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Sep 12, 2010 11:21 AM

End of the season??

For anyone who remembers my very naive/beginner questions early this planting season, showing my total lack of knowledge of tomato growing (planting too many seedlings in two very small pots, primarily), I can report that, in the long run, everything wound up growing very well, even given the tremendously hot summer we had in NYC, as well as my two week vacation, when I had to find a friend to come over to water, etc. In the end, I transplanted a couple of the plants more than once, finishing with five 3-gallon pots and one 5-gallon one, for the original eight small plants.

As far as production goes, so far I have gotten close to 150 grape tomatoes from the original six seedlings, with dozens still green on the plants. One "Early Girl" has two remaining orange-red fruits, waiting to ripen further, while the other one has 15 mostly green fruits, including two the size of marbles.

So, my question now is: what should I be doing at this time of the season? I don't expect to see anything new on the Early Girls, but what about the grape tomatoes? I still have dozens of blossoms in addition to the green fruit still on them. I know I've seen mention of cutting back branches, etc., but is mid-September the time to do this? Within a week is when the back porch is needed for the sukkah (Jewish holiday-related thing, for those who don't know), so should I move them to the front yard, where there is far less sun (northern exposure, instead of the sunny southern exposure in the back), or squeeze them to the tiny bit of room on the porch that won't be occupied by the sukkah? I won't be able to access them (for harvesting, or anything else) once the sukkah is in place, though I will be able to direct the hose towards them, if needed).

In all, the experience has been fun--and frustrating! People said that all the effort would be worth it once I tasted the home-grown tomatoes. Well, either I usually luck into pretty decent store-bought tomatoes, or I had less-tasty home-grown ones, but I have to admit that I tasted little difference between bought and grown ones. If I try again next year, I'll have to get suggestions from the experts for really spectacular tasting stuff, bearing in mind that I also want to see the production success I had this year. I did make some tomato jam, using the tomatoes and some hot chile peppers I also grew, and plan to do some oven-roasting with most of the rest of what I get. It is nice to be able to say "I grew these," but I'm a bit scared to total the costs of the plants, pots, soil, stakes, etc. for the few pints of tomatoes I got!!

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  1. Early Girls are not really known for their exceptional flavor. Try growing heirloom tomatoes instead. The flavors are really different, especially if you try the purple varieties, such as Cherokee Purple or Black Krim.

    5 Replies
    1. re: raytamsgv

      Thanks for the suggestion. I was concerned, though, by things I read that say that heirlooms are often harder to grow and more susceptible to disease, infestation, etc.

      Anyone else have anything to say regarding my other questions about the end of season stuff I should be doing?

      1. re: queenscook

        Check with local gardeners or nurseries about the heirloom varieties they grow. What grows well in one area may not grow well in another.

        1. re: queenscook

          I was one of the people talking to you about it. As far as things to do now, its kind of a mixed bag. You might get different advice from different people, but as far as I'm concerned, cut back on watering but don't let the plants dry out *too* much. Keep picking the fruit as it matures because you want to let the new fruits have as much nourishment as possible. Prune off all of the dead/dry branches and the branches that are low on the plant and don't look like they will grow any fruit. These branches won't have any young, fuzzy growths coming off of them.

          About the flavor and quality of your tomatoes, blandness is usually a result of over hydration in my experience. You will get bigger tomatoes, but they won't be as flavorful. Soil quality plays a role as well. Also, are you waiting for them to get ripe enough? When you gently tug at a fruit on the plant, it should come off without much effort at the little joint that is about 1cm from the base of the stem. If you are breaking off the "hat" of the tomato and don't have any green on when you pick, you are pulling them off before they are ripe. This will kill the flavor. Also, don't refrigerate them if you are used to doing this. Tomatoes last just as long on the counter as they do in the fridge and they will taste better. I don't know what you are or aren't doing, so I'm trying to cover all the bases. I hope this helps.

          About heirlooms...there are tons of varieties and the flavor and texture varies greatly, which is what sells me on them. I find that heirloom varieties generally grow more prolifically than the hybrid varieties and they taste better, at least for me. I haven't grown the "basic red tomato" in a while, though this year I accidentally grew early girls along with my other plants. Do some research into what you might like and try growing a few different kinds next year. I will still be around if you need help and advice. :)

          1. re: Jemon

            Thanks for your advice, and offer of further help, Jemon; I greatly appreciate it.

            As for the question of taste, I think I actually have left the tomatoes on the vines probably longer than necessary, rather than harvesting them early. They come off quite easily; I never tug at all, if they don't come off with a gentle pull, I leave them on. I also do not refrigerate them. I'll look into heirloom varieties over the fall and winter and perhaps give them a shot next year. I assume you have to start those from seed, though. This year I just bought started seedlings; I'll have to do more research, I guess!

            1. re: queenscook

              I have purchased heirloom tomato plants from nurseries. They generally stock the more popular heirloom varieties.

      2. I agree with the advice the others have given you.
        In addition, Tomatoes are calcium lovers. A simple way to give them more calcium is to save your eggshells (and have your family, friends, and neighbors save them too) this winter (rinse, dry, crush, and bag) and mix them in with your fresh potting soil next year (free soil additive/less trash!) or mix in big double handfuls per pot of the cheapest powdered milk you can find with your potting soil. Another good additive is coffee grounds, a handful per pot. Save them too! When you're planting, give your 'maters a 5 gallon pot each and you should have an even bigger harvest. And remember to fertilize about every 2-3 weeks during the growing season. I just use regular Miracle-Gro at half strength dilution for my potted vegetables. Pests and diseases seem to bother potted veg less than those planted out in a garden situation so give the heirlooms a try. I grow all my eggplants, cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons, and the majority of my specialty peppers in pots because flea beetles decimate them in the garden.

        Tomatoes ripen best when the night time temps are 65F and above so I would suggest crowding them into the corner of your patio until your event is over since it sounds like the warmest spot you've got. Your house is actually prolonging the season for them because the walls act like a heat sink, radiating warmth at night and keeping your tomatoes cozier. As the temps drop and you notice a slow down in ripening or just before you get the first frost, pick all your tomatoes, including the green ones. Separate the partially ripe ones and sit them in a warm sunny place and they'll ripen up for you. Wrap the green ones individually in newspaper and store in cardboard boxes (not plastic) no more than two layers deep in a spot between 65-70F and they'll slowly ripen for you. If you keep your bedroom cool, under the bed is usually a good spot if you're challenged for space. Check the tomatoes regularly and pull out the ones that are ripening and put them in that sunny spot to finish up. You want to keep ripe and green tomato separate when you're doing the storage/ripening thing. Green tomatoes also make good pickles and chutney as well as being yummy breaded and fried.

        2 Replies
        1. re: morwen

          I had been saving eggshells all summer, and was just ready to throw them out. I had mixed them into the soil every few weeks, but didn't think I needed so much for next year. Any advice on how much I should have per pot for when I plant next year? Sounds like you are saying I need tons, if you are advising me to get eggshells from family and friends. (I bake a lot, so I do use lots of eggs, but maybe not as many as you feel I should have for this purpose.) My neighbor also gave me some crushed lime (limestone?) to put into the pots, saying it was also good for calcium. Is that correct to use; no one here has mentioned that.

          Thanks for the advice, morwen.

          1. re: queenscook

            Pots are a microculture so you have to be a little careful of what you add in or you can sometimes "overmedicate" your plants. I do a lot of veggie pots so I save all the shells I can get my hands on. Same with coffee grounds. Two restaurants save their grounds for me. If I have too much, the excess goes in my compost pile. I take it you're an apartment dweller so having a compost pile probably isn't in your plan. I also mix up my soil by the wheelbarrow load. I'd say if you're doing it by the 5 gal pot, put in a handful of crushed egg shells, a handful of coffee grounds and a handful of vermiculite (will help with water retention), to a generous pot's worth of potting soil. BTW I use Miracle-Gro's moisture retention potting soil for my containers. It has little beads that swell up and hold water, then release it as the soil begins to dry out (has saved my butt when I missed a watering), along with about 2 months worth of time released fertilizer so you won't have to begin fertilizing until 2 months or so later.
            We use crushed lime out in the garden where it gets tilled in but I've never used it in pots so I don't know if it would be too much of a good thing or not.
            A trick I learned to help conserve moisture in pots is to not put a layer of gravel or stone on the bottom for drainage. Instead, line the bottom of the pot with a double sheet of newspaper cut to fit. The newspaper slows down the drainage of water so the roots and soil have time to absorb what it needs and the excess will then seep out. Also, stick with resin and plastic pots, or shiny glazed clay pots. Unglazed clay and terra cotta allow for too much evaporation and if you're growing on a balcony, resin and plastic will help cut down on the weight.

        2. Check this out for a lot of opinions on a lot of different varieties.

          1. Many open pollinated varieties (heirlooms are O.P. with a bit of history attached) can be as disease resistant as many hybrid tomatoes. While it is true that some heirlooms produce less fruit and are not as uniform looking as commercial hybrids, in my experience they usually taste better. If you follow Jemon's link you will find information on hundreds of varieties. If that is too much for you, try looking through the posts on their tomato forum to see what the growers say: