‘Hey, Bub! What’s taking my tomatoes so long to ripen?"
Uh, first of all, my name isn’t Bub. Secondly, that’s a good question. The slow ripening of tomatoes, or any vegetable for that matter, can always be related to prevailing weather conditions. In the case of tomatoes, those hot days of upper 80 to mid-90 degree temperatures back in July were a key factor in delaying the ripening of tomato fruit.
"But, Bub, aren’t tomatoes a tropical plant and don’t they love the heat?"
My name isn’t Bub. Tomatoes are believed to have originated in either sub-tropical southern Mexico or western South America, i.e. Ecuador and Chile. So, yes, they do like some heat, but their growth is affected by high temperatures. Studies have shown that at temperatures above 85 degrees tomatoes stop making the pigments and other compounds involved in fruit ripening.
"Is there anything I can do to speed up ripening of my tomatoes, Bub?"
I’m not Bub. Tomatoes expend lots of energy in a variety of growth processes: root and new shoot growth, flowering, fruit development and fruit ripening. The key to speeding up ripening is to divert energy from some of these developmental processes to fruit ripening. Start by removing all existing and new blossoms. It takes about 50-60 days from flower to ripe fruit, maybe longer as nights get cooler in September. Flowers produced now are not likely to result in ripe fruit.
Next, remove all deformed fruit, yellowed lower leaves, and a few suckers or shoots that have no fruit.
Stressing a tomato plant by root pruning on three sides might hasten ripening; I haven’t tried that so I can’t vouch for that practice. In any case, given current weather conditions, I think you’ll see rapid ripening soon.
While waiting for tomatoes to ripen, get some exercise with these weekend tasks:
n Take advantage of sales on annuals at local garden centers. Use these to add late season color to the landscape. Examine plants carefully before buying since some may be weather worn.
n Divide daylily, iris, lady’s mantle, peony and salvia and continuing dividing until October. The decision to is based on whether plants are overcrowded and on the need to increase the number of plants in the garden. Trading plant divisions with friends is a good way to increase the variety of plants in your garden.
n Hill soil up against leeks to blanch lower portions of the leafy stems. Harvest leeks only as needed; they can be left in the ground well into fall, and, if mulched, leeks can be harvested in winter.
n Shop for seeds of winter rye or winter wheat to use as a cover crop in the vegetable garden. Measure the garden area to be seeded and calculate how much seed will be needed based on a seeding rate of 2 to 3 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. (Thank goodness for calculators.) Begin seeding garden areas as they are cleared of spent vegetable plants. Turn over the soil, scatter the seed and rake to cover seed with soil.
n Create a new lawn. This is the best time of year to do that. Till the area, rake out as much of the old grass and weeds as possible, add compost or peat moss, starter fertilizer, and limestone if needed. Rake the soil smooth, scatter a lawn grass seed mix, water, and spread a thin layer of straw over the area.
Before creating a new lawn, get soil tested for pH to determine how much limestone to incorporate into the soil. Western Massachusetts Master Gardeners will be testing soil samples at the Berkshire Mall Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to noon Friday. Directions for collecting soil for testing may be found on the WMMGA.org web site. If you go, tell them that Bub sent you.