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Posts Tagged ‘Green tomatoes’

 In July we quietly suffered, patrolling the plants for the first signs of blush.   As early August came and went, we paced the rows morning and evening, hoping for color in the green mass.  By mid August, rumors of those who got a harvest began to swirl, whispered like Big Foot sightings or UFO encounters.   But now the truth is out there, in the garden and on the vine. 

 Yes, folks, tomatoes have finally begun to ripen.  This year along the Front Range tomatoes are slow to mature, leaving gardeners scratching their heads and wondering if they’ve done something wrong.  Though the fruit was plenty, those green tomatoes just sat there, tantalizing us with promise but refusing to ripen.

Why do I consider the tomato the difficult diva of the garden?  Aside from the hornworms, blossom end rot, spotted wilt virus, early blight, and Psyllids, the plant’s response to weather can drive you nuts.  And that’s what many experts believe is going on with our love apples.

This season began with soil temperatures staying chill well into June.  Unless your plants were tucked in with plastic mulch, the cool soil kept growth steady but slow until the soaring heat set in at June’s end.  But despite the sweltering days our nights stayed cool; temperatures dropped into the high 50’s and recently went lower.

The nightly cool down slowed tomato plants, delaying the ripening of fruit until every gardener in the area lost their self confidence.  Friends began reaching out for reassurance, texting and emailing their fantasies of filling their mouths with sweet, tangy tomatoes, begging to know what’s happening. 

Even I succumbed, sidling up to buddies to ask, casually, if they’d gotten any ripe tomatoes yet.  “You neither?” They said in response, after which we felt better for the shared torment.

Until this past week, when the fruit began to turn.  Announcements on the arrival of the colorful bundles of joy filled my inbox; texts of the first harvest sent gardeners rushing to their tomato patch to comb through their plants.  Songs of praise and encouragement filled the air as gardeners lifted their arms to the sky to find…

…rain.  And not just a little storm either; we had a mighty downpour yesterday, followed by a steady, soil drenching night. 

Don’t get me wrong – I love rain, and miss it more than I care to admit.  But when it arrives just as tomatoes have begun to ripen, known as the breaker stage, the sudden influx of water can cause those love apples to crack.  This is different than catfacing, which are indentations on the blossom end of the fruit caused, in part, by temperatures dropping into the 50’s during fruit set.

In advance of ripening the skin cells of tomatoes harden, leaving it unable to stretch if they get a sudden burst of water and resulting in concentric and radial cracking on the stem end.  Concentric cracking are rings circling the stem, while radial cracking are splits that run from the stem down towards the bottom of the fruit. 

Some tomatoes are prone to this, others a bit more tolerant, with certain cultivars doing this in the green stage.  Like most of the quirks of a difficult diva, ignore the cracks from the rain; there isn’t a lot you can do about it.  Cut off the damaged area, slice up the rest and enjoy.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

Crop To Cuisine

Crop experts are predicting an early fall this year, claiming they see signs of it in plant maturity, insect behavior, and tealeaves.  I’m not sure what they’re noticing – it could be the squirrels busily storing acorns, ground beetles on the move, or annual plants setting seed – but in the garden, things are just getting started.

This is the time we’ve been waiting for – the point of all this gardening.  As summer wanes and crops are ripening we find ourselves in the middle of harvest, wondering what possessed us to plant all of this stuff.  Keeping up with it seems like a task for a modern superhero.

You go out to gather basil for pesto and end up bringing in enough tomatoes for sauce, a quick trip to check out the melons results in a panicked harvesting of cucumbers.  The counters are covered in produce that needs attention – now.

The kitchen becomes a flurry of activity fast enough to frighten your family; they give you a wide berth so your chopping, sautéing, simmering and roasting doesn’t accidentally involve them.  The freezer fills while shelves groan under the weight of canned beans, peaches, and fruit jams.

If you’re like me and work for a living, harvest isn’t so much relaxing as it is a frenzy, each spare moment spent preparing foods to last into winter.   Winter squash

The good news is that not everything needs cooking to preserve it. Winter squash sweet enough for savory fall soups improves from storing it a little while.  When first picked, winter squash – butternuts, acorns, hubbards and spaghetti – is creamy and starchy, but if allowed to stand for a month or two, the starches convert into sugars, making the squash more delectable at thanksgiving than at harvest.

 Store your squash in dry, cool conditions, and depending on the variety, it will keep one to six months. 

 The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts September and October will be a bit warmer than normal.  If true, this means the pride of summer – our tomatoes – will give us lingering delight into fall.  But if not true, they won’t have enough time to ripen on the vine.  Keep your eye on the forecast and when frost threatens to kill the crop, pluck your love apples from the plant and ripen them indoors, or store for later use.

Green and breaker tomatoes Pink-blushed tomatoes ripen on the counter, but for long-term storage, green tomatoes can hold for months until you need them.  Only mature green fruit stores well – those that are full-sized, glossy, light green to white with a whitish-looking ‘star’ on the blossom end. 

 Should your tomato begin to color at the blossom end, which is known as a ‘breaker’, it will continue to ripen quickly on your counter and taste close to vine ripened.  Deep, dark green tomatoes are immature and should be used right away as fried green tomatoes, in relish, or stewed.

Prevent storage rot by harvesting tomatoes when plants are dry, avoiding fruit that is diseased or has insect damage.  Sort them into groups that will ripen at the same speed – mature green, breakers, pinks and red.  Clip stems short, wash gently and pat dry. Wrap the green tomatoes in newspaper and place one to two layers deep in a box.  Keep in a cool, 55 to 60 degree room out of sunlight; and remember, refrigerators are too cold.

 Keep blankets and other frost protection close to the garden as September passes – you’ll need to move them on and off the plants to protect them almost daily.  When you cover your plants, make sure the blanket stretches all the way down to the ground; you don’t want a cold draft getting in to freeze your plants.

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