- 5 Easy Ways to Ripen Your Tomatoes Quickly
- Why Do My Tomatoes Not Ripen Quickly?
- Here are the reasons why your tomatoes are not ripening.
- What You Can Do: 5 Easy Ways to Ripen Your Tomatoes Quickly
- Wrapping Up
- What should new tomato growers know about growing tomatoes?
- How Tomatoes Ripen and When to Pick Them
- Harvest Time For Tomatoes: When To Pick Tomatoes
- When to Pick Tomatoes
- How to Harvest Tomato Fruit
- Harvest Tomatoes
- How to Store Ripe Fruit
- Other Uses for Ripe Fruit
- How to Ripen Green Fruit
- Green Tomato Recipes
- Rule #1 for Harvesting Tomatoes – Do No Harm!
- Types of Tomatoes
- Planting Tomatoes
- Container Growing Tomatoes
- Watering and Feeding Tomatoes
- Supporting Tomatoes
- Maintaining Tomatoes
- Tomato Pests and Diseases
- Harvesting Tomatoes
- Storing and Preserving Tomatoes
- How to Choose the Right Tomato
- Tomato Growing and Harvest Information
- How to Grow Tomatoes: Complete Guide
- Tomatoes – Vegetable or Fruit?
- Recommended Tomato Varieties
- Planting Your Tomato Crop
- Growing Your Tomatoes in Containers
- Caring for Your Tomato Plants
- Pests and Diseases Affecting Your Tomatoes
- Harvesting and Storing Your Tomato Crop
5 Easy Ways to Ripen Your Tomatoes Quickly
Why Do My Tomatoes Not Ripen Quickly?
Tomatoes are one of the best fruits to grow in your backyard. The nutritious content, such as lycopene, offers a lot of health benefits. It is also among the staple ingredients for spaghetti, ketchup, salsa sauce and many other appetizing dishes. These could be some of the reasons why you have decided to grow tomatoes in your very own yard.
Its exceptional substance, Lycopene, is quite noticeable on tomatoes because of their bright red pigment, and with such trait, you’ll know your tomatoes are growing healthy, ripened and can be picked in its due season. So, what if they still do not turn red and have not ripened yet? Why do your tomatoes not ripen as quickly as they should be? Are there any other ways to ripen your tomatoes quickly?
Here are the reasons why your tomatoes are not ripening.
1. Every type of tomato has its own time of maturity.
All types of tomatoes do not have standard time to mature and ripen. That’s why you may expect that some tomatoes may not ripen as quickly as the other types. There are short-season tomatoes and longer-season tomatoes. It usually takes 6 to 8 weeks for tomatoes to ripen from the time the seeds are pollinated. If you really prefer tomatoes that ripen quickly, Early Girl (hybrid), Stupice (heirloom) and Glacier (heirloom) are some of the short-season tomatoes that you can try.
2. The ambient temperature is a significant factor.
The outside temperature might be too hot or too cold. And sometimes, Mother Nature’s a bit tricky with the seasons. It could be more challenging, though, for those countries whose temperatures change quite often. The control is out of our hands and we cannot just do anything about it.
Tomatoes produce lycopene and will likely ripen between the temperatures of 50 and 85 F or 10 to 29-degree Celsius. If the temperature goes over 85F or 29C, the production of lycopene and carotene might be delayed. On the other hand, if the temperature gets colder than 50F or 10C, your tomatoes will stay green.
3. Your tomatoes are not red tomatoes.
That’s right. One of the reasons why your tomatoes do not turn red cause, perhaps, they are not red tomatoes! Tomatoes might be popularly known as red in color, but they still vary in color. Due to the popularity of heirloom tomatoes, their pigment may not always be as the usual. They can be orange, yellow, pink, purple and green. Hence, it is best to jot down a few notes and know what type you’re planting, when they would mature and what color they would be when they reach maturity.
What You Can Do: 5 Easy Ways to Ripen Your Tomatoes Quickly
If you have started growing your tomatoes and want them to ripen quickly, there are definitely a lot of ways to do so. You do want your tomatoes to ripen as quickly as possible but you do not want to compromise its delicious flavor. You can try these five (5) easy and effective steps to ripen your tomatoes at home.
You should click here to read more about tomatos:
- How often to water tomatoes?
- How far apart to plant tomatoes?
- The Ultimate Compost Guide: Sure Fire Ways to Improve Plant Growth
- Saving Seeds will Save and Make You Money
1. Riper The Tomatoes Indoors
Some opt to ripen their tomatoes indoors due to insect pests or sunscald, intense heat or freezing temperature. If you also prefer this way, you can already pick your tomatoes when they are at the “breaker stage” or when the pink shade becomes visible.
When you notice they have reached the mature size, you can bring your tomatoes indoors to complete the ripening phase. Once you picked them up and brought them inside, perhaps on your kitchen counter, your tomatoes will ripen perfectly if you keep them out of exposure from direct sunlight.
2. Place Them Inside a Cardboard Box, Jar or a Plastic Bag
The warm temperature inside a container such as a box, a jar or a plastic bag, could help ripen your tomatoes quickly. You can place the tomatoes inside a cardboard box where newspapers are lined up together with the apples or bananas wrapped or stored in paper bags. You can also place them in a jar or plastic bag together with a ripening apple or banana. Moisture might build up which may cause molds inside the container. To prevent this, you can make some holes in the plastic bag or the jar’s lid. The lid of the jar may also be taken off regularly.
3. Try The Shelf Method
The shelf method is also one of the common ways to ripen tomatoes. Unripe tomatoes are placed on a shelf and covered with newspapers. The warm temperature also allows the tomatoes to give off ethylene gas thus speeds up the ripening. Every tomato can also be wrapped individually in a newspaper for a more effective process. However, it is required to unwrap the tomatoes every now and then to check if they have ripened. If you don’t mind giving much effort, you can do this so.
4. Pick The Undeveloped Green Tomotoes
A cold temperature might affect the ripening process. It slows down the ripening or might not let them develop any further. Hence, you can pick the green tomatoes that seem undeveloped and continue ripening them indoors.
5. Uproot The Tomatoes
This method is also applicable during a freezing cold temperature. As what was mentioned, a cold temperature over 10C or 50F, might hinder the ripening process thus won’t let it develop any further. In such instance, you can uproot the tomatoes and hang them upside down indoors. Perhaps in a basement or garage. This method lets you ripen the tomatoes on the vine. Just remember that when you proceed with this process, you should reduce watering, regularly trim the plants, cut off the withered leaves and cover them at night.
Ripening tomatoes is not as tough as you think it is. I have had this problem before during a freezing cold temperature. The intense heat is not also good, though. However, I find these steps quite effective to speed up the ripening process. You can also try some of these steps and enjoy the next dish with your delicious, flavorful and healthy tomatoes!
If you are also planning to grow other plants in your yard, such as chayote, you can try this quick and easy steps!
What should new tomato growers know about growing tomatoes?
It really depends on the variety. Some can stay on the vine for a long time after they’re ripe (how long they can stay on is known as hang-time), and some have to be picked as soon as they’re ripe. How picking affects the matter also seems dependent on the variety, as well as how ripe the fruit is when you pick it. It seems to me that if you pick them when they’re still green they last longer after ripening. They don’t have as much of a chance to split, crack, get eaten by wildlife and such, either, but this may affect the flavor.
When you pick tomatoes, some kinds are harder to pick than others (or take more force to pull off). For those, I recommend snipping them with scissors so you don’t damage the plants or the fruit. Some tomatoes will come off very easily (either because the stem separates from the larger stem easily or because the calyx separates from the fruit easily. Even in this case, though, leaving the stem on can improve storage capacity and other things.
Some tomatoes are more prone to splitting and cracking than others, and this can affect the hang-time and the shelf-life.
You might be interested in RIN tomatoes (which stay firm/crisp even when fully ripe) and storage tomatoes, like Long Keeper. High anthocyanin tomatoes also have potential for increased shelf-life.
Some people prefer extremely ripe tomatoes (whether ripened indoors or on the vine), but I generally don’t like then so ripe, since they get really soft and juicy; they lose their acidic flavor; they sometimes taste more like chlorine (to my tongue). I prefer to pick them either as soon as they ripen or within a few days, depending on the breed.
Here’s a list of a few examples of how tomato breeds differed, for me: Black Beauty has great shelf-life and great hang-time. Fruits could be left on the vine for a really long time, and they’d stay good in storage for a really long time. Galapagos Island, however, can stay good on the vine for a decent amount of time (and progressively gets a deeper color long after ripening), but it’s very prone to splitting when I pick it. Paul Robeson in 2014 for me would burst into liquid, if left on the vine more than a day after ripening, but if picked in good time had probably a regular shelf-life. Some varieties like Burpee Gloriana crack easily and can go bad easily for this reason. Some tomatoes look like they’d keep well, because they’re firm and flawless, but they don’t.
My source for terminology is just forums and other websites I’ve used for the last few years (people say hang-time in that context).
Stores and forums are another general source of information (not just for terminology).
I agree with Stormy about picking the tomatoes sooner than later if you want a bigger harvest. The same goes for okra and many peppers.
I have mixed feelings about what Stephie said about refrigeration. On the one hand, she’s right (you don’t have to do it, they do often keep a good while unrefrigerated, and the taste can be much improved). On the other hand, it really depends. Tomatoes can sometimes (not always) taste better (or at least different, in subjective ways) if refrigerated. I thought Valencia tasted better refrigerated, anyhow. For other varieties, there’s a certain taste and texture that refrigeration can impart, and it may or may not be what you’re looking for (in my case, I was looking for it, at times). Tomatoes will ripen a lot more slowly in the refrigerator, too, whether or not they stay good longer (so if you don’t want them over-ripe, and you want to store them a while, keeping them cooler should help). However, they may be prone to contracting fruit rot pathogens in the refrigerator, due to produce that may have gone bad in the past in the refrigerator (so, a cold storage area like a cellar is probably much better for long-term storage).
Regarding Graham Chiu and Stormy’s discussion:
Tomatoes are tender perennials often grown as annuals. Some kinds of tomatoes will grow and fruit continually (indeterminates are supposed to do this, although in my experience some are more prone to fruiting continually than others), and some will stop and die after the first wave (these are usually determinate, but not all determinate tomatoes do this). (Some kinds will do other things.)
I’m of the opinion that those that would die after the first wave will live and eventually fruit again if you prune them after harvest, though, provided they’re healthy. As far as heat influencing ripening goes, I’ve heard often that it can hamper ripening, but I personally think something else that just often corresponds with the heat, is responsible instead, since I’ve seen tomatoes ripen just fine in very hot temperatures (and I’ve seen them struggle, too). The time of the season seems to impact ripening more than the temperature (same for green onion growth, if you harvest the greens and leave them to grow back), but I’m not sure what causes it. In my area, ripening and production seem to speed up considerably in mid August, which is usually when the temperature falls a few notches, but yeah, it can be hot then, too, and the garden still improves. I kind of feel like it’s something about the sun.
How Tomatoes Ripen and When to Pick Them
How Tomatoes Ripen and When to Pick Them
Q: I’ve been hearing you talk about tomatoes splitting as a response to heavy rain following dry times. Does this debunk the theory that the fruits stop taking in nutrition after ripening has started? I had always heard that the first break in color signaled that abscission had occurred and the fruit had been cut off from receiving additional nutrition from the main plant. If tomatoes that are ripening split after a heavy rain, does this mean that they are not completely abscised from the plant? On another note, what’s your take on picking tomatoes at the first signs of ripening vs waiting a little longer? The mockingbirds (our state bird down here in Texas) are killing me when I try to wait.
John in Texas (“zone 9A; southwest of Houston”)
A: Mocked by mockingbirds; how poetic. At any rate, I have long told gardeners that once a tomato starts to color up, it’s no longer taking nutrition from the vine and can be removed to ripen up completely indoors. But it has been a long time since I double checked the research on this suggestion, so I went back to my original source—an excellent article we published about tomato ripening in ORGANIC GARDENING magazine during my time as Editor-in-Chief; when everything in every article was rigorously and independently researched and fact checked.
…And found therein a perfect explanation of the tomato ripening process in a story co-written by our then Managing Editor Vicki Mattern and regular old editor Scott Meyer (who is now Editorial Director for “Grow”, the magazine that members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society receive as one of their many benefits, which also include special tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show!).
Now, and I quote: “tomatoes have two distinct growth phases: cell division and cell enlargement. Shortly after the flower is pollinated, the tomato feverishly produces and reproduces cells. After a few weeks, the peak number of cells is reached and each individual cell begins to grow larger. This process eventually reaches its peak as the “immature green” tomato reaches its final size.
Then it starts to ripen. The fruit will slowly lose the green color of its chlorophyll as the carotenoids and lycopene that give it its final colors begin to develop. Most ripening tomatoes will go from a deep green to a lighter green, then almost yellow. Tomatoes that are destined to be red when ripe will first develop a few pink streaks down at the blossom end, while tomatoes that are destined to be yellow when ripe will begin by becoming a brighter shade of yellow.
These tomatoes are at what’s called “the breaker stage”. And tomatoes that have reached the breaker stage will finish ripening up off the vine with full flavor or close to it—as long as you don’t screw it up.
One way to ruin things is to put the tomatoes in “a sunny windowsill”. I’ve been warning people about this for the past 26 years: only the leaves of the plants need sun, not the fruits. In fact, placing your ripening tomatoes in direct sun can cook the flavor right out of them. The same thing happens if you don’t pick ripe tomatoes promptly outdoors; they can lose a lot of flavor sitting out on the vine once they’re dead ripe.
The other extreme to avoid is a chill. A Food Scientist at the University of Maryland quoted in that OG story warned that ripening tomatoes will taste mealy and have little flavor if they’re exposed to temps below 55 degrees F. The ideal temperature for ripening breaker tomatoes indoors, we are told, is between 60 and 65 degrees. That’s why you should never put any tomatoes in the fridge. Ever ever ever!
Now: our listener uses the word “abscission”; what does THAT mean?
Specifically, when something becomes physically disconnected from something else; as when a fruit is picked or falls from a plant, a branch is pruned; or in humans, circumcision, when…
Enough! Enough! We get it!
It’s a word you see in a lot in heavy-duty horticultural articles about tomatoes. Our listener is using it in a more theoretical sense, following the concept that a ripening tomato is no longer ‘attached’ to the plant in the sense that it’s not absorbing any more nutrients. And if that lack of absorption theory is correct, why would a ‘breaker tomato’ split if it hasn’t already.
I had to swim through some of the most intense scientific research I’ve ever tried to read to come to this conclusion, but it seems that the reverse is true. Because the ripening tomato is no longer actively taking in nutrients, excess water comes through unimpeded and may actually lead to worse splitting. And pruning tomato plants—this bizarre concept of removing healthy branches and leaves—leads to worse splitting because there’s less biomass for the excess water to go into.
(This is one of those ‘easy questions’ that had me reading footnotes and citations all day. You’d think I’d learn.)
Anyway—everyone agrees that tomatoes that have turned color and are actively ripening can be taken off the vine and brought inside, where they should achieve full flavor if kept out of direct sunshine in an area that stays around 65 degrees.
And no more ‘easy questions’ from now on!
Harvest Time For Tomatoes: When To Pick Tomatoes
When it’s harvest time for tomatoes, I think there should be a celebration; perhaps a federal holiday should be declared — I love this fruit so much. There are a multitude of ways to prepare tomatoes from dried to roasted, to stewed, canned, even frozen (as many as there are tomato varieties).
If you’re lucky enough to be able to grow your own tomatoes, the question is when are tomatoes ready to harvest? Tomatoes are sneaky. We’re used to purchasing vibrant red tomatoes from the grocers, but the fact is that color is not a good indicator of when to pick tomatoes. Waiting for a time when the fruit is uniformly red may be a little late for picking the tomatoes.
When to Pick Tomatoes
Tomatoes are gassy — I mean they emit a gas. Ethylene gas is produced by fully formed mature green tomatoes. Inside the mature green tomato, two growth hormones change and cause the production of the gas, which in turn ages the cells of the fruit, resulting in softening and loss of the green color, turning into a red shade. The ethylene increases the carotenoids (red and yellow colors) and decreases the chlorophyll (green color).
of this process, tomatoes are one of the only vegetables, I mean fruit, which can be picked before it is completely ripened. Harvest time for tomatoes should ideally occur when the fruit is a mature green and then allowed to ripen off the vine. This prevents splitting or bruising and allows for a measure of control over the ripening process.
How to Harvest Tomato Fruit
Harvest time for tomatoes will occur at the end of its growing season, usually late summer, once the tomatoes are at their mature green stage. Tomatoes harvested before this, such as those you buy at the supermarket, have often been picked before this stage so they can ripen during transport and, thus, have a lesser flavor than those left on the vine a bit longer.
There is a fine line when picking tomatoes at the mature green stage. Look for the first light blush of color as an indicator of when to pick tomatoes to ensure no loss in their essence. Of course, you can also harvest tomato fruit when it is ripe; ripe fruit will sink in water. These vine ripened tomatoes may be the sweetest, but some types of tomato are too heavy to vine ripen, hence picking tomatoes at their mature green stage and allowing the ethylene gas to continue the ripening process.
The “how” to harvest tomato fruit is pretty basic. Watch the bottom of the fruit carefully, as this is where tomatoes begin to ripen, especially large heirloom varieties. Lightly squeeze the fruit to test for firmness. Once the first bloom of red appears on the skin of the tomato, harvest time for tomatoes are nigh.
Grasp the fruit firmly, but gently, and pull from the plant by holding the stem with one hand and the fruit with the other, breaking the stalk just above the calyx that has formed to protect the bud.
Once you’ve harvested the tomatoes, store them indoors to continue to ripen. Green tomatoes will ripen faster if wrapped in newsprint, which will contain the ethylene gas and hasten the process. Store them at 55-70 F. (13-21 C.) — or cooler if you wish to slow the ripening and warmer to hasten it, and check routinely for ripeness. They may last from three to five weeks stored this way.
These end-of-season tomatoes aren’t fully ripe, but they’ll finish ripening inside… especially inside a paper bag with an apple.
Q: I still have a lot of unripened tomatoes on the vine. Should I bring them inside soon and place on windowsills, or should I just let Mother Nature take her course? It seems like such a waste. I hate to see them go! I wasn’t sure how much longer they would continue to ripen on the vine.
A: This is a sad time in a tomato-lover’s season… as fall weather kicks in and it becomes apparent that our fresh-picking days are numbered. Nothing compares to the taste of a home-grown tomato picked off the vine at the height of ripeness.
Ripening slows considerably as the days shorten and the temperatures drop. You’ll also probably notice that the fruits aren’t as sweet as they were back in August. But you’ll still be able to milk at least a little extra sweetness out of every day you let the fruits ripen on the plant.
The drop-dead date, though, is first frost. If temperatures drop to freezing overnight, your fruits (and plants) will turn to mush and be inedible. Then the best time to pick was yesterday.
I pay attention to frost forecasts this time of year and clear the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants at the first mention of a frost warning.
Any tomatoes that are showing even a hint of color have the potential to ripen inside. They won’t get any sweeter once off the vine, but they will continue to color up and soften to the point where they’re still better than most tomatoes from the store.
Some people just let their picked, end-of-season tomatoes ripen while spread out on paper at room temperature.
Others go to the trouble of wrapping each tomato in newspaper or storing them (one layer only, no stacking) in a folded-over paper bag, such as a grocery bag.
One little trick that some people swear by is adding an apple to the bag. That might be more than a myth because apples give off ethylene gas that encourages ripening.
Check your ripening tomatoes regularly because some of them may rot or spot before ripening enough to enjoy fresh. That’s especially true if any disease has been active on the plants (usually a given with most tomatoes these days). Toss those.
Even totally green tomatoes are perfectly edible, by the way. Fried green tomatoes are a staple of Southern cooking.
They’re sliced green, breaded in a concoction of flour, cornmeal, buttermilk and an egg, then pan-fried. I’ve had them in Southern restaurants, and they were actually very good… definitely not the healthiest way to eat tomatoes, but tasty.
Fruit that is fully ripened on the vine has a much fuller flavor than fruits that are picked early and then allowed to ripen. Many cherry tomatoes, however, have a tendency to crack if they stay on the plant, so they should be picked at the peak of redness, or even a tad before.
When daytime fall temperatures are consistently below 60˚F, fruit will no longer ripen on the vine, so it is time to pick your tomatoes and bring all mature green fruits indoors, either on the vine or off (see Ripening That Huge Crop of Green Garden Tomatoes).
Whether pickling, making jam or putting up fresh garden produce, we have the canning supplies you’ll need — jars, caps, lids, pickling spice — to keep the harvest through the winter and beyond.
How to Store Ripe Fruit
Wash and dry your tomato harvests before storing. Unless you’re planning to store your tomatoes for over a week, a windowsill, countertop or bowl works fine. If you know you won’t use them in the next few days, then lower temperatures (a cool entryway, the refrigerator) will help preserve the fruit. Contrary to our common practice in the US, storing in a refrigerator is not otherwise recommended, as the cooler temperatures can reduce flavor and cause mushiness. Your fresh-picked tomatoes will last longer on the kitchen counter than store-bought ones, which are probably a few days old when you get them.
Other Uses for Ripe Fruit
If you end up with too many tomatoes to eat at one time, try these storage methods:
- canning, which will preserve your tomatoes for a year or more;
- freezing, which can be used for up to eight months;
- drying, which can keep tomatoes for more than a year.
How to Ripen Green Fruit
Here is a topic that brings out the best — or worst — in tomato growers. Drop this topic into the midst of a covey of back-yard tomato growers, and watch the waters begin to seethe.
Most of us grew up placing unripe tomatoes on a sunny windowsill — emphasis on sunny. However, every expert source recommends placing them in a paper bag (see Using & Storing Tomatoes). Light, so essential to growth and to setting fruit, is not needed to ripen the fruit. Hence, the dark place. While light is unnecessary, humidity and temperature control are critical during ripening. Tomatoes kept on a countertop can become too dry, while those in a plastic bag can mold or ferment. Hence the paper bag. Temperature is also important, and the paper bag acts as a miniature greenhouse, trapping some of the day’s heat. (When you trim back tomato foliage at the end of the season ‘to let the sun reach the fruit,’ it’s the sun’s heat, not its light, that helps ripen them.)
There’s another advantage to the bag. Tomatoes, like most fruit, emit ethylene gas as they ripen. This gas, a byproduct of ripening, is also a stimulant for ripening. When you store unripe tomatoes in a bag, the ethylene emitted by the riper ones will stimulate the others to ripen. Since most fruits emit ethylene, you can use another, ripe fruit to hasten the ripening process. Bananas work especially well because they emit more ethylene than most fruits.
KEEPS CROPS FRESH!
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If the bag doesn’t appeal to you, remember that one of the best sources of heat is still the sun — and we’re back to that sunny windowsill. One expert source advises that one never put tomatoes on a sunny windowsill! (complete with exclamation point) because the sunny side may actually rot. If you turn them daily, though, rotting is unlikely, so go ahead. The light may not be helpful, but it doesn’t hurt, and the humidity control is not much of an issue with nearly-ripe fruit.
If it’s the end of the season, and you’re dealing with scads of green tomatoes still on the vine, the time-honored method of ripening tomatoes indoors is to cut the vines and hang them intact, upside down, in a dark place. Believe it or not, most of these tomatoes will indeed ripen. Those picked when their outer color changes to a lighter, more translucent shade of green known as mature green will fare better than those that are still a dark green. These very unripe fruit are candidates for other uses.
Green Tomato Recipes
Everyone knows, now, about fried green tomatoes, but if you hunt here and there you can find recipes for chutney, pickles, and even pie made from green tomatoes. Want to do something really unusual with your green tomatoes? Here’s a recipe for a green tomato casserole, adapted from Crescent Dragonwagon’s excellent Passionate Vegetarian cookbook, that puts your abundance to tasty use:
- 4-5- green tomatoes, gently chopped (about three cups)
- 1 onion, chopped (3/4th to 1 cup)
- 1 cup thinly sliced white mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other oil suitable for sautéing.
- 1&1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, sauté mushroom until they begin to color and take-up the oil. Add onion and continue sautéing until onion begins to turn translucent. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. Combine tomatoes, onion-mushroom mixture, and one cup of the bread crumbs. Add salt and black pepper (more is better). Stir in buttermilk.
4. Empty mixture into greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining bread crumbs.
5. Bake for 45 minutes or until mixture bubble and top browns (casserole can be finished with a few seconds under the broiler).
Tip: Adding a sprinkle of Gruyére or Asiago cheese across the top of the casserole in the last 10 minutes of cooking adds richness and color.
Canning your own vegetables seems old-fashioned in our modern age. But canning is contemporary, too. It’s a technology, constantly evolving with better canning equipment and the applied kitchen science needed to safely preserve a food supply that’s evolving as well.
Canning requires perfect sanitation and attention to details. When canning, our kitchen becomes a laboratory. We use specialized equipment, even if it’s as mundane as new canning jar lids. We’re required to measure ingredients and monitor temperatures and air pressure. It’s not a time for “close enough” or “whatever.” Your family’s health is at stake (see Tips to Guarantee Canning Success).
BALL® CANNING JARS
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to preserving your garden harvest! Ball® Regular Canning Jars are the classic, trusted tool for keeping your summer’s labor fresh and ready to eat. Sold in cases of 12.
Beginners should consult one of the complete references below and then get an old hand, say a friend, neighbor, or relative, who know what they’re doing to allow you to watch and help. It’s time well spent.
- Not sure which canning method — water-bath or pressure canning — to use? Here’s a chart (scroll down) to guide you. If in doubt, use the pressure canner. Some foods will be safe for water-bath canning if extra acid (lemon juice or ascorbic acid) is added.
- Inspect both new and used jars for cracks, chips or other small damage. Jars not in perfect condition can leak food and break further under pressure.
- Save and keep handy the manufacturer’s directions to a new pressure canner. This can be your best source of detailed information on its proper operation.
- Still using grandma’s old pressure canner? Pressure canners have become more sophisticated over the years. If your canner is one of those thick-walled kettles that dates back to the ’70s and before, replace it.
- Use only recipes from trusted sources specifically designed for canning. Such recipes consider type, size, pH content and other important variables of what’s being canned. Avoid the urge to be creative when you can. Canning recipes are less art and more science.
- Be sure to give your pressure canner plenty of time – a minimum of ten minutes of steaming — to bleed air from the container through the petcock before closing the petcock or attaching the weighted gauge. Failure to do this may result in less than microbe-killing temperatures.
- Canning at elevation, starting as low as 2,000 feet, can require more boiling time and pressure. Here’s a chart from the fine folks at Colorado State University Extension listing pressure readings to use at different altitudes.
Drying tomatoes has distinct advantages over other preserving methods that require extreme temperatures. Dried foods require little if any energy to store compared to frozen items that require refrigeration and canned items requiring cooking and container boiling (see Storing the Harvest: Drying Fruits and Vegetables here).
The STACK!T® Hanging Drying Rack lets you preserve an entire harvest without damaging a single plant. It’s ruggedly made of collapsible mesh material that’s so damn simple and effective… you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it!
Dried fruits weigh less and take up less shelf space than canned. They retain most vitamins and minerals better than canning or freezing. They don’t lose fiber. And they don’t lose flavor. They concentrate it.
Here’s what you need to know to get started drying garden produce at home.
- Drying extracts moisture from fruits and vegetables. Removing this moisture inhibits the bacteria, molds and other microorganisms that cause spoilage.
- Drying at proper temperatures retains the natural enzymes and also prevents enzymatic deterioration during storage.
- Warm and less humid conditions encourage the fastest drying.
- Proper air circulation allows heat and low humidity to do their job quickly and efficiently.
- Keeping temperatures around 130-140 degrees dries most produce quickly while preserving its nutritional content.
- Air circulation — moving the evaporated moisture away from the food — facilitates rapid drying. The more surface exposed to moving air, the faster and more efficient the drying.
- Thin slicing and leaving space around your drying produce is important.
- Food dehydrators have made drying fruit and vegetables easy. A food dehydrator with heating element, thermostat and blower allows you to control drying conditions.
Best results come from the best tomatoes. Don’t use bruised fruit that’s past ripe (best is fruit just before it’s completely ripe). No form of preservation will ever make them better than they once were.
Tomatoes ripen in their own time, but they will ripen off the vine.
Pick ripe tomatoes as soon as they ripen so that the plant continues to produce new fruit. This is very important at the end of the season when you want the plant to concentrate on swelling and ripening the remaining fruits.
Remove yellowing leaves from plants towards the end of the season to allow more sunlight to reach the fruit and ripen them.
You cannot rush a tomato to ripening; it will ripen in the number of days that nature requires. And, of course, the time to ripening varies by variety, for example, an Early Girl tomato requires 60 days from setting out transplants to harvest and a Brandywine tomato requires 80 days.
More tips: How to Grow Tomatoes.
The process of ripening is governed by temperature—a range of 65 to 75°F (18-24°C). As ripening occurs, the green pigment (chlorophyll) breaks down and the orange-yellow (beta-carotene) and red (lycopene) pigments increase. The concentrations of orange-yellow and red pigments determine the color of a ripe tomato.
Tomato Ripening Tips
As the season comes to and end there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind to get the most from your tomato harvest:
- Tomatoes ripen from the inside out. To know a tomato is ripe let the skin turn red (if the variety is a red one) and you will know the fruit is ripe. (If the variety you planted is supposed to be green at harvest, you must keep track of the days from transplanting to know the harvest time.)
- A red tomato will not turn red when temperatures are greater than 86°F. If the summer is very hot where you live, leaving fruit on the vine may cause them to look yellowish-orange rather than red. Red pigment won’t form if temperatures exceed 85°F. If the weather is very hot, it’s better to pick at the pink stage and let the tomato ripen indoors in cooler temperatures.
- Tomatoes to do not need light to ripen once they are off the vine. Do not put picked tomatoes in a sunny window to ripen—they will only overheat or burn and ripen unevenly before they redden and spoil. Put picked tomatoes in a dark place away from a window where the temperatures are 65 to 70°F.
- To make picked tomatoes redden up faster put them into a paper bag with an apple or a banana. Ethylene gas given off by an apple or banana will speed the tomato ripening process.
- Do not store partially ripened tomatoes in the refrigerator. Very cool temperatures will stop the ripening process. Allow picked tomatoes to ripen shoulders up in a dark place at room temperature.
- Fully ripened tomatoes keep their best flavor when they are stored at room temperature, but they will last only a day or two. If you need to keep them longer than that and they are small enough, put them into the butter compartment of the refrigerator–the warmest part.
- When picked at the peak of ripeness, canned or frozen tomatoes retain their flavor and nutrients better than almost any other vegetable.
- About a month before you expect the first frost, start plucking all new flowers off of your tomato plant. That will direct the plant’s energy into ripening the tomatoes that are already on the vine instead of producing new ones that won’t have time to mature.
- If you have an abundance of green tomatoes at the end of the season, you can wrap each one separately in newspaper then place them loosely in a single layer in a cardboard box so they don’t squash each other. Keep them in cool, dry place until they ripen.
- If you have unripened cherry tomatoes on the vine when frost comes, you can cut off an entire truss and hang it in the kitchen or garage until the fruit ripens and is ready for harvest.
More tips: How to Harvest and Store Tomatoes.
Rule #1 for Harvesting Tomatoes – Do No Harm!
When harvesting tomatoes, take care not to damage the plant. It’s best to use two hands. Use one hand to hold the plant just above the stem. Use your other hand to pluck the fruit from the vine. This will ensure that you don’t inadvertently break off a large part of the vine when picking a tomato. It may also be beneficial to twist the tomato slightly while tugging at it to ensure that it will release easily from the vine.
Harvesting tomatoes should take place when the fruit is brightly colored and is slightly soft to the touch. A gentle squeeze will tell you if the tomato is ready to be picked. If it is still quite firm, leave it on the vine to ripen further. Tomatoes that are left to ripen on the vine will have a much fuller, sweeter flavor than those picked too early and left to ripen on a window sill.
Typically, a ripe heirloom tomato will still have hints of green at the stem end. As long as the bottom portion of an heirloom tomato is brightly colored and it is soft to the touch, go ahead and harvest it.
If the fall frost is right around the corner and you still have lots of green tomatoes on the vine, you still have options. You can pick the green tomatoes and place them in a paper bag to ripen further. Make sure to store this bag at room temperature in your kitchen. You can also cut the vines themselves and hang them (with the green tomatoes still on them) in a dark place, such as a garage or basement. These tomatoes may not ever turn red, but they will ripen to a softer stage and can be used in a variety of green tomato recipes.
After harvesting tomatoes, store them at room temperature in your kitchen. DO NOT put tomatoes in the refrigerator as this will make them mushy and less flavorful. If you choose to keep your ripe tomatoes in a bowl, inspect them carefully everyday. Once a tomato begins to rot, it will release gases that will cause the other tomatoes in the bowl to begin to rot as well. Discard any tomatoes that are showing signs of deterioration as soon as possible. We store our tomatoes on baking sheets until we can eat or process them.
If you’re interested in juicing your tomatoes, lick here for some great tomato juice recipes and to learn about the health benefits of juicing – www.juicer-recipes-for-energy.com
After the growing season is over, pull the plants up by the roots. Cut them up into several pieces and add them to your compost pile.
We hope you have a bumper crop of tomatoes. Now it’s time for a few tomato recipe ideas.
Tomatoes are warm-season annuals that grow best when the soil temperature is at least 55°F (12°C) and the air temperature ranges between 65° and 90°F (18-32°C).
- Tomatoes are commonly grown from seedlings started indoors that are later transplanted into the garden.
- Tomato seeds are commonly planted indoors as early as 8 to 6 weeks before the average date of the last spring frost.
- Tomato seedlings are usually transplanted into the garden 1 to 3 weeks after the last frost. If an unexpected frost threatens, transplants must be covered and protected.
- Early-season tomatoes require 50 to 60 days to reach harvest from transplanting; mid-season tomatoes require 60 to 80 days; late-season tomatoes require 80 or more days.
- In hot summer-mild winter regions such as USDA zone 10 or warmer, tomatoes can be grown as a fall and winter crop.
Cherry and dwarf tomatoes are ideal for container growing.
Types of Tomatoes
Bush and Dwarf Tomatoes:
- Bush or determinate tomatoes grow from 2 to 4 feet tall. Dwarf tomatoes grow to about 2 feet tall.
- Bush or determinate tomato varieties and dwarf varieties require the least amount of space.
- They can be grown in a small-sized garden requiring just a square foot or two of space or in a container with just two to three cubic feet of soil.
- When the determinate tomato flowers the plant stops growing. Flowers and fruits appear at the end of stems.
- The fruit grows and ripens usually all at once over a four- to six-week period.
- Vining or indeterminate tomatoes can grow 6 feet tall or more.
- Indeterminate tomatoes require 3 to 4 square feet of space.
- Vining tomatoes produce a succession of flowers along the branching spurs; fruit forms from those blossoms.
- Indeterminate tomatoes will grow almost indefinitely if not pruned or stopped by frost.
- Most indeterminate tomato varieties require staking or caging.
- Vining tomatoes can be left to sprawl on the ground but fruit may become susceptible to diseases and be more difficult to find and pick at harvest time.
Other Tomato Classifications:
Start tomato seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before transplanting.
Starting Tomato Seeds Indoors:
- Start tomato seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost in spring. (Transplant tomato seedlings to the garden just after the last frost in spring.)
- Sow tomatoes in individual pots with a light potting mix. Pots should have drain holes in the bottom.
- Sow two to three seeds ½ inch deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart in a small pot or flat.
- Germination soil temperature can range between 65-86°F (18-30°C); the optimum soil temperature for germinating seed is 86°F (30°C).
- Seeds can be started in a bright window or under fluorescent lights set about 2 inches (5 cm) above the plants.
- Keep seed starting mix just moist until seeds germinate.
- Germination takes 5 to 7 days at 75°F (24°C) or warmer.
- Clip away the weaker seedlings once the strongest seedling is about 2 inches (5 cm) tall.
- Grow young seedlings on at 60° to 70°F (21°C); allow a gentle breeze from a fan to rustle over young seedlings each day so that they grow strong stems.
- About two weeks after germination seedlings can be transferred to larger 4-inch pots; be careful not to disturb the roots. This is called potting up.
- More seed starting tips at Tomato Seed Starting Tips.
Transplanting Tomato Seedling to the Garden:
- Garden soil is usually warm enough for tomato transplants about 2 to 3 weeks after the last frost in spring.
- Tomato seedlings can be transplanted into the garden when the outdoor soil temperature is at least 55°F (13°C) and the nighttime air temperatures are consistently 50°F (10°C) or warmer.
- Set young plants out protected from direct sun during the day for two weeks to harden off and acclimatize before transplanting. This is called hardening off.
- Plants will not thrive in temperature cooler than 50°F (10°C). If an unexpected frost threatens, transplants must be covered and protected.
- Set a tomato transplant into the garden deeper than it was growing in its pot. Remove the lower leaves on the stem up to the top two sets of leaves. Bury the stem up to the top two sets of leaves. New roots will grow on the buried stem. Burying stems at transplanting will make for sturdier plants.
- Water newly transplanted seedlings. Give transplants a B-1 solution to guard against transplant shock.
Spacing Plants in the Garden:
- Plant bush tomato varieties 24 inches apart. Plant vining varieties 36 to 48 inches apart.
Tomatoes require warm, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil rich in organic matter. Tomatoes will produce earlier in light, sandy soil, but the yield will be greater in a heavy, loamy soil.
- Grow tomatoes in full sun, at least 8 hours of sun each day.
- Prepare planting beds by adding 2 to 4 inches of aged compost or commercial organic planting mix before transplanting. Turn the soil to at least 12 inches deep before planting.
- Tomatoes require warm, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil rich in organic matter. Tomatoes will produce earlier in light, sandy soil, but the yield will be greater in a heavy, loamy soil.
- Tomatoes prefer a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.8.
- Planted in containers tomatoes require the most soil you can provide–a large container–and good drainage.
Companion Plants for Tomatoes:
Grow tomatoes close to basil, chives, asparagus, carrots, marigolds, nasturtiums, onions, parsley. These plants will repel insects that attack tomatoes.
Container Growing Tomatoes
- Small determinate varieties are easily grown in 5-gallon containers. Grow indeterminate tomatoes in 10 to 15-gallon containers.
- Place the container where tomatoes get 8 hours of sunlight each day.
- Provide a stake, cage, or trellis for support at planting to avoid the risk of damaging the growing root later on.
- Keep the soil evenly moist. The soil in containers can dry quickly in hot weather.
- Move tomatoes in containers indoors if frost threatens. Tomatoes can be grown in containers through the winter indoors.
More tips on growing tomatoes in containers: Growing Tomatoes in Containers.
Side dress tomatoes with dilute fish emulsion or kelp meal every 3 to 4 weeks. Add aged compost around plants at mid-season.
Watering and Feeding Tomatoes
- Tomatoes require regular even watering. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
- Water deeply. Water thoroughly before the soil dries out.
- Water at the base of the stem; avoid wetting leaves.
- Leaves may curl on hot days; this is a way for plants to conserve moisture and is not necessarily a sign of distress. If leaves wilt in the morning, tomatoes need an immediate slow, deep watering.
- Mulch with straw or aged compost around plants to prevent soil moisture evaporation.
- Side dress tomatoes with dilute fish emulsion or kelp meal every 3 to 4 weeks. Add aged compost around plants at midseason.
- Blossom-end rot can be the result of uneven watering or a lack of calcium in the soil. Crushed eggshells added to spot watering every two weeks can provide calcium needed.
- Compost tea applied every two weeks will provide nitrogen and other nutrients needed.
- More care details: Feeding Tomatoes and Fertilizer for Tomatoes.
- Cages, stakes, and trellises can be used to support tomato plants. Supports will keep leaves and fruits off the ground. Tomatoes that sprawl across the ground will be susceptible to disease and insect pests.
- Stakes can be used to train tomatoes upwards. Staked tomatoes are commonly pruned to one or two main stems (called leaders) which are trained up by tying the stem to the stake with elastic horticultural tape.
- Trellises can be used to support tomatoes. Fashion a trellis out of 6 by 6 inch galvanized mesh. Stretch the mesh between two stakes set about 8 feet apart. Tie off the vines as they grow up, similar to staked plants.
Set stakes at the time of transplanting. Tie stems to stakes with elastic horticulture tape or garden twine.
- A staked tomato requires the least amount of growing space.
- Stake tomatoes with 6-foot stakes. Set stakes at the time of transplanting.
- Tie stems to stakes with elastic horticulture tape or garden twine.
- Staked tomatoes are best pruned so that they grow on a straight stem against the stake.
- Prune staked tomatoes to one or two stems by pinching out the growing tip of each side branch after it has sprouted at least two leaves.
- To prune to more than one main stem, choose the stems you want to keep and pinch out the rest.
- Do not pinch back side shoots until two leaf sets develop; this will provide foliage cover from sunburn for fruits and stems later.
- Note that pruning will reduce the total crop and is likely to increase the incidence of blossom-end rot.
- More tomato pruning tips: How to Prune a Tomato.
- Use tomato cages to support upward growth.
- Use an 18-inch/46 cm-diameter cage for small, bush tomatoes.
- Use a 24-inch/61 cm-diameter cage to support large, vining tomatoes.
- Round or square cages can be bought ready-made; square cages are easily folded and stored.
- To make your own cage use 6 by 6 inch (15×15 cm) mesh reinforcing wire. A five-foot width cut five feet long and bent into a cylinder and tied off will support a six-foot-tall tomato plant. Remove the bottom horizontal wire and push the cage into the ground six inches deep surrounding the tomato plant. Add a supporting stake in windy areas.
- Cages are commonly set in place when a plant is young so that it can grow up and into the cage. Caging, like staking, allows tomatoes to be grown in tight spaces, the fruit is kept up off of the ground and open to air circulation.
- Caged tomatoes may or may not require pruning.
Early in the season protect young tomatoes from cold and frost under plastic tunnels.
- Mulch around the base of tomatoes with aged compost to slow soil moisture evaporation.
- For stronger plants and bigger fruit, pinch out all suckers that start to grow in the crotch of the main stem and side branches. Root the suckers in a starting mix to start a second crop for succession planting.
- As plants grow tall, remove leaves and branches from the bottom 12 inches of the plant; this will help prevent the spread of soil-borne diseases.
- Night temperatures colder than 55°F or day temperatures above 95°F will keep flowers from setting fruit. Protect plants under a plastic tunnel or floating row cover.
Tomato Pests and Diseases
A tomato hornworm can defoliate a plant in a day.
Here are common insect pests which attack tomatoes (go the Index to find additional articles about these pests):
- Cutworms live in the soil and attack seedling; place paper collars around seedlings.
- Aphids: suck plant juices leaving plants weak; knock them off plants with a strong spray of water.
- Whiteflies spray with insecticidal soap.
- Tomato hornworms are large green caterpillars that can defoliate a plant; handpick and destroy or spray with spinosad.
- Tomato fruitworms bore into fruits; spray with insecticidal soap or Bacillus thuringiensis.
Tomato blight is a fungal disease that begins with the yellowing and dieback of lower leaves.
Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases. Disease control can be difficult. Disease prevention is the best course of action. To stave off disease plant disease-resistant varieties and keep the garden clean and free of debris.
- Verticillium and fusarium wilt are fungal diseases that cause tomato plants to suddenly wilt, turn brown, and sometimes die. These diseases brought on by wet weather or overhead watering.
- Early blight and late blight are fungal diseases. These diseases usually strike during warm, humid or wet weather, Yellowing of lower leaves and the discoloration of stems is a sign of blight. See also How to Identify Early Blight, Late Blight and Leaf Spot.
- Bacterial diseases are marked by black spots or specks on leaves or the black discoloration of stems.
- Mosaic virus or herbicide injury can cause tomato leaves to grow distorted, twisted, and stunted. Tomatoes are a relative of tobacco and can be attacked by tobacco plant diseases such as tobacco mosaic virus; wash your hands thoroughly before working with tomato plants if you smoke.
- Remove diseased plants from the garden immediately before the disease can spread.
- Grow disease-resistant varieties. Disease resistant varieties are identified by a letter code which will be found on seed packets or transplant identification stakes: “V” (verticillium wilt), “F” (fusarium wilt), “N” (nematodes–microorganisms that cause root cankers); and “T” (tobacco mosaic virus).
- Blossom-end rot or rotting at the blossom or bottom end of the fruit is caused by fluctuations in soil moisture and the insufficient uptake of calcium from the soil. To control blossom end rot, water regularly and add crushed eggshells to the soil or an organic fertilizer than includes calcium.
- Cracking fruit is caused by the uneven uptake of water—when the soil goes dry, then wet, then dry. Keep the soil evenly moist to avoid fruit cracking.
- Trouble-shoot tomato pest and disease problems by going to this article: Tomato Growing Problems and How to Prevent Tomato Blossom Drop.
Tomato Harvest Time:
Tomatoes also can be classified by when they come to harvest:
- Early season: require 40 to 60 days to reach harvest from transplanting.
- Midseason: require 60 to 80 days to reach harvest from transplanting.
- Late season: require 80 or more days to reach harvest from transplanting.
- For a long harvest plant early, mid-season, and late-season tomatoes at the same time in spring or early summer.
- Some tomatoes are picked green and ripened indoors. ‘Mature green’ tomatoes have reached full size and are just beginning to turn color. They can be ripened on the kitchen counter indoors.
A tomato is ripe and ready for harvest when the skin turns glossy.
Tomato Harvest Tips:
- Note on a calendar when you plant then count ahead of the number of days to maturity to know about when harvest will begin.
- Allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine when possible.
- A tomato will be ripe when its skin turns from dull to glossy.
- Tomatoes that have begun to turn color will ripen off the vine. Place them in a cool place out of the direct sun with the stem end up.
- Harvest tomatoes before the first frost; you can lift whole plants and hang them upside down in a shed or garage to ripen.
Tomato Yield Tips:
Plant 1 to 4 tomato plants for each household member. Consider the variety and how the tomato will be used: eating fresh, cooking, canning or preserving. If possible, plant both early and late cultivars and determinate and indeterminate tomatoes to allow for a staggered and continuous harvest. Double the number of plants if you plan to crush the fruit for juice.
Slice and freeze tomatoes for later use. The flavor will not be lost.
Storing and Preserving Tomatoes
- Ripe tomatoes are best stored on the kitchen counter, not in the refrigerator.
- Tomatoes also can be frozen, canned, or dried whole or sliced.
- Tomatoes can be made into juice, paste, relish, or pickles.
- Green tomatoes harvested before the last frost can be set in a cool, moist, place for up to one month as they ripen.
- More tips How to Freeze Tomatoes and How to Can Tomatoes.
- More tips on tomato harvest: How to Harvest and Store Tomatoes and Tomato Ripening Tips for Season End.
How to Choose the Right Tomato
- There are thousands of varieties of tomatoes; several hundred named varieties are readily available as seed or starts.
- Choose tomatoes for fresh eating, cooking, canning, preserving, or drying.
- Choose beefsteak and slicing tomatoes or cherry or miniature tomatoes for fresh eating.
- Choose standard or globe-shaped tomatoes for canning.
- Choose paste tomatoes for cooking.
- Choose a tomato to fit the length of your growing season: early (50 to 60 days), main crop (70 to 85 days), or late harvest (85 days or more).
- Choose a bush or determinate tomato for a small garden or container or a short harvest.
- Choose a vining or indeterminate tomato for caging and long harvest.
- Here are more great tomatoes varieties for your garden: Tomatoes to Grow for Flavor.
Kumato: black tomatoes
- The tomato is a tender subtropical perennial grown as annual.
- Tomatoes are native to southern Mexico.
- Tomatoes are weak-stemmed with vining or sprawling habits depending upon the variety. Tomatoes have alternate lobed and toothed leaves.
- Yellow flowers grow in clusters either along stems or at the end of stems.
- Depending on the variety, fruits vary in size from marble-sized to apple-sized and in color from red to yellow to orange to white. Some tomatoes may be green or purple-black.
- Botanical name: Lycopersicon esculentum
Want to see all of the tomato tips? Go to the Tomato category.
Need help? How to Choose a Tomato for Your Garden.
Want to be a tomato expert? Read up on Tomato Vocabulary: Types, Descriptions, and Names.
Grow 80 vegetables: KITCHEN GARDEN GROWERS’ GUIDE
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Tomato Growing and Harvest Information
|For Growth||70-75 F|
|Soil and Water|
|Fertilizer||Heavy feeder. Fertilizer 1 week before planting. Avoid high N and K at blossom time. Too much leaf growth may indicate too much N or too much water|
|Side-dressing||Every 2-3 weeks apply light supplements of weak fish emulsion or compost tea. When blossoming, side-dress with a calcium source to prevent blossom end rot.|
|Height||determinate 3-4′ indeterminate 7-15′|
|Space between plants|
|Space between rows||3-6′|
|Average plants per person||2-5|
|Pick when fruit is evenly red but still firm. If warmer than 90F, harvest the fruit either early or late in the day.|
|First Seed Starting Date||28-56 (~6 weeks) days before last frost date|
|Last Seed Starting Date||132-202 before first frost date|
|Companions||Brassicas, carrot, celery, chive, cucumber, marigold, melon, nasturtium, onion, pea, pepper|
|Incompatibles||Corn, dill, fennel, kohlrabi, potato, walnut|
Where to grow Tomatoes?
Practically anywhere. The tomato is a warm-weather vegetable, it is very tender to frost and light freezes. The newer dwarf cherry tomatoes are especially suited to growing in tubs and clay pots. Never plant near walnut family trees. The walnut trees excrete an acid that inhibits growth of nearby plants. Plant basil nearby to repel flies and mosquitoes, and improve flavor and growth.
Bee balm, chives, and mint will also improve health and flavor. Corn and tomatoes are attacked by the same worm, and should not be planted next to each other because of this. Kohlrabi stunts tomato growth. Keep potatoes away also, as they both can get early and late blight. Also keep cabbage and cauliflower away from your tomato plants.
Recommended Varieties of Tomatoes
There are two basic categories of tomato plants: The determinate, which are genetically controlled and whose terminal buds set fruit and stop the plant from growing (these “bush types” are usually early bearing and do not need staking); and the indeterminate, which are the later-maturing varieties that are taller and usually need some staking.
Because tomatoes have become susceptible to many soil-borne diseases, the modern disease resistant varieties should be selected whenever possible to avoid crop disappointment. As with any soil-borne plant diseases, rotation of planting site is also important. (V = verticillium resistant; F = fusarium resistant, N = nematode resistant).
Types of Tomatoes
The recommended early tomatoes include:
- Springset – a determinate variety that takes 67 days to mature from the time seedlings are set out and is resistant to verticillium wilt and fusarium wilt (VF).
- Spring Giant – a determinate variety, 65 days, VF.
- Campbell 1327 – a semi-determinate (grows larger than determinate but does not need staking), 69 days, VF.
Main season plants generally produce larger fruits than do early tomato plants. Brandywine and beefsteak are generically among the most popular varieties. Popular varieties, all indeterminate, include (V = verticillium resistant; F = fusarium resistant, N = nematode resistant):
- Beefeater -75 days, VFN
- Better Boy – 70 days, VFN.
- Burpee’s VF Hybrid – 72 days, VF.
Soil for Growing Tomatoes
Average garden soil will support a rewarding tomato harvest, but better results are assured if the soil is well prepared with rotted manures, compost, and high-potash fertilizers. Tomatoes are heavy feeders. Plan on providing them fertile, organically enriched soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 to ensure you harvest tomatoes with the best flavor. Fertilizer formulas such as 5-10-10 are good. As an alternative Bone meal or ground rock phosphate are also good soil additions for tomatoes. One basic cause of blossom-end rot is calcium deficiency. Where this disorder has been prevalent, lime the tomato soil at the rate of 5 pounds per 100 square feet. Ground up egg shells are also good soil supplements to combat this problem.
If possible, dig up your tomato plot in the fall and work it several inches deep, incorporating a 2 inch layer of compost of organic matter into the soil. In the spring rake in a 5-10-10 fertilizer (about 1 pound for 25 feet of row.)
Tomatoes should not be planted outdoors until day and night temperatures are about 55 degrees. Low temperatures (below 55 degrees) prevent fruit set. Soil temperatures should be at least 55-60F to transplant. Otherwise plants may turn yellow, become stunted and slow to bear. Seed should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before plants are set out, or use transplants, which are widely available. The ideal plant size is 6-10 inches tall.
To start tomatoes indoors, sow seeds at least 1/2 inch apart, and 1/2 deep in flats or pots about 8 weeks before the last frost date for your area. Seedlings will be spindly with less than 12-14 hours of light per day, try to keep them in a warm sunny location. When seedlings have 4 leaves, transfer to a deeper pot (3-4″) and again when 8-10 inches tall. Each time, place the uppermost leaves just above the soil line and remove all lower leaves. Transplant into the garden when the stem above the soil has reached 8-10 inches tall. Be sure to harden them off before transplanting them outdoors. Allow up to 10 days for the tomato plants to harden off to the outside temperature fluctuations.
Set your seedlings out when the temperatures are fairly certain to be above 55 F throughout the night. Seedlings should be spaced about 2 feet apart for early tomatoes and 3 feet apart for main-season types. Set tomato plants deeply, up to the first set of leaves; roots will form along the stem under ground and strengthen the support for the plant. A lanky seedling can be planted on its side, to the first leaves. It will right itself in a day or so. Use a starter solution (half-rate water-soluble fertilizer) when setting out tomatoes to give them a good, quick start. If you do not want to start your own tomato plants, seedlings are available at garden centers or home repair shops. Listen for cold weather warnings; if late frost seems imminent, cover the plants at night with newspaper tents.
How Tomato Plants Grow
The tomato is a vigorously growing plant with attractive foliage resembling the potato, its cousin. The plants have a decided odor caused by gland hairs on the stems and leaves, which give off a strong-scented oil and stain when broken. The fruit is borne on spurs, which develop directly from the stem.
Indeterminate tomato plants will need some additional support. Even the determinate varieties can benefit from some of support structure. The indeterminate types must be tied to their stakes. They have no climbing tendrils so tie them up with soft twine, old nylon stockings or rags. Make a figure 8 with the tie, looping it around the stake and the plant and tie loosely, or use a slip knot on the stake and use the free ends to tie the plant. There are a variety of support structures available for tomatoes. Probably the most common is the use of a cage in one form or another. It could be made of anything really, use your imagination. Note: If you plan to use a trellis or stakes, set them into the ground before planting.
- Cage – To make wire cages, cut 6 inch mesh concrete reinforcing wire, which is 5 feet wide, into lengths about 5 1/2 feet each. Bend each length into a cylinder and fasten securely with wire. Cut off the bottom rung, set a cage over each individual tomato plant, and push the cage into the ground. The plant will grow up through the cage and the fruits will be easy to pick.
- Pole wire – For a row of several plants, 2 sturdy poles can be placed at the ends of the row and a strong, heavy wire attached to the top of the poles. Heavy twine is then tied to the wire above each plant, and pulled down and loosely tied to it. As the stem grows, wind the tomato plant around the twine for support.
- Pole – insert a pole or tall stake that extends about 6′ above the surface of the soil next to each plant. As the tomato plant grows simply tie it loosely to the pole every 6″ or so using a soft twine , cloth, or similar. You could prune any branches that do not conform to the pole.
- Non staking – Determine plants (see below) can be allowed to sprawl on black plastic or thick straw mulch. Set plants 4 feet apart in each direction.
Some sources suggest that indeterminate and larger semi determinate varieties should be pruned of all suckers (tiny leaves and stems in the crotches of other stems) because they may steal nourishment from the fruits. However, it has been demonstrated that this will limit photosynthetic production, and therefore limit harvest. Leaving these suckers grow should produce more tomatoes as well as an out of control tomato vine
Feed with a starter solution when the first plants are set out and again after the first flowers form. Continue to supplement with a weak fish emulsion or compost tea every 2-3 weeks. If you do not enrich the soil before planting, feed the tomatoes once a month with about 1/3 cup of 5-10-5 fertilizer scattered in a 2 foot wide band around each plant. Tomato plants need at least an inch of water per week; so water them well, especially during dry spells. If the plants are well mulched, weeds should not be a problem. Try using a plastic mulch in either a red or black color. The mulch will help prevent weeds and keep soil borne pests from splashing up on the plants, in addition to helping control moisture. A generously moist growing season followed by a severe drought period, will often initiate blossom-end rot, which appears first as a water-soaked mark that develops to a flat, dark leathery spot. It can be discouraged with mulching and consistent water levels. Unlike most crops, you may solarize the soil as you grow tomatoes because they’re very heat tolerant. Solarizing helps control disease, particularly verticillium wilt. Wet the soil and cover with clear plastic for the entire season for best results. Hand pollinate in greenhouses.
To keep indeterminate plants from making too much leafy growth, prune them to a single main stem by breaking off side shoots as soon as they appear. You will notice these side “suckers” growing between the crotch formed between the main stem and the leaf stem. Cut them out while they are small. The terminal shoot is pruned off when the plants reach the top of the 5-6 foot stake to stop their growth. These plants are also pruned of suckers, the side shoots that grow between the main stem and the leaf axils to moderate their vegetative growth. Most gardeners prefer to prune their tomato plants to one or two main stems.
|Wash and dry before storing. Pack no more than 2 deep|
|ripe: 45-50F||90-95%||4-7 days|
|green: 55-70 F||90-95%||1-3 weeks|
60 days (early varieties)
70-80 days (main season)
Pick the fruit when it is red ripe, and check the plants every few days when the harvest starts coming. Store excess tomatoes in the refrigerator, but the flavor is best at room temperature. Tomato flavor starts to decline at temperatures below 55 degrees. When frost threatens, pick the remaining green tomatoes, wrap in newspaper, and keep in a moderately dark, warm place. They will ripen gradually well past the harvest season. Given warm weather and abundant rainfall, tomatoes ripen in 60-85 days from the time seedlings are set out. When the fruits begin to turn red, check the plants every day and pick those that are fully red and firm, but not hard. Overripe tomatoes will fall off the plant and rot quickly. To store an abundance of tomatoes at the end of the year, you can roast them, and store in a little olive oil in the refrigerator.
A very light frost will usually kill a few leaves, but the plant itself will continue to grow and produce. However, anything more severe than a touch of frost is likely to kill the entire plant. If frost is coming you can protect each plant by draping it in plastic sheeting or old bed sheets, or you can pull the plant up by its roots and hang in the basement until the fruit ripens. Neither method is guaranteed to work, and in cool areas an early frost almost always means the end of harvesting tomatoes.
To save seeds from open-pollinated varieties, allow perfect fruits to ripen until they become soft. Cut them in half and squeeze the gel and seeds into a jar. Cover with 3 inches of water and shake well. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 24 hours before pouring out the liquid. Discard the floating seeds, and rinse the larger seeds on the bottom in a strainer and then dry them at room temperature for approximately 2 weeks. If handled and stored properly in a cool dark place, tomato seeds can last up to 6 years.
- White fly – Try to be alert to buying clean transplant stock. Vacuuming and high pressure hosing early in the morning can help control populations. Floating row covers can offer a preventive measure. They make a yellow sticky trap for white flies, they are attracted to the color yellow. To minimize their migration to your garden, do not wear yellow clothing while tending your garden.
- Tomato hornworm – large, green caterpillars with white stripes are the larvae of a large moth. Handpick. Planting borage among your tomato plants will keep the hornworms away.
– Wilts, blights – Select a disease resistant variety; rotate tomato soil.
Early blight develops in early summer and causes leaves near the ground to develop dry, brown patches surrounded by concentric black rings. The best intervention is to prune off all affected leaves as soon as the problem is noticed. Pruning leaves to 18 inches from the ground will also reduce outbreaks.
Late blight may strike following a prolonged period of heavy cool rain. Affected leaves develop light brown, water-soaked patches, and entire plants can wilt within a few days. Provide excellent light penetration and air circulation to keep plants dry, reducing the risk of late blight.
– Blossom-end rot – Add calcium to the soil; keep plants watered and mulched.
Hard black or brown patches on the blossom ends of ripening tomatoes indicate a physiological disorder called blossom end rot, which is most common in large fruited varieties. Prevent this problem by growing tomatoes in fertile soil generously enriched with compost and mulch heavily to keep soil moisture levels constant.
Question and Answer
Q: What exactly are Heirloom plants?
A: Heirloom plants are species that have been grown organically, or true to type from seed. Before the industrialization of agriculture, this was the main way to grow plants. This term would however, rule out any hybrids. As near as gardeners can tell, 1951 is considered to be the latest year a plant could have originated and still be called an heirloom, since that year marked the introduction of the first hybrid varieties of vegetables.
How to Grow Tomatoes: Complete Guide
Tomatoes arrived in Europe in 1522, brought home by sailors visiting the new world. Initially, the elite was afraid to add tomatoes to their diet, believing the fruit to be poisonous. However, tomatoes became wildly popular in the peasant communities. It wasn’t long until Europeans from all classes of society developed a passion for the ripe red fruits.
The Germans called tomatoes “The Apple of Paradise,” and the French gave the fruit the moniker of “The Apple of Love.”
Today, tomatoes are a staple in many people’s diets, and the use of the juicy fruit is a cornerstone of Italian cooking.
It’s easy to grow tomatoes in your vegetable garden. This hardy plant can produce you a bumper crop of tomatoes in a variety of weather conditions.
However, tomatoes are predisposed to infection with disease and destruction by pests. Therefore, you’ll need to follow the tips in this guide to ensure you get the biggest harvest possible out of your tomato plants.
Tomatoes – Vegetable or Fruit?
Did you know that tomatoes are technically a fruit and not a vegetable? However, when we make a batch of marinara sauce or slice some tomatoes for a salad, it takes on the role of a vegetable more than it does fruit.
Since the use of tomatoes is more prevalent in cooking than with raw diets, we think of it as more of a vegetable than a fruit. Labels are a dime a dozen, and does it really matter what classification you put it under?
Recommended Tomato Varieties
Tomatoes come in numerous varieties, with some of the most popular being Roma, beefsteak, cherry, and currant. Here are a few of the most popular garden-variety tomatoes to grow this season.
- Early cascade – 60-days to harvest.
- Early girl – produces several crops throughout the summer.
- Floramerica – 70-days to harvest, produces a healthy plant with massive fruit.
- Fantastic – Produces high yields and a fleshy fruit that’s crack-resistant.
- Brandywine – A beefsteak variety with a sweet flavor.
- Cherry Tomatoes – These fruits are popular for salads, with ‘Matt’s Wild Cherry’ being one of the most sought-after varieties for tomato gardeners. The plants produce bright-red fruits, and they are easy to grow in any climate. This variety is resistant to drought conditions and produces large yields.
- Sun gold – This is another cherry variety that produces large yields and sweet fruits.
Planting Your Tomato Crop
For those gardeners growing tomatoes from seed, you’ll need to start your seeds 6-weeks in advance of the spring. Tomatoes do best when the last of the frosts finish, and the ground begins to thaw. You can plant tomatoes anywhere in the continental United States, but the fruits prefer a moderate to a slightly warmer climate.
Transplant your seedling directly into the soil, and make sure that you choose a site that has good soil drainage and full sun throughout the day. If you’re growing in the northern states, then make sure you select an area of the garden that gets at least 6-hours of sunlight during the peak hours of the day.
If you live in the southern states, then select a planting site that gets some afternoon shade to help the plant cool down.
In the two weeks before planting, dig a hole in your planting site that’s 1-foot deep, and 1-foot wide. Mix some compost into the soil or aged manure.
After planting your seedlings, you’ll need to put up a trellis or some supporting structure to carry the weight of the plant as it grows. Tomato plants can’t support themselves, so it’s up to the gardener to stop the plant from collapsing under its weight.
If you leave your tomato plants on the ground, there a higher chance that disease will ruin your crop. Before you transplant your seedlings into the soil, move them outdoors for a week in a shady area to help them harden.
Plant the seedlings 2-feet apart from each other to prevent them from overgrowing into each other. Its best practice to install your tomato cage or stakes while the plants are still small. This strategy helps you avoid damaging the roots later on in the growing season.
Tomato Cages – 2ft Apart
The difference between staking and using a cage is that stakes keep the fruit off the ground while a cage allows the plant to grow upright. Remove the bottom sets of leaves from your tomato when planting, and backfill the soil until you cover the first leaf nodes of the plant.
If you’re dealing with leggy tomato plants, bury up to two-thirds of the plant in the soil. The tomato plant will grow roots from the stems as long as they remain under the soil surface. Remember to water your plants thoroughly after transplanting to avoid root shock and reduce stress to the plant.
Growing Your Tomatoes in Containers
If you’re growing your tomato plants in containers, then we recommend you use a material pot. Materials pots allow better airflow to the roots, resulting in bigger yields during harvest time. Material pots also provide excellent soil drainage for your root system, preventing the plant from developing “wet feet.”
If you don’t have materials pots on hand, then make sure that your traditional container has plenty of holes in the bottom for adequate drainage. You might need to drill more holes into the pot to improve this function.
Growing Tomatoes in Pots
We recommend that you use a loamy, loose potting soil mix with additional organic materials like vermiculite, perlite, and coco coir to help provide aeration in the soil. Plant one tomato plant per pot and you might need to stake the larger tomato varieties or wrap the pot in a tomato cage.
Place your pot in an area of the yard that receives at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight during the day. Remember to keep the soil moist, as tomato plants perish fast when they start to dry out. Containers dry out quickly in warm weather, so check the soil for moisture by pressing your finger 1-inch under the soil surface.
Caring for Your Tomato Plants
After transplanting your seedlings into the soil, make sure you water generously for the initial three days to reduce root shock. Water your plants every other day during the growing season, and water deep to create a robust root system in your plants.
We recommend that you water in the early morning. This strategy reduces evaporation and gives your plants the moisture they need on hot summer days. Avoid watering in the late afternoon or evening as the soil will drain overnight and your plants will dry out during the day.
Five weeks after transplanting, you can apply a layer of mulch to give the plant extra nutrients. Tomatoes require nutrient-dense soil to produce large fruit. Make sure that you remove all the weeds from the garden to enhance growth.
If you’re using a staking system prune your plants by removing the side stems so that only the main top branches grow. Tie off your branches to the stakes using gardening twine, and remember to leave a gap for the stems to grow.
Pruning Your Tomatoes
As your plants grow, prune all of the lower leaves from the bottom 12-inches of the plant. Rain splashes may transfer from the ground to lower leaves, causing rot and the onset of disease in your tomato plants.
It’s an excellent strategy to rotate your crops every season. Rotating gives your soil time to replace the nutrients in the ground and ki8ll off any pathogens that overwinter in the ground.
Pests and Diseases Affecting Your Tomatoes
Tomatoes are sensitive plants predisposed to pests. The most common pest found in tomato crops is whitefly and hornworm. Other bugs that are interested in devouring your tomato crop include flea beetles and aphids. Tomato plants are also at a high risk of developing blossom-end rot as well.
Tomato Plant with Whitefly
Late blight is the most common fungal disease affecting tomato plants, causing a grey mold to develop on the fruits and stems, turning them brown. If your garden is experiencing persistently damp and cold conditions, make sure you check for blight daily. Blight overwinters in the soil, returning to infect your next crop.
Mosaic virus is also another disease affecting tomato plant. It stunts the early development of the stems, causing them to twist and distort, leaving foliage mottled and yellow. Throw all infected plants away in the trash, as this disease will thrive in your compost heap.
Harvesting and Storing Your Tomato Crop
It’s essential to leave your tomatoes on the plant for as long as possible. If you start to experience the fruit cracking, then you are either watering too much or adding too much fertilizer.
Pick your tomatoes when they are red, ripe, and ready to eat. Avoid leaving tomatoes on the window sill to ripen. This strategy may result in the fruit rotting before it turns ripe.
If any tomatoes fall off of the plant before they are ripe, put them in a brown paper bag and store them in your root cellar. Avoid irrigating your tomatoes as it removes some of the flavors. The fruits don’t freeze well, and their skins may slip off after defrosting.
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