cherriesExtend harvest of your tomatoes and enjoy them for weeks longer when you take these simple steps in late summer and early fall.

Steps to take to extend harvest towards the end of the growing season

  • 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. A garden hod or a Tufftotes garden bucket are especially helpful when harvesting tomatoes.
  • 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.

A month before first expected frost

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.

When a light frost is expected

Extend harvest by covering tomato plants with a sheet or tarp to protect fruit.

When you must pick tomatoes

Green tomatoesThere are at least 2 events to be on the watch for at the end of the season.

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.

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.

The article first appeared on TomatoDirt.com; reprinted with permission.

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