Tomato Swan Song

tomato harvest

This weeks tomato harvest

The heirloom tomato plants pumped out fruit all summer long. We ate them raw and in salads, sliced between sandwiches and Mike made the surplus into salsa. Oh yum.

Alas, tomatoes are a summer annual and they’ve come to an end. Here in the Northern Hemisphere,  fall is just a couple of weeks away. It’s time for the tomato swan song.

The plant is still pumping out fruit, but the lower leaves are browning and the fruit isn’t nearly as sweet.

tomato ripening vignette

Ripening vignette

tomato plant in decline

Tomato plant in decline

I collected a huge bowl earlier this week, washed them and popped them in the freezer. We’ll be able to enjoy them in another salsa or sauce. I harvested some green tomatoes as well, and put them in a paper bag. If green tomatoes have released a gas called ethylene then they’ll continue to turn red. Otherwise they’ll remain green. The bag simply traps the gas and allows nature to follow its course.

Here’s an excerpt from Garden Know How:

The main determiner in how fast a tomato turns red is the variety. It will determine how long it takes for a tomato to reach the mature green stage. Tomatoes cannot turn red, even forced by modern technology, unless it has reached the mature green stage.

Another factor  is the outside temperature. Tomatoes will only produce lycopene and carotene, two substances that help a tomato turn red, between the temperatures of 50 and 85 F. (10-29 C.) If it is any cooler that 50 F./10 C., those tomatoes will stay a stubborn green. Any warmer than 85 F./29 C., and the process that produces lycopene and carotene comes to a screeching halt.

Tomatoes are triggered to turn red by a chemical called ethylene. Ethylene is odorless, tasteless and invisible to the naked eye. When the tomato reaches the proper green mature stage, it starts to produce ethylene. The ethylene then interacts with the tomato fruit to start the ripening process. Consistent winds can carry the ethylene gas away from the fruit and slow the ripening process.

If you find that your tomatoes fall off the vine, either knocked off or due to frost, before they turn red, you can place the unripe tomatoes in a paper bag. Provided that the green tomatoes have reached the mature green stage, the paper bag will trap the ethylene and will help to ripen the tomatoes.

This year’s crop planted themselves. I call them ‘volunteers’, seeds unintentionally planted thanks to the wind or a bird dropping seed. They’re often the healthiest plants in the garden.  So while I’ve saved some seeds, I’m also lobbing the occasional tomato back into the veggie box, hoping they’ll plant themselves again next year.  Sometimes, a gardener just needs to get out-of-the-way.

tomato long view

Tomato Plants: the long view Dear Reader, I wish you were here! This is a recent shot of my tomato plants. I’ve been harvesting tomatoes all summer long and putting them to good use. If you were here we could make a salad together while we caught up on our news. Until recently, that ugly pipe was hidden with cherry tomatoes. Just behind the tomato plants are the recently pruned raspberry vines. Let’s catch up soon. Cheers, Alys


Waiting for Tomatoes: Looks Aren’t Everything

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

All six tomato plants are healthy, sporting a plethora of green tomatoes. We have a heat wave moving through this week, with temps predicted in the 100s three days in a row, a boon for ripening fruit. What’s good for the tomato isn’t good for this fair-haired gardener, however, so I may follow the cats lead and take a nap on the cool tile floor for the entire afternoon. Ha!

Tomato sandwiches were a summer staple growing up. We grew our own tomatoes and used them in a variety of ways. I love eating warm cherry tomatoes, straight from the garden, bursting with flavor in my mouth. I miss those delicious red beacons of summer.

We rarely enjoy tomatoes served in restaurants these days, and find few tasty options at the grocery store. I assumed it had more to do with a too-early harvest, but I learned this last week from our local paper that it’s even worse.

Accordingly to Lisa Krieger of the Mercury News:

“Scientists have caught the culprit behind those tasteless tomatoes. Turns out, tomato growers’ best  intentions over decades are to blame.

By Breeding tomatoes to ripen evenly and harvest easier, growers unwittingly robbed those sumptuous ruby reds of their taste.”

By disabling the GLK2 gene, tomatoes were more efficient and economical to process.  What farmers didn’t know, is that tomatoes with the normal version of the gene are 20% higher in sugar content and 30% higher in lycopene thought to be useful in human nutrition.

What can we do?

  • Heirloom tomatoes retain the gene, along with sweet cherry tomatoes.  If you plant your own, be sure to choose these varieties.
  • Shop at farmer’s markets when possible, where you are more likely to find heirlooms.
  • Take some time to inform yourself of the Right to Know Movement. If you live in California, you can vote to label genetically engineered foods on the Ballot this November. Help ensure Californians have the right to know and choose what they buy to feed their families.

You can read Lisa’s full article on-line at Mercury