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Tomato Tips – For Growing And Harvesting

Do you want to learn how to grow and harvest tomatoes? Great! This article written by Steve The Computer Guys will help you grow some of the most luscious and healthiest tomatoes on your block and he’s given a great recipe to make your own delicious fried green tomatoes!

  • When selecting plants you will find two types of growth habits: determinate and indeterminate, and three major fruit types: slicing, cherry, and paste tomatoes. There are heirloom and hybrid varieties.
  • Heirloom tomatoes (or Open-Pollinated) are strains that have been reproduced for generations without cross-breeding. Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, are a cross between two different varieties. Generally Heirloom tomatoes produce fewer tomatoes than Hybrids.
  • Determinate tomato plants produces fruit for a couple of weeks and then production fades out. That’s because it eventually forms a flower cluster at the terminal growing point, which causes it to stop growing in height. Indeterminate tomato plant produces fruit throughout the season, often until frost. It never sets terminal flower clusters, but only lateral ones, and continues indefinitely to grow taller.
  • Tomatoes should not be planted outdoors until day and night temperatures are 55 degrees or higher. Soil temperatures should be at least 55-60F to transplant. Otherwise plants may turn yellow, become stunted and slow to bear.
  • In short season areas, cover the ground with black plastic several weeks in advance, to pre-heat the soil before transplanting.
  • Tomatoes like a nice warm area in full sun, and need at least 8 hours of sunlight a day, or they get spindly and produce little mature fruit. They like soil that has a pH of 5.5 – 6.8, is fertile, deep, well-drained, and that is rich in organic matter. They also like the soil to have both major and minor nutrients worked in, potassium being more important than nitrogen. Tomatoes are sensitive to shortages of calcium and magnesium. To make sure you have everything you need, add plenty of good compost or well-rotted manure into each planting hole.
  • When choosing the tomatoes you want to grow, you might want to look for disease resistance. When purchasing, many cultivars have capital letters after the name which indicate the resistance they have to common diseases including Verticillium wilt (V), Fusarium wilt (F), root knot nematoes (N), and tobacco mosaic virus (T). Disease resistance does not affect the flavor in any way, they simply help keep the plant healthier and thriving while nonresistant plants are dead or dying. For example, the label on Big Beef VFFNTA Hybrid, a winner of a 1994 All-America Selections award, tells you it is bred to resist verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt races 1 and 2, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus, and Alternaria, an early blight.
  • Plant seedlings 2.5 feet apart for smaller bush tomatoes (determinate, ripen all at once) and 3 to 4 feet apart for larger indeterminate tomatoes (vine-like, keep growing, produce fruit continuously throughout the season). It’s very tempting to put tomatoes closer at planting time, but if you get them too close you’ll only increase the chance of disease.
  • Plant as deep as possible leaving only the top leaves exposed. Every part of the stems underground will form roots giving the plant extra strength and nourishment making the plant healthier in the long run. Some gardeners plant vertically in a deep hole, others lay the tomato seedling on its side in a trench and just let the tip poke through the ground.
  • Water deeply and regularly throughout growing season, about 2 inches per week during the summer. Keep watering consistent to help prevent blossom end rot (sufficient Calcium in the soil and consistent regular watering to transport that Calcium is needed). Irregular watering, (missing a week and trying to make up for it), leads to blossom end rot and cracking. Water early in the day so that plants will dry off before evening. This helps to reduce disease problems. When watering, always keep the water towards the base of the plant, and try and keep the leaves dry. When tomatoes get too wet or too dry that’s when problems start. So try to keep the soil moisture even, without being soggy.
  • Many tomato diseases reside in the soil and affect peppers, eggplants, potatoes, and other crops in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. To break the disease cycle, and to help get rid of the disease-causing organisms, rotate tomatoes with unrelated crops, such as corn, beans or lettuce.
  • Cut away diseased leaves. Check your plant regularly for yellowed, moldy, or spotted leaves. Remove as many as possible. You’ll help the plant invest its energy in ripening tomatoes rather than fighting off disease.
  • Once the fruit begins to ripen, you can ease up on watering to encourage ripening. Lessening the water will coax the plant into concentrating its sugars, for better flavor. Use your judgement. Don’t withhold water so much that the plants continually wilt and become stressed or they will drop their blossoms and possibly their fruit.
  • To prevent soil borne pathogens from splashing up onto your tomato plant, when it is about 3′ high, remove the leaves from the bottom 12″ of the plant.
  • Tomatoes need warm nighttime temperatures to ripen on the vines. Generally speaking, the larger the tomato size, the longer it must remain on the vine until it can be harvested.
  • Determinate (compact bush) tomatoes are generally ready sooner than indeterminate (larger, vine-like) tomato plants.
  • Mid and late season tomatoes generally have the best yields of high-quality fruit and do better in the garden than their early-season cousins.
  • After tomato flowers develop, bloom, are fertilized and set fruit, it takes approximately 6 to 7 weeks before the fruit is ripe for harvesting.
  • If it is getting late in the season, pick excess fruit. If you have a heavy crop still on the vine with just a few weeks before the first expected frost, pick some of the just-ripening tomatoes (mature green, turning, or pink) to allow the rest to ripen on the vine faster. Bring the picked tomatoes indoors to finish ripening.
  • Never place tomatoes on a sunny windowsill to ripen – this will only turn them red, not ripe; they may rot before they are ripe! Instead place them one layer deep in cardboard boxes and cover them with newspaper with the stem up and store them in a well ventilated dark place at room temperature – excessive humidity can cause tomatoes to rot. Tomatoes ripen from the bottom to the top and from the inside out. At 65-70F they will ripen in a couple of weeks. At 55-60F they ripen in about a month. Check their progress every few days and discarding unsuitable or soft ones.
  • Should you wash freshly-picked green tomatoes? The tomato jury is out on this one. Some gardeners say no – don’t wash tomatoes until after they are ripe and ready to eat. Water droplets can be left on the tomato and cause it to develop soft spots or mold – especially if you choose to ripen tomatoes in an enclosed space. Others swear by washing tomatoes once they’re picked, even using a light bleach solution. Late season tomatoes can acquire all kinds of fungi and mold. Washing (and especially bleaching) can remove those nasties and prevent decay over the coming weeks as ripening green tomatoes mature. If you choose to wash tomatoes just after harvesting, make sure they are completely dry before starting your ripening regimen.
  • To get the best flavor pick a tomato when it is ripe – not too soon, not too late. A ripe tomato will be only slightly soft – in between hard and soft. A hard tomato needs additional time to ripen. A soft tomato is over ripe and may develop off-tastes. Heirloom varieties ripen before they completely turn color. Pick heirloom tomatoes before they look totally ripe. Cherry tomatoes crack if left on the vine too long. Pick them just before they look like they’re perfectly ripe. Tomatoes ripen from the inside out. If a tomato looks ripe on the outside, it will be ripe on the inside. Tomatoes need warmth to ripen, not light. Fruit will continue to ripen during overcast or cloudy days that are warm or tropical. Tomatoes stop ripening when temperatures are above 86º F. If you have a long string of hot days, or if you live in an area that has consistently hot summers, then tomatoes may ripen to a yellow/orange color and stop. Harvest them before they turn completely red.
  • Once tomatoes start ripening, check plants each day and pick those that are ready. Overripe tomatoes will fall or be knocked off stems. They rot quickly. You can easily lose a big portion of your crop if you don’t monitor your patch and keep harvesting tomatoes!
  • By ripening green tomatoes at the end of the season, you can enjoy fresh tomato taste for weeks after a heavy frost, sometimes even up to Thanksgiving!
  • If it is getting late in the season, pinch off flowers. New blossoms won’t have time to set fruit before frost. By removing them, you encourage the plant to focus with what’s already on the vine and ripen the existing tomatoes faster.
  • Another way to speed ripening at the end of the season before frost is root pruning. Take a large carving knife and cut a semicircle around the plant, 2 inches from the stem of the plant, and about 8 inches deep. This cuts some, but not all of the root system, enough to shock it into forcing all the plant’s final strength into ripening its fruit. Only do this near the end of the season, or if it makes you nervous, just try this on one of your plants to see how it works.
  • Never refrigerate fresh tomatoes. Doing so spoils the flavor and texture that make up that garden tomato taste. Tomato flavor starts to decline at temperatures below 55 degrees.
  • To freeze for winter use, core fresh unblemished tomatoes and place them whole in freezer bags or containers. Seal, label, and freeze. The skins will slip off when they defrost.
  • Pick all your tomatoes before the first heavy frost. Alternatively, if your tomato plant still has fruit when the first hard frost threatens, pull up the entire plant and hang it upside down in the basement or garage. Pick tomatoes as they redden. Once tomatoes are exposed to frost, their taste withers and texture is mushy. You will discard them.
  • What about very green tomatoes? Immature green tomatoes have not yet begun to turn white. There’s a good chance they will not ripen, but rather spoil. Plus, they rarely develop a ripened-tomato flavor. Set aside unripened green tomatoes to use in green tomato recipes like ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, for example.

Fried Green Tomato Recipe

You can then freeze these and add a wonderful taste to sandwiches.

What you need

  1. 6-8 green tomatoes
  2. Non-GMO or organic bread crumbs
  3. Organic white flour
  4. Non-GMO oil, like Olive oil or Sunflower oil
  5. Egg-wash (see below)
  6. ½ bunch fresh parsley
  7. ¾ cup shredded fresh parmesan or pecorino cheese (organic or imported from Italy)
  8. Salt and pepper (to taste)

What to do

  • Core green tomatoes, slice into ¼ -½” rounds, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Place 6 cups bread crumbs, parsley, and cheese in food processor. Use steel blade to grind until smooth. Set aside.
  • Set up a 3-part “breading station” in an assembly-line fashion on your counter. Place in order flour, egg wash, and bread crumb mixture.
  • Dredge 3-4 tomato slices at a time, dipping each separately in flour, followed by egg wash, and finally in bread crumb mixture.
  • Fry slices until golden brown, turning once.
  • Serve immediately or place slices on cooling rack. You can freeze these and use as needed.

How to make egg-wash

Whisk 3 eggs with ½ cup water.

Disease Resistance Codes

  1. V Verticillium Wilt
  2. F Fusarium Wilt
  3. FF Fusarium, races 1 and 2
  4. FFF Fusarium, races 1, 2, and 3
  5. N Nematodes
  6. A Alternaria
  7. T Tobacco Mosaic Virus
  8. St Stemphylium (Gray Leaf Spot)
  9. TSWV Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus

Credit: Steve The Computer Guy