Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tomato Intervention

or, Too many tomatoes, two
Do you remember my lamentations of Too Many Tomatoes from September 20th? Well, I am still in tomatoes up to my neck. To be exact I've got tomatoes up to my ceiling, my garage ceiling!

A few weeks ago we had our first frost here in the greater Puget Sound area and I was very worried about my fully-unripened tomatoes on my fully-loaded tomato bushes. Yeah, I was having a hard time keeping up with their production but that's a good thing, right?! A challenge I was willing to pit myself against. I was not ready to give up the fight until every tomato from every one of my bushes was put to perfect use but I knew that frost was coming and I knew those tomatoes would not survive if left to their own devices.

I was forced to intervene. I researched and found two different ways to ripen my tomatoes past frost. I hadn't ever tried something like this before so it was to be an experiment. I prepared my lab (garage) and my instruments (1 bucket, 1 cardboard box, 1 newspaper--gardening section, 1 3-ft piece of clothes line) and my protective gear (grubbies and gloves) and set out to seek truth in the field of tomato ripening.

tomato intervention experiment #1

Pick all your green tomatoes from your bush. As you pick check the bottom of the tomato for a raised brown spot and star-like coloration at the blossom end of the fruit. If it has this spot and star striation it will continue to ripen--continue to option A. If it does not have the spot and star striation it will not continue to ripen--continue to option B.

Option A: Tomatoes with a brown spot and star striation at the blossom-end will continue to ripen off the vine. Place the tomatoes in a cardboard box, cover with a newspaper (I think tomatoes prefer the gardening section), and place in a cool, but above 42 degrees if possible, dry place to ripen; the garage is perfect. Check your box every week or so and use the tomatoes to your liking as they ripen. Remove any blemished or rotting tomatoes immediately to avoid ruining the whole batch.

Option B: Make Fried Green Tomatoes or Green Tomato Pie (warning: Option B has not been fully tested by author. Proceed with caution and enjoy.)

Tomato Intervention Experiment #2
Pull the whole tomato plant out of the ground. Shake excess dirt off the roots. Bring the whole bush in from the "test gardens" and into the laboratory (garage) and, using the clothesline, secure the plant to hook or nail in the ceiling or crossbeam. Allow bush to hang upside down and place a bucket or bin underneath to catch any tomatoes that may fall from the bush unexpectedly. Walk away. Check your bush every week or so and use the tomatoes to your liking as they ripen. The bush will shrivel and dry but the tomatoes will continue to ripen and stay fresh for quite a while.

The outcome of the two interventions has been eye-opening to say the least. I have been so happy with both methods. I used #1 for my big tomatoes; romas, beefsteaks and better boys. The tomatoes are slowly ripening in their box and, though not as super sweet and tasty as the summer tomatoes off the bush, are quite yummy and better than storebought. I used #2 for my cherry tomatoes. The bush hangs from ceiling clear down to the floor. Every few days I go out and grab a handful from the bucket and from off the bush to throw them into our dinner salad and the kids continue to enjoy eating them right off the vine and showing off the plant to their friends. It's quite a novelty to have a tomato plant hanging in your garage!

If you haven't intervened on behalf of your tomato plants yet, hurry and do it; there's another frost expected tonight!

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