Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved
For more information read my column in yesterday’s Deseret Morning News.
Look at your tomato vines. They are likely covered with large green tomatoes that will be killed by cold weather. While you might be tempted to wait until the last moment to pluck up these fruits, that is often a bad idea.
Tomatoes that get wet and cold before they are picked for storage usually crack around the stem ends. When that happens, the fruit quickly starts to spoil and becomes unusable.
Some gardeners do not realize that mature green tomatoes will ripen off the vine over an extended period of time. While they will not taste as good as vine ripened tomatoes in the summer, they are better than most of the tomatoes you can purchase during the winter.
Mature green tomatoes are those that have reached the typical size for their variety and are starting to turn light green or white on the bottom.
Select only sound, undamaged fruit to store. Even the slightest opening in the skin allows fungi and molds to grow and quickly destroys your fruit.
From personal experience I will warn you not to procrastinate too long. Some green tomatoes harvested that I have harvested when fall conditions are warm and dry stored until the following spring. When I procrastinate until it is cold and wet, they usually are not worth bring in because they spoil so quickly.
Some texts recommend pulling the vines and hanging them upside down and letting the fruits ripen that way. I have tried that method and found it cumbersome, messy and worst of all, the tomatoes usually fell as they were ripening and we destroyed before I got to eat them.
The after harvest care is critical. Handle the fruits very carefully as you prepare them for storage. I spread the tomatoes on newspapers in flat shallow tray such as planting flats or trays that canned food is shipped on.
Set the fruits far enough apart that they do not touch as some will go bad and you do not want the decay from those spreading to other fruits.
Even better is to recycle fruit or tomato crates from you local supermarket. Ask the produce manager to save some of the boxes with their inserts. Then set one tomato per compartment and fill the trays before you store them.
Sort the fruits according to how ripe they are. Place the one that are staring to turn on one tray and then gradually fill additional trays with less mature fruits.
Storage conditions are critical. The temperature needs to stay around 50 degrees and the humidity need to remain dry. High humidity quickly allows the fungi to attack the tomatoes and destroy them.