How to Harvest and Store Tomatoes

 


Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labour

Once you’ve got all the toiling and sweating in the garden seeding and planting your tomatoes, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your hard work pay off when your first tomato fruit emerges. It’s a terribly exciting feeling knowing that you will soon be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour (literally). The next step is to know how and when to harvest your tomatoes, as well as what to do (and not to do) when storing them for later use.

When to Pick Tomatoes

Tomatoes ripen at different times for different varieties. However, it is common for all varieties that ripen on the vine to achieve a fuller flavor in comparison to that which is picked unripe and left to ripen. Cheery tomatoes should be picked upon turning red, or slightly before, as they are fragile and tend to crack easily on the vine.

Tip

Approximately one month before first frost, you should start removing all new flower clusters and cut off the top of the plant to allow the plant to ripen any existing tomatoes instead of producing new ones which will not ripen in time.

If you decide to extend your harvest through light frost, cover the plants with sheets and pick all remaining fruits.

Storing Ripe Fruits

  • Wash and dry the tomatoes
  • For a short period of storage before consumption (about a week or so), you can leave the harvested tomatoes on a counter-top or bowl (away from sunlight).
  • If you have a surplus of ripe tomatoes, consider canning them (which will preserve them for right up to a year or more if done correctly). Alternatively you can also freeze them (which will last for 8 months) or dry them (one year shelve-life).

Storing Unripe Tomatoes

A cool dark place is recommended for unripe tomatoes. Make sure check them for any signs on rot, specks or damages periodically. Damages can spoil other healthy fruits next to the affected ones. Arrange them in a single layer, or use an apple box with separators.

When you’re ready to use them, put them in a bag and let them sit till they ripen. Paper bag is recommended as it will not trap moisture like plastic bags do (and is environmentally-friendly) causing mold or fermentation. Placing the tomato in a bag with another fruit like a banana or an apple will speed up the ripening process. These fruits emit ethylene gas, which is a byproduct of ripening, stimulates the tomato to ripen.

Contrary to popular belief that leaving tomatoes exposed to sunlight ripens it faster, it is not the sunlight itself that ripens them, but the heat. This is why when placing tomatoes in a paper bag it ripens faster because the bag acts as a miniature greenhouse, trapping the day’s heat in it. Of course if you do not like the idea of having a bag sitting around (a possibly accidentally sat on), tomatoes in a bowl on a sunny windowsill (where the heat can make its magic) works well (just make sure you turn them well so that they don’t rot on the exposed side).

Warning

Do not eat any other parts of the tomato plants other than the fruits because they are members of the poisonous nightshade family.

If you’re still left with a lot of green tomatoes on the vine at the end of the season, cut the vines and hang them intact in a dark place. The ones that have a lighter, translucent shade of green (called mature green) will ripen better than the darker green ones.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them. Ever heard of fried green tomatoes? You will also find lots of recipes for pies, quiche, hash, relish, and green tomato with mincemeat, chutneys, pickles and even a cake!

Fried Green Tomatoes Recipe

An image of Fried green tomatoes

To make a green tomato cake, you will need the following ingredients and to follow the steps outlined below (which serves about 12 people):

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil or melted shortening
  • 3 eggs
  • teaspoons vanilla
  • cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup pecans or walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 1/2 cups diced green tomatoes

Preparation:

  1. First, preheat your oven to 350°F.
  2. Beat sugar, vegetable oil or shortening, eggs and vanilla in a bowl until smooth and creamy.
  3. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg, then fold into the before mentioned egg mixture. Mix them both well.
  4. Stir in pecans, raisins and tomatoes.
  5. Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan. Pour the mixture into the pan.
  6. Bake for one hour. To test if the cake is done, insert a wooden pick or cake tester in center of the cake. If it comes out clean, then the cake is done.
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