Harvesting Tomatoes in NJ Zone 6: Q&A

If you’re anything like we are, then you probably spent a good part of your summer watering, watching and waiting for those tomato plants to yield some firm, red fruit. And then just when you had all but given up, here comes a sudden windfall of tomatoes!

So now you probably want to know what to do now that your garden is a veritable tomato factory. Here are some answers to your typical tomato questions, with tips for harvesting delicious, NJ tomatoes at their peak of excellence.

When should I pick tomatoes? When I’m ready to eat them?

Wait until your tomatoes are ripe before picking them. Be sure that the fruits are plump, firm and red. With practice, you’ll be able to tell which tomatoes are too soft and should have been picked a few days earlier. Do not let tomatoes get overripe on the vine, as they will begin to rot.

But what if my tomatoes split while on the vine?

Tomatoes that crack on the vine are a result of uneven watering and fertilization. Despite the previous instruction to pick when ripe, we’ve found that if you pick the tomatoes just a bit early (they should be red, but not TOO red), you can avoid the cracking. They will ripen on your countertop within a few days and manage to not pick up any funky rot that would otherwise inhabit the cracked area.

What to do with the tomatoes that fall off the vine early?

Any tomatoes that land in your basket before they’ve turned red should be placed together in a brown paper bag, stems up. The fruit will emit gas inside the bag which hastens the ripening process. Check your bag each day to see how they’re faring, and remove when ripe.

What if my tomato plants have lots of green, unripe tomatoes and there is a frost expected?

If you hear that an overnight frost is about to strike, then remove the entire plant from the garden and hang it upside down in the basement or garage. Your tomatoes will continue to ripen, and you can pick as needed. (Source: Farmer’s Almanac)

(I’ve noticed that when my tomato plants fall prey to blight, they die, but the green tomatoes that were on the vine continue to ripen even though the plant has shriveled up and turned brown. Thus, an indication that the prior tip does, in fact, work.)

What to do with all these garden tomatoes?

According to the same article from the Farmer’s Almanac, you can freeze them in plastic bags. Core first, leave the skin intact, and the skin will allegedly fall off when they defrost.