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
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
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 methodlonger 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.
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.