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by Mort Mather

Owen Grumbling called to see if I thought there would be a frost. "Yes, I think so. But what do I know? I had a light frost a week ago and I thought there would be a heavy frost two nights ago and brought in a bushel of green tomatoes, the basil and the last of the summer squash, eggplant and peppers."

Owen wanted to know if he should cover his tender plants with blankets or if he should harvest what was left. For years I covered the tomatoes and harvested the rest. This year we covered the tomatoes for the first frost. We weren't sure there would be a frost but our garden seems to catch early frosts even though we are not in an area that should be particularly prone to frost. Frost begins by settling in low areas because cold air is heavier than warm air. Our garden has higher ground on one side and lower ground on the other so cold air should flow across it to the lower first. What seems to happen, however, is that cold air comes off Mt. Washington and drifts uninterrupted across to our garden.

The first frost this year was an unusually good indication that our theory is correct. The tops of plants were frosted while the lower leaves of even the basil were unaffected. I say "even the basil" because it is the most tender plant in the garden. Some years it will turn black from the first frost while all the other tender plants survive.

We have decided that there is little, if any, advantage to keeping tomatoes on the vine after the first frost. They will ripen in the house. In fact, the tomatoes sold in stores were harvested green or close to it. The only way to get a vine ripened tomato is to grow it yourself of to buy it from a farm stand. Vine ripened tomatoes are the best but a shelf-ripened tomato that was grown in our own garden is better than a commercially grown shelf-ripened tomato.

I have read that the green tomatoes will ripen best if wrapped in newspaper. We only did that once. We couldn't see any advantage to the method so why bother with the extra work. Wrapping wasn't such a chore but they had to be unwrapped to determine if they were ripe or if they were spoiling.

Now we harvest a bushel basket full putting the greenest ones on the bottom and the ripest on the top. We keep the basket in the shed where it is cooler and pick through them moving the ripper ones inside as we need them. They will ripen faster in warmer surroundings.

The tomatoes give off a gas which hastens ripening. The idea of wrapping them is to keep them from gassing each other and hastening ripening. I guess you can keep them longer with this method—longer than we care to keep them.

İOctober 5, 1998

Mort is a husband and father. He authored a book, Gardening For Independence and was named Environmentalist of the Year by Down East Magazine in 1987. You can eat his organic produce at his son's southern Maine restaurant. His address is 802 Bald Hill Road, Wells, ME 04090.

Mort retains all rights to his columns. Anyone interested in using them can get the rights at a very reasonable rate.



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