Many of the calls and inquiries that we received at the Home & Garden Education Center this summer season revolved around the effects of the high temperatures and the lack of rain on vegetable gardens in the state. So many plants had stunted growth and little to no fruit production, especially tomatoes. Extremes in temperature and hydration will cause tomatoes to drop flowers before they are able to set fruit as the plant knows that it won’t be able to support the developing fruit.
In my garden not only the tomatoes were slow to produce. Squash, zucchini, and eggplant dialed back their production by mid-July and I actually pulled out and replanted all of the pole beans that had just withered in the conditions. Strangely, the carrots very well as did the arugula but not so much for the beets. I did not rely on nature for water but supplemented from the quickly emptying rain barrel.
Once the temperatures moderated a bit in late August everything started to recover. I always plant several varieties of tomatoes, as do many gardeners, and this year, on the recommendation of my brother, I chose a variety called Fourth of July. Fourth of July, as its name suggests, is supposed to produce fruit by the 4th of July. It didn’t quite hit that mark although it was one of the first to achieve mature, slightly larger than a golf ball-sized tomatoes. This plant continued from that point prolifically giving lots of these great for salad tomatoes. I loved cutting them into 6ths and tossing them with cubed fresh mozzarella, large croutons, olive oil and some fresh basil. Letting this salad sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes allows the croutons to absorb some liquid and all of the flavors to come together.
Yellow plum tomatoes also did pretty well but most of the other varieties were sporadic at best. Fortunately with 13 plants there were enough ripening at the same time that I could still combine them with squash and eggplant and can several batches of ratatouille.
As the nighttime temperatures started to drop into the 50s I would cover each plant at night, remove the covers in the morning trying to extend the time that the fruit could remain on the plants. I actually kept this up into October and the squash, tomatoes, and eggplant survived some dips into the upper 30s. However, by October 25 my patience had dwindled and I decided it was time to call it a day for those plants.
The only issue with this decision was the fact that due to the late development of the fruit so many plants still had an abundance of unripened tomatoes. In fact, the variety called Black Krim had copious numbers of large beautiful fruit of which not a single one had ripened! I filled two large colanders from this plant alone. I probably had 20 pounds of green tomatoes. What to do? I’ve heard of fried green tomatoes and have even made a green tomato chutney in the past but I knew that there must be more than that. I roasted a batch with olive oil and salt and also cooked up a batch of salsa verde, combining the finely chopped green tomatoes with jalapenos and lime juice. I then canned them in a boiling water bath. I used the smaller green tomatoes for these recipes.
The large Black Krim tomatoes presented an opportunity to ripen tomatoes off of the vine. I know that it is possible to even allow tomatoes to ripen in the cellar although I had never done it. First step then: Google it. As I searched for ways to ripen green tomatoes two methods seemed to keep appearing. First, the wrapping of each tomato individually in newspaper and placing them in a non-humid, slightly cool area (but not refrigerated). The second method was very similar except that the tomatoes are not wrapped in paper but left to just sit on paper toweling. Well, why not try both methods and see how it goes? It is important that there are no soft or rotten areas on the fruit.
One week later:
Two weeks later:
Similar sized fruit from each box:
The tomatoes that were in the open flat seemed to ripen a bit faster but when equal sized fruit from each box is placed side by side the difference is negligible. There haven’t been any signs of rotting or softening. Some of the articles that I used for research stated that ‘you can eat fresh tomatoes in January’ by following these methods. I don’t think will probably happen based on the speed with which they have already ripened but to still be enjoying the taste of fresh tomatoes well into November is fine with me.