Home Map and Hours Classes and Events Employment

Welcome to Tagawa's Blog

Sunday, September 5, 2010

When should we pick tomatoes?

September is one of the best times to be in Colorado. And one of the most confusing, if you're growing your own vegetables. Since tomatoes are far and away the single most popular veggie that we grow, let's take a look at when we should be picking them, and when should we leave them alone, to continue ripening on the vine.

It all comes down to our often fickle Colorado weather. According to the National Weather Service, the Denver area's average first frost-freeze is October 8th..... but an overnight freeze has been known to come as early as September 8th or as late as November 15th. All this means that as gardeners, we need to be light on our feet, keep our eyes on the forecast, and think strategically. We need to have a plan on how to get as many tomatoes as possible to ripen before Mother Nature shuts down our tomato season.

So for starters, when should we be picking our tomatoes? Some folks are convinced that only a 100% vine-ripened tomato, ready to eat the moment you pick it, qualifies for an A+ rating. I'm not one of those folks.
Birds and rabbits, (who knew rabbits ate tomatoes?), seem especially drawn to a shiney red tomato. So in a effort to out-smart the wildlife, I'm likely to pick a tomato when it is on its way to fully coloring up, but not necessarily there yet. I'll let it finish ripening at room temperature on the kitchen counter. I honestly don't notice any loss of flavor.

By the way, never refrigerate a lovely home-grown tomato unless you want to make it taste like a store-bought tomato. Refrigeration is just one reason grocery store tomatoes taste so flat.

If you don't have wildlife pilfering your tomato patch, ripening on the vine is fine. A fresh-picked tomato warm from the sun is truly one of life's little pleasures. But you should also keep in mind that the clock is ticking on what's left of our growing season.

By picking your tomatoes when they are well into "blushing," but not fully ripened, you're letting the plant concentrate more energy on the remaining tomatoes. With a little luck, you'll get more home-grown goodness in the long run.

Also keep in mind that as our overnight low temperatures begin to drop, 55 degrees and less, the ripening process is going to slow down. Removing tiny tomatoes that don't have a chance of reaching their mature size will help focus the plant's energy on the fruit that has more promise.

In my next blog, I'll offer some tips and tricks on harvesting some of the other veggies that may be growing in your garden. Hopefully, we're at least a few weeks away from making the "big sweep" of our vegetable gardens, picking everything that would be damaged by freezing temperatures. But this is Colorado, after all. I always picture Mother Nature grinning at gardeners here, just to see if we're paying attention.

No comments: