Save your tomatoes for later

Yes, it's been a lousy tomato year. A cold and wet spring that seemed to go on forever, followed suddenly by really hot temperatures does not make a tomato plant happy. It doesn't make for happy tomato growers, either.

And as I write this, it is raining, and although my lettuce, carrots and other veggies are ecstatic, the tomatoes look miserable. So, is there anything we can do to salvage the poor things?

Yes, as a matter of fact there is. First, if you have mulched around your tomatoes, pull that mulch back. I think our days of trying to keep the tomatoes cool are over for this year.

Second, if you have indeterminate tomatoes, prune them back. Those little green marbles on the vine will not grow to full size, and they are sapping energy from the plant that could be used to ripen the ones that are larger. Indeterminates, in case you've forgotten, are the tomatoes that will keep on growing and blooming right up until their death at frost time.

Third, make plans for storing your green tomatoes so they will ripen indoors. If you do this right you will have fresh tomatoes for Thanksgiving, and maybe for Christmas. When the time for storing them comes, they will need a warm, dry place — 55 to 60 degrees is ideal. They do not need light to ripen, just like they don't need the sun to hit the skin while they are still on the vine.

Although it's still too early to pick them for storage, plan to harvest your tomatoes before nighttime temperatures reach 30 degrees. If they are exposed to temperatures colder than that, they will freeze-spoil instead of ripen. It's best if they are at least showing a hint of yellow, but many ripen just fine if they're still green as grass. Store only those tomatoes that are blemish-free.

Store the dry tomatoes in a single layer in flat boxes, and do not let them touch. There is no need to wrap each tomato individually, although that's OK if you want to. I just lay a few thicknesses of newspaper over the box. That makes my weekly check for spoilage a lot easier. Store them in the garage, your garden shed, in an unused room, under the bed, or wherever you have room. Do not ever refrigerate them. These tomatoes will not have the delicious flavor of those just picked out of the garden, but they will be superior to those from the supermarket.

Some people like to pull up the entire plant, and hang it upside down to let the green tomatoes ripen. That works, too, although it's pretty messy, and it can be difficult to handle such a large, heavy plant. I think it's harder to sort out the keepers from those that should be sent to the compost bin, too.

Two more things you can do to get ready: Practice your Long Indian Summer Dance, and check out recipes for fried green tomatoes. They're delicious, especially when served with peach or mango salsa.

Coming up: Mark Tapley of the Cascade Bonsai Society will teach a class on Bonsai, the ancient artistic form of cultivating trees in pots. The class, from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 27, will include demonstrations on wiring, pruning and fertilizing. The cost is $5. It will be held in the auditorium of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Call 541-776-7371 for more information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. E-mail her at

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