Extend your tomato harvest and enjoy them longer when you take these simple steps in late summer and early fall.
Steps to Extending Harvest of Tomatoes
- Cut back the watering. If tomatoes have reached full or close to full size, reduce watering. This will encourage ripening.
- Pick small fruit. As tomato fruit ripens, it uses energy converted from the leaves. Many fruits can slow this process, particularly when temperatures begin to decline. To enable a larger harvest as the first expected frost looms on the horizon, pick all the tomatoes that are their mature size, pink, or are just starting to turn. Leave the remainder to ripen on the vine.
- Shock the roots. Tug gently on the bottom of the main vine to shock the roots. The jolt helps get the message across it is stop messing around producing fruit and go to seed.
30 Days or so before the first expected frost in your zone
Most tomatoes need 35-50 day to ripen, once fruit has set. As the season moves toward it’s close, part of extending your harvest is aiding the plant to begin using all it’s energy to the remaining fruit and “create seed.”
Your interest in frost and what it can do to your remaining crop should be your focus in the garden, all long time gardeners have learned by now to keep a watchful eye on the thermostat and to stand at the ready either to harvest the last tomato or protect them as best one can.
Know the date of your first expected frost. Find your expected last frost date here.
A month before your last expected frost prune the tomato plants. Cut off the top of the plant, remove all new blossoms, and snip any new shoots. Don’t cut any mature leaves, they are necessary to continue to make food for the plant.
When only Light Frost is Expected
Cover your tomato plants with a sheet or light plastic to protect fruit.
When you must Pick Tomatoes
Two things to keep an eye on at the end of your tomato growing season. Well, three…
- know the difference between a light frost and a heavy frost.
- Daytime temperatures are regularly below 60°F. When daytime highs stay below 60°F, your tomatoes will stop ripening. You can bring them inside and allow them to finish developing flavor and a bright window sill will speed the process.
- When a heavy frost notice is issued. Pick all your tomatoes before the frost begins to fall. Once tomatoes are exposed to frost, their taste withers and texture becomes like toilet paper, Ewwww! Ripening your green tomatoes indoors is the best way to keep the flavor of summer as long as possible. Then again, fried green tomatoes… yum yum!
More on Growing Tomatoes
Starting Tomatoes from Seed
How to Grow Tomatoes
How to Choose Tomato Plants
Pinch and Prune for Huge Tomato Harvests
Troubleshooting Tomato Problems
Tomato Encore – Rejuvenating Tomatoes