The first thing that caught my attention in this morning's newspaper, The Tri-City Herald, was an article by Marianne C. Ophardt on "Save Your Tomatoes While You Can" Following is an excerpt from the very informative piece:
Pay attention! Frost has arrived in some parts of our region and we've been experiencing some abnormally cool early fall weather. This rapid change from hot to cold and back to warm may be confusing, but it does give us no doubt that fall and frost are on their way. We should all be on the alert for a "killing" frost in the weeks to come.
Out in the vegetable garden, tomatoes warrant our attention. They're extremely sensitive to frost and are damaged by cool fall weather. Temperatures between 50 and 85 degrees are the best for development of the red and orange pigments that we look for in a juicy ripe tomato. Below 50 degrees, the fruit will experience chilling injury, especially if they haven't started to develop any red color yet. Those that have developed some red color can be helped along by covering them with clear plastic or row cover fabric. Some gardeners construct temporary "greenhouses" for the plants by placing clear plastic over some sort of structure for support. Below 40 degrees, tomato fruit will undergo serious chilling injury. (That's why tomatoes never should be stored in the refrigerator.)
You may be able to hasten the ripening process for fruit that are already beginning to color up on the vine by removing both mature green fruit and immature green fruit that have no chance of ripening. Mature green fruit can be ripened indoors. A mature green fruit has turned from solid green to a light green or whitish color. If cut open, it will have gel around the seeds and no empty cavities. To ripen mature green fruit successfully indoors, clip them from the vines leaving a short piece of stem attached. Place the fruit in single layers in cardboard box lids or open boxes. Situate them so the stems don't puncture other fruit. Some gardeners who cherish these last gems of the garden will wrap each tomato individually with newspaper. Wrapped or unwrapped, store the fruit in an area where the temperature will be 55 to 70 degrees. Light is not needed. It will take about two weeks at warmer temperatures and could take as long as three to four weeks at cooler temperatures for the fruit to ripen. Check your tomatoes regularly for ripeness and to cull any that may have started to rot. Once ripe, store them in a cool spot (45 to 50 degrees), but definitely not in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator!
We've had several nights now where the temperature has fallen into the low 40s. I noticed the tomatoes I recently picked to ripen on the windowsill had a mealy texture, with very little flavor, so it looks as though the cold nights did take their toll. It's too bad, because they are beautifully formed large tomatoes. They taste like those from the grocery store. That batch is simmering on the stove right now, soon to be ladled into jars.
But look what came out of the garden this morning!
That's 6-3/4 pounds of tomatoes, 2 pounds of green beans, a pound of baby mesclun greens for the rabbit, 1/2 pound of baby spinach and 1/4 pound of green onions for tonight's salad, a large bunch of purple basil, a small bunch of carrots for the rabbit, and the first little crookneck from the newest plant (lots more baby ones forming, too).