By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Extend harvest of your tomatoes and enjoy them for weeks longer when you take these simple steps in late summer and early fall.
Reduce watering. If fruit has reached full or nearly full size, cut back on watering to encourage ripening.
Pick excess fruit. Ripening fruit takes a good deal of energy from leaves. A large crop can slow the process, especially if temperatures are cooling off in the fall. When you have a heavy crop still on the vine with just a few weeks before the first expected frost, pick a few of the just-ripening tomatoes (mature green, turning, or pink) to allow the rest to ripen on the vine.
Shift roots. Pull slightly at the bottom of the plant to shift the roots. The surprise sends the tomato the signal that it’s time to finish up with the fruit on the vine and go to seed.
Once fruit has set, tomatoes need about 40-50 days to ripen.
Towards the end of the season, you can help your tomato plant direct its energy to already-set tomatoes and finish strong.
Keep your eye on the calendar. Know the date of your first expected frost. If you’re not sure, contact your local extension office. You can also view the freeze/frost information provided by the National Climatic Data Center. Select your state from the drop-down list. On the opened chart, choose the city closest to you. You’ll see the average first expected frost dates for fall – among plenty of other data.
About a month before that date, prune your plants. Cut off the top of the plant, remove all new blossoms, and clip shoots. Leave on mature foliage because these make food for the plant.
Extend harvest by covering tomato plants with a sheet or tarp to protect fruit.
There are at least 2 events to be on the watch for at the end of the season.
1. When daytime temperatures are consistently below 60ºF. When cool temps below 60ºF are the norm, tomatoes stop ripening. Bring them indoors and allow them to finish ripening there.
2. When a heavy frost is in the forecast. Pick all your tomatoes before frost falls. Once tomatoes are exposed to frost, their taste withers and texture is mushy. (Get the dirt on protecting tomatoes from frost and freezing.) By ripening green tomatoes indoors, you can extend harvest even longer.
Gardeners approach the end of growing season with two minds. First, you may experience some relief. All your hard work has paid off. Your freezer is full and your shelves are stocked with processed tomatoes.
But along with satisfaction, you mourn. The season is coming to a close. Cold weather is around the corner and when it comes, you won't have the chance to tour your garden each day and pluck fresh produce off the vine.
But you can delay that inevitability, at least with your tomato crop. Extend the harvest. And keep enjoying the fruit of your labor as long as Mother Nature allows.
More on ripening and harvesting tomatoes
Harvesting tomatoes: when to pick them ...
Tips for Topping a Tomato Plant to Extend Harvest ...
How to control fruit flies that attack ripe tomatoes ...
How to save tomato seeds to plant next year ...
Protecting tomatoes from frost and freezing ...
Fall tomato garden clean up ...
As an Amazon Associate and Rakuten Advertising affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases.
SHARE THIS PAGE:
FREE! 10 Must-Know Tomato Growing Tips: 20-page guide
Get yours here: