, consider storing them in a box.
“Wash and dry the tomatoes, then wrap them in newspaper and store in a single layer in a box, making sure the tomatoes don’t touch,” he said. “Keep the box in a cool place such as an unheated basement or garage. Check the box on a regular basis for signs of ripening and remove the ones starting to change color. These you can now ripen on the counter or windowsill.”
Another method to consider does not require picking the tomatoes. Simply pull up the entire plant, including the roots, and shake off as much dirt as possible. Hang the plant upside down in a cool area that gets indirect light. Allow the fruit to complete the ripening process. Make sure the plants are stored in an area that won’t get above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
“These tomatoes may not be quite as tasty as the vine-ripened ones picked earlier in the year, but they can help stretch that sweet taste of summer for a while longer,” Hillock said.