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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

Home Grown Summer Tomatoes

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Nothing tastes better than home grown tomatoes in the summer. Vine-ripened until ruby red are the best tasting of all. Yet, sometimes unripe green ones have to be picked. 

Read about ideas on how to choose which tomatoes to grow, how to decide when to harvest them, how to store them until ready for eating, and how to help tomatoes to ripen when picked while green. 

Home grown summer tomatoes under wire cloche
Start with where do you keep fresh red and green tomatoes until they are ready to eat? Storing fresh tomatoes is a topic for both store bought tomatoes and home grown tomatoes. So, even if you don't grow your own tomatoes in a home garden, you may find this question useful anyway. 

H O M E   G R O W N   

S U M M E R   T O M A T O E S

Southern facing windows are the best location for freshly picked tomatoes to continue to ripen
Southern-facing windows in the kitchen sunspace is where we keep our freshly picked tomatoes, until they are totally ripe. If you do not have a southern facing window in your kitchen or dining area, choose the second-best window, a window that faces the east. 

A southern-facing or east-facing window gives the tomatoes maximum sun exposure to help them continue to ripen. A west-facing window is not as good because the afternoon sun in the summer can be too hot. A north-facing window is the last choice. But, reality is a person has to use whatever windows are available. 

Ripe tomatoes are still firm to the touch, but not hard. 

Do not stack tomatoes on top of one another. Keep them separated to allow air to circulate around them. As tomatoes continue to ripen indoors, rotate which side faces the sun. Turn them over every day or so. 

Once the tomatoes are fully ripe and ready to eat, move them out of the direct sun. Red variety tomatoes are truly red, not just pinkish or orange-ish, when ripe. Whatever color (red, yellow, purplish, etc...) the tomato variety is, the tomato's color will be fully saturated when the tomato is ripe. 

Green variety tomatoes are harder to decide when they are ripe. You have to count the days given on the plant's directions to determine when a green variety tomato is ripe. 

some experts advise picking tomatoes while still green and let them ripen off the vine
Some experts advise picking red variety tomatoes while they are still green and to allow them to ripen off the vine. 

We like to leave tomatoes on the vine as long as possible so they are at their peak flavor and are ready to eat the same day, or next, as picked. 

Growing up in Alabama, I come from generations of gardeners who always included tomatoes in their gardens. I can remember my grandmother's vegetable garden with rows and rows of tomato plants.  She canned scores of pint-size and quart-size jars of tomatoes every summer to use all winter as well as serving tomatoes every day during the summer. And, I can remember picking ripe red tomatoes from the vine, rubbing them on my pant's leg to get any dirt off, and eating them right there on the spot in the garden.  

While a slightly ripe tomato may taste pretty good, a fully ripe tomato is the best tasting. Be patient to allow your tomatoes to ripen. 

A harvesting basket with a crooked handle makes picking and transporting home grown tomatoes easy
A harvesting basket attached to a long-handled crook-neck staff makes picking and transporting garden vegetables easy. 

Sometimes you have to pick tomatoes while they are still green
Sometimes you may have to pick green tomatoes or slightly-ripened tomatoes. Follow the same steps outlined above to allow the tomatoes to ripen. 

Fried green tomatoes is a Southern speciality recipe great for using home grown green tomatoes
Or, if you like fried green tomatoes, use fresh-picked green tomatoes to cook up a Southern speciality recipe.

If you have animals or birds eating your tomatoes, pick the tomatoes to insure you get the tomatoes before your little robber friends do. 

Sometimes in north Texas, our tomatoes begin to crack. When that happens, we go ahead and pick tomatoes that are partially ripe. The usual reason is too much water from heavy rains causes the fruit to grow faster than the skin. The cracks allow bacteria into the fruit and can cause them to rot on the vine. 

Reality is once days are consistently above 90° and nights are consistently above 75°, tomato plants stop setting fruit and struggle just to survive. So, the growing season in north Texas is shorter than people may think. The good news is a second growing season is often possible since our average first frost date is around November 22.  

A wire cloche protects home grown tomatoes and still allows air to circulate around them
A wire cloche keeps both sun-ripened red tomatoes and unripened green tomatoes safe from curious cats who love playing with items left on the table. 

While the house rules include no cats on the tables, cats have minds of their own, especially during the night when everyone is asleep. A sturdy wire cloche protects the tomatoes and allows air to circulate around them. 

Consult local garden centers for suggestions about which tomato varieties to grow in your area
The final question is choosing varieties of tomatoes to grow in your garden. There are at least three varieties of tomatoes in the basket... Cherokee Purple, Beefsteak, and Better Boy. You can see the differences in the colors. There are pinkish red ones, orange-ish red ones, and purplish ones with ribbed lobes (Cherokee Purple.) 

Consult your local garden centers for suggestions about which varieties grow best in your area. What grows best in north Texas may not grow at all in your area. The length of your growing season will play a large role in which varieties grow best in your area. 

Consider how you plan to serve your home-grown tomatoes to choose which ones to plant. Would you like small cherry tomatoes for salads? Do you plan to can your tomatoes? Are you looking for tomatoes to cook Italian-style recipes? Do you want tomatoes to slice as a side dish, to add to hamburgers, or for making a tomato sandwich? 

Many people think Heirloom varieties of tomatoes taste better than hybrid tomatoes
Are you interested in growing Heirloom varieties? Heirloom varieties are tomatoes that have been grown without crossbreeding for 40 years or more. Many people think Heirloom varieties have better flavor. 

All of the tomatoes we grow are standard size and used in salads, as a side dish, or on a tomato sandwich. The Cherokee Purple is an Heirloom variety with a good flavor. Better Boy and Beefsteak seem more acidic to me than the Cherokee Purple. 

All of the home grown summer tomatoes are delicious! Store-bought tomatoes, even ones bought at farmer's markets, never taste quite as good.