Q. I have no problem getting medium-sized tomato fruit from my Spring crop. The fall crop has been another matter. It is a game I play every year, much like Lucy holding the football for Charley Brown in the comics, only to pull it away at the last minute as he tries to kick the ball. The trick is to start plants early enough to have ripe fruits by December, but not too early to watch plant growth succumb to the feedings of white flies, aphids and tomato fruit worms. This year I lost again. Our first frost came a week earlier than I expected. Trays of green tomatoes anointed with an ethylene-producing apple ripen in trays in my garage, presaging another crop of fried green tomatoes for our dietary this December. Yet there is a bright side. This year I have grown the largest green tomatoes yet, suggesting the heat of May probably suppresses growth of larger fruits in Spring. So much for trying to grow beefsteak and other types of allegedly huge tomatoes next Spring. But come next August, as the eternal optimist, Early Girl and I shall try again.
A. In this climate is very discouraging in the fall with tomatoes due to the short season we have from ideal fruit setting temperatures around 90F and below and the number of days till frost. And of course as the frost approaches these fruit slow down as well. In the spring it is more ideal since we have some good fruit setting temperatures and then the heat comes. The tomato fruit likes the heat so that doesn’t interfere with production. They stop setting around 95F so you get a bunch of tomatoes that set at temperatures below 95F and the vines stop producing usually in late July. Late July is the time to begin cutting them back, fertilizing and getting set for fall temperatures below 95F.
This past fall we had an unusually early frost in November so unless they were protected the vines died. There are a couple of approaches that can be used for fall production of tomatoes. One is to remove tomatoes when they no longer produce and replant with varieties that produce in fewer days. Early Girl is a good choice with setting fruit at 50 to 62 days after transplanting but even better choices are the cherry, grape and pear types that set fruit easily in our climate.
One technique I have used in the past is to pull the entire plant from the ground before a freeze and hang it in the garage. The fruits will continue to ripen on the vine and slowly rather than ripening all at once as they do when they are picked from the vine. You don’t need the apple. Once picked they start producing their own ethylene but putting a very ripe banana or apple (banana is best) will hasten the ripening process.