Get the Most Out of Your Tomato Harvest

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and when they’re left on the plant five to eight days after the fruit are fully colored, the flavor only gets better.

Check plants regularly and keep harvesting, so the plants continue to produce throughout the fall.  This also reduces problems with insects and disease attacking overripe or rotting fruit. Store the mature red tomatoes in cool, 45- to 50-degree, conditions with high humidity and they’ll last about 7 to 14 days.

tomato stage growth

Consider pinching off the growing tip of indeterminate tomatoes about a month before the average date of the first fall frost. These plants will keep growing and producing new flowers and fruit until the frost kills the plant.  By pruning off the tip towards the end of the growing season the plant will direct its energy into ripening the existing fruit instead of producing more tomatoes that won’t have time to mature.

When frost is in the forecast be prepared to protect your plants and harvest. Cover plants with sheets, lightweight blankets or floating row covers in the afternoon. All but the row covers must be removed each day when the temperatures are above freezing. Since row covers allow air, light and water through to the plants while trapping the heat, they can remain in place until the end of the harvest season.

Once you grow tired of fighting the frost, consider picking any tomatoes that are starting to show some color and allow them to finish ripening indoors. The blossom end of the tomato should be greenish white or starting to show the color of the tomato variety you’re growing. Store green tomatoes in a cool 60- to 65- degree location to extend their storage life.

Spread out the tomatoes on heavy paper or wrap them individually in newspaper so the fruit do not touch. This prevents one rotten tomato from spoiling nearby fruit.

The green tomatoes will ripen over the next few weeks. Speed up the process by moving a few tomatoes to a bright, warm location a few days before they’re needed.

Next season extend your enjoyment by growing a few tomato varieties that last longer than most in storage. Garden Peach, Golden Treasure, Long Keeper and Reverend Morrow’s Long Keeper are a few varieties you may want to try.

And don’t let the rest of the green tomatoes go to waste. You can use them for frying, chow chow, green salsa and other tasty treats.

Featured photo credit: Melinda Myers, LLC

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening and The Midwest Gardeners Handbook. She hosts The Great Courses How to Grow Anything DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio segments. Myers’ website,, features gardening videos, podcasts, audio tips and monthly gardening checklists. 

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