Better tomato harvests, September update
Late summer brings the occasional perfect tomato: a luscious beefsteak shaped like a heart, mellow golds, sweet black cherry clusters, and jewel like mini-plums to dry on trays for winter. But all is not Eden in my tomato patch.
Slugs make holes at night, rain splits tender skins, fruit flies invade, and wilt eventually catches up to even the most resistant vines. Nevertheless, I keep trying to improve my harvests. Here are my harvest-boosting strategies.
- Restake overgrown vines late in the season. Some vines may make break as you lift them, but they can easily self-heal in a day or two. I tied my jungle of vines to a repurposed swingset, painted grass green, and it's a lovely bower of rainbow cherry tomatoes as I write this.
- Try to move fruit higher on supports to protect from slugs.
- Make fruit fly traps of rotted fruit, banana peels, or apple cider vinegar. The flies will be drawn to traps instead of your tomatoes. I made my traps of plastic produce boxes, covered with plastic wrap, punched with lots of holes so the flies would go in, but not come out. This worked very well, and the holes were too small for bees.
- Save mesh bags from garlic and onions to put over clusters to help protect them while ripening.
- Removing wilted foliage may improve the look of your tomato patch initially, but will encourage the disease to move ever further up the vine. Sometimes it's better to leave yellow foliage at the bottom as a kind of barrier to the upper branches.
- Even the most passionate gardener can let plants fall into a state of neglect on busy days—I know first hand. But when I get my second wind, I always remove rotten and moldy fruit which is a much better environment for the remaining harvest.
- To save damaged, unripe fruit from fruit flies and rot, pick early, rinse, and dry. Place on paper towel on a plate and cover with a plastic bag to ripen a bit more. Cherries can be kept in a covered glass bowl. When ripe, you can use damaged fruit for making broth.
- Cover your tomatoes as soon as you bring them indoors to protect from fruit flies.
- Checking the weather every evening beginning in late summer, to find out when to expect frost. You can cover your plants with sheets or plastic on cold nights to lengthen the season a bit.
- Just before frost, bring in all green fruit still attached to their vines. I keep mine in cardboard boxes and check them every day, removing anything that looks like rot. They can take up to a month to ripen this way. Fruit may be a bit pale, but the flavor is a sparkling reminder of summer and far better than store bought.