Protect Your Tomatoes from Frost

A boxful of green tomatoes.
Even after several great tomato harvests this summer and fall, the Better Farm tomato plants are still producing. After a near-frost the other night, our intern Jackson Pittman has been hard at work insulating the garden rows and protecting our produce from the elements. Green tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine, so today he set about picking fully grown fruits and storing them in a cool, dark place so they can reach their full maturity in peace. Here's how you can protect your tomatoes from frost.

Keep in mind that tomatoes must reach a green, mature stage in order to successfully ripen after being picked. Fruits should be firm and full-sized. Small, hard tomatoes haven't developed enough to finish the ripening process. Pick the green fruits before the first frost damages the tomatoes. If most of the tomatoes on the plant have reached a green mature stage, pull up the entire plant for ripening indoors instead of picking individual fruits.

Fully green tomatoes will obviously take longer to ripen after picking than those beginning to develop a red or orange blush, so separate tomatoes by color. Store the fruits in a shallow, open box in a single or double layer until you are ready to fully ripen the tomatoes. Place the tomatoes with the stem end down if you are stacking them two layers deep to prevent bruising. Store green tomatoes in a 55- to 70-degree location and store those developing their red color in a 45- to 50-degree location. How quickly the tomatoes ripen varies, so check the stored fruits once every two to three days and remove any from storage that develop a full red color.

Tomatoes ripen on pulled plants within seven to 10 days after picking if they are left attached to the plant. Hang the plant upside down in a cool, dark area, such as in a basement. The tomatoes that have already begun to develop a blush ripen first. Pull the tomatoes from the plant daily as they reach their full color. Discard the old plant once all the tomatoes have reach the full red stage of ripeness.

Tomatoes picked individually ripen best at room temperature, or approximately 70 F. It takes the tomato approximately 14 days to reach the full, ripe stage if it is picked when fully green. Keep the tomatoes in a box or paper bag on the counter but away from direct sunlight during the ripening period. Remove fully ripe tomatoes from the box daily for immediate use until all the tomatoes have reached full maturity. Tomatoes will slowly ripen if kept in a 55 F location. Tomatoes ripened at this lower temperature take approximately a month to reach full maturity.

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.