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Keep an eye on those tomatoes

July 2, 2009
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaegher

We are all watching our tomato plants very carefully these days for any sign of readiness. If you are lucky, and I know a few who have been lucky, you have already been eating a few tomatoes this growing season.

I have a few tomato plants that have some really nice tomatoes on the vine and a few that are flowering to beat the band, but no flowers, yet. So, why have some that are one way and some that are still fiddling around? Well, variety will be half the answer. There is some interesting info out there about tomatoes and what it takes for a green tomato to ripen on the vine. It is not as simple as it first appears to be.

There are several stages of development that tomatoes go through before they are ready to be picked and eaten. It takes most tomatoes about 40-50 days or longer to grow up. It is about at this time when we start frying up those green tomatoes. The tomato fruit, once it has reached maturity will start to fade from the dark green that many of us are seeing now to the light green shade. This is also the stage that come this fall, makes it easier to ripen a tomato once it has come off of the vine. The tomato then goes from the light green color to whatever color it is supposed to be after this period of time.

According to Rosie Lerner with the Purdue Extension office, color development happens because of temperature and the presence of ethylene which is a naturally occurring hormone. The optimum temperature for ripening tomatoes is around 68-77 degrees F.

If the temperature is on either side of the range, it may take longer for the fruit to ripen, causing green tomatoes to stay longer or not to ripen at all. In a twist on this, if the temperatures rise and stay above 85 degrees F for an extended period of time, the tomatoes will not produce lycopene and carotene which are pigments responsible for the color of tomatoes. The result is fruit that often appears yellowish green to yellowish orange.

Tomatoes that have turned that light green color can be removed from the vine if there are persistent problems in the garden from pests of any kind. They may not have the absolute best taste because they were removed but it is better then losing your whole crop.

This technique can also be used in the fall when frost is obviously coming. They will not ripen in the refrigerator but should be kept at a balmy 60-65 degrees F to ripen. Forty-five degrees F can be used to slow down ripening so you can eat tomatoes well into the fall and even early winter, if you so desire.

And finally, turning from the vegetable garden to the perennial borders: Garden tours are coming up in two communities - July 14, from 4-7 p.m., an area garden tour will be held, with proceeds going toward the Granite Falls Library in Granite Falls. Tickets can be purchased from the library in Granite Falls for $10. Maps will also be available at the library in Granite Falls. Refreshments will be served at one of the six gardens to be viewed. For more information, call Lynn at 320-564-4903. Rain date will be July 16.

Also, the 8th Annual Prairie Home Hospice Garden Tour will be July 15 with a rain date of July 16. The cost is also $10. The tickets are available at Hy-Vee and the hospice office. For more information, you can call the hospice office at 537-9247.

The proceeds will go toward the landscaping project at the Hospice House.

For more information about gardening, you can email me at



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