September is the time for tomatoes...probably our family's favorite harvest of the season. There is nothing quite like biting into a garden tomato just plucked from the vine, the literal fruit of your labor over the spring and summer months.
This year, I planted about forty tomato plants and plan on preserving them in a variety of ways. All of these plants were started from seed at the end of March to mid-April under fluorescent lights. They were later moved out to my small 6' x 8' greenhouse and grown into healthy seedlings. My tomato repertoire this summer includes my standbys: heirloom 'Purple Cherokee', 'Earliest Paste' romas, and ‘Brandywine’, plus a few newer varieties like heirloom 'Blush' tomatoes, 'Polar Baby', and yellow cherry 'Galina’ tomatoes. The more diverse the varieties, the better chance of getting a decent yield from at least a few...although of course my ultimate goal is to get a yield from all of them! Some varieties are best fresh like the Cherokees and Galinas. Others, like the Romas, are great for dehydrating since they have more flesh than seed.
When I first moved to Montana eight years ago, I was told that it was difficult to grow tomatoes, or at least to get ripe ones. Up for the challenge, I started my first Montana gardening season with a small plastic-covered hoop house and soil rich in goat manure. That combination did the trick and my first summer yielded a bumper crop of delicious tomatoes that had us eating fresh salsa from August to November. I have been hooked ever since.
So how do you ensure that you're not left with only fried green tomatoes on the menu?
Here’s the quick scoop:
In mid-to late August (or right now), sever a third of the roots on your tomato plants, cut back on watering, and pick off any remaining flowers and a lot of the new vegetative growth. This stresses the plant out sufficiently to encourage it to put all its energy into ripening the fruit that is currently on the vine. In addition, because our cold nighttime temperatures are the real challenge to fruit ripening, cover the plants with frost cloth starting around now (late August/early September). With these methods, I have managed to get a significant yield every year. For those last green ones that won't be able to ripen outdoors before a hard frost hits, I typically take the whole plant inside and hang it upside down in our storeroom, allowing the fruit to ripen that way. The tomatoes don't quite taste as delicious as sun-ripened tomatoes but they are still a significant cut above the store bought ones! Alternatively, picking the fruit off the vines and storing them in paper bags with a ripe banana will also do the trick.
If you have any tried and true methods for getting your tomatoes to ripen on time, please share them in the comments below!
Happy harvesting and salsa-making,