If you asked most home gardeners why they started gardening, they will tell you, for a good tomato.
Truth is, you just about cannot buy a good tomato, unless you have a good farmers’ market close by. Many people believe that is because a tomato must be vine ripened to have that home grown taste. Not so, my gardening friends. Grocery store tomatoes taste like liquid cardboard because they were bred for appearance, not flavor. Commercial growers supply what they can sell, and most people won’t buy an irregularly shaped tomato, with streaks of color and thin fragile skin. You know, like the ones we tomato snobs demand.
So, you plant some tomato seedlings with great hope and expectation. They grow and get beautiful as Spring turns into Summer. Your first green tomatoes appear and every morning you go outside and check for growth, counting the days for that first wonderful bite. The days get longer, the temperatures soar, and . . .nothing. Just lots of green tomatoes.
Now, if you live in a colder climate, this might not be you experience, but I am in Georgia, and those of us in the South know that every Summer will have long stretches of days that soar over 90 degrees. Unfortunately, that is not what tomatoes need. Nope. Too hot.
The perfect temperature for a big, juicy red tomato is between 68 and 78 degrees. Over 86, and appearance and taste suffer. In fact, over 86 degrees, a tomato cannot ripen properly and you will get a sickly orange color, and less than great taste.
So, what’s a tomato inspired gardener to do?
Pick ’em green. Yes, I said it. No vine ripened tomatoes in the heat of Summer. They really are just not as good.
I have done this for years, without the science to back me up. I kept my dirty little secret quiet. Yes, my tomatoes were not vine ripened. Then Professor Samuel Faulkner on our Facebook group, Debbie’s Back Porch provided the science to back me up on this, and I was liberated.
This year, I have kept a photo journal of my Ripening Project. My husband Fred and I planted over 140 tomato plants. This was our procedure, and you can see some of our results in the photos.
When the daytime temperatures started reaching 86 every day, we started picking every tomato as it reached the mature green stage. That is the point at which the tomato lightens up, becoming almost white. Picking before that stage is useless, because they haven’t finished growing and won’t ripen properly. The next stage is called “breaking.” That is the first blush of color. At this stage, the tomato has gotten everything it is going to get from the plant. The plant closes it off. It is really just hanging around, waiting for the tight temperature to finish ripening. It doesn’t even need light, just the proper temperature.
We sorted the tomatoes. Breaking tomatoes on the table, mature green in boxes. As they ripened, we began eating and canning. Every day, I rotated breaking tomatoes to the table, and added more mature green tomatoes to the boxes. The plants seemed to appreciate the lightened load, and began producing even more green tomatoes.
When we reached 400 pounds of tomatoes with no bird pecks or worm holes, we started getting really excited, because the plants were raggedy and puny, but still producing. We were harvesting about 40 pounds a day, and still they were coming.
We stopped counting at 800 pounds, and still they come.
I have sold tomatoes for the first time in my life, canned tomatoes until I have run out of storage space, given away tomatoes, even invited my neighbors in to pick what they want. The flavor is out of this world. People are calling asking for more, and they don’t care that they are not vine ripened.
Many of our group members have started this procedure this year, too, and are very happy with the results. You can find the details in our indexed files under Tomatoes.
If you decide to try this next season, let us know how it works for you.