Reaping the harvest

For the home gardener, the reward of a succulent, sun-ripened tomato that is rich in flavor is the ultimate goal, and so the fruits should be left on the plant to ripen to the peak of perfection.

The ripe stuff Take your pick

The process of tomato ripening is governed Pick fruits as soon as they ripen so that the by the temperature—a range of 65-75°F plant keeps producing new tomatoes. This

  • 18-24°C) is best for most varieties. As is particularly important toward the end ripening gets under way, the green pigment of the season, when you want the plant to
  • chlorophyll) breaks down and the orange- concentrate on swelling the remaining fruits.

yellow (beta-carotene) and red (lycopene) You can also help along the ripening pigments increase. It is the relative process later in the season by removing any concentrations of the latter pigments that yellowing leaves from the bases of plants, determine the color of a ripe tomato. to let in more sunlight to the tomatoes.

PICKING TOMATOES - find the ripest, juiciest tomatoes, pick, and enjoy

Small fruits Rather than picking lots of small Large fruits Apply slight pressure with your fruits, it is easier to cut off the entire truss, thumb where stem and calyx join (abscission with pruning shears or a sharp garden knife. layer, or knuckle). Gently twist and break off.

Kitchen marvels The reward of spending just a few hours a week in your garden. Turn to page 132 to see how to enjoy them.

Beat the autumn frosts

Try to harvest all tomato fruits before the first frost. They may continue to ripen indoors (below), if picked immediately after a light frost, but a heavy frost will damage the internal tissues; use any frost-damaged tomatoes right away.

While the first frosts are light, you may untie a cordon plant from its support, lay it flat on the ground, and cover it with a layer of horticultural fleece. The tomatoes may then continue to ripen on the plants while being protected from a few degrees of frost. Take in the fruits if heavy frost is forecasted.

The last of the crop

At the end of the season, hang trusses of tomatoes to ripen (opposite). There is a group of tomatoes known as long-keeper varieties, such as the Spanish 'De Colgar,' which ripen slowly after harvesting if kept in a cool, frost-free place. They can take up to three months to reach maturity and should be ready for eating in winter, long after you have eaten your main-crop tomatoes.

There are occasional reports of tomatoes that remain in good condition for up to a year, but the mechanisms of fruit longevity are not fully understood at present.

RIPENING INDIVIDUAL TOMATOES - all you need is patience

Go bananas - put green tomatoes in a bowl next to a banana: it emits ethylene gas, which encourages the tomatoes to ripen.

RIPENING TRUSSES - so tempting, they may be eaten off the line!

Cut trusses of green tomatoes and hang in an airy place such as a garage, potting shed, spare bedroom, or even the kitchen, to ripen.

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