Tomatoes are a quintessential summer crop. Almost every home gardener seems to grow them. They taste SO MUCH different from what you can get in the store. They are very rewarding when they work out, and for me at least, so disappointing when they don’t. I had put bird netting over the tomato plants two days before our trip. Shortly after that I noticed some pest damage:
These were sort of close to the bird netting. I was pretty certain that a bird could perch on the surrounding fence and manage to peck in. Because of this I picked the largest / ripest but still all green tomatoes and left all the green ones that were only half-developed in size. We left and came back from our trip. EVERY SINGLE TOMATO is gone. There is literally no evidence the plant ever set fruit. The few green ones I brought in are all that I have.
My wonderful husband set up the trail cam, but we didn’t catch anything on it. We’ll try again to see if some prowler comes back to the scene of the crime so I have a better idea of how to fight them off.
Sometimes organic gardening feels more like a battle and war waging than a tranquil hobby.
The tomato ripening experiment worked from November 24th. I have a counter of beautiful red tomatoes right now.
It’s surprising they are all coming ripe at once. I might have to pull out the dehydrator, or just resort to freezing them. However, right now the husband and I are running low on tomato butter. There’s a restaurant that’s a favorite of some friends of ours and they serve this amazing tomato butter with crusty bread while you decide what to order. We loved it so much we had to dupe it. It’s super simple, the only issue is it really doesn’t use up many tomatoes and I have a lot to figure out what to do with. For the recipe to figure out how much tomato to use 1 1/2 medium, or 2 small tomatoes per batch. Since my tomatoes were picked green they are smaller so I used 2 per batch rather than the 1 1/2 like last time. Basically you end up substituting 1/4 of a stick of butter with the tomatoes so it doesn’t take a lot. If you use beefsteak tomatoes maybe 1/4 of a tomato per batch would be more appropriate. I use early girl which are naturally small.
2 small tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp of fresh thyme
1 3/4 sticks of butter
Salt (to taste)
We like tomato butter with and without garlic so I always make two batches. Also my butter mold holds 4 sticks of butter so 2 batches fills it up nicely.
First cut the stem end off of your tomatoes and slice them in half. placed on a tin foil lined backing sheet skins side up.
Place the tray on the top rack of the oven and turn on the broiler. We’re looking for a roasted skin and to make the tomatoes warm to help melt the butter in the food processor.
When the skins have shriveled and they have brown/ black bubbly skins they are ready.
Put the hot tomatoes in a food processor along with all the ingredients except for salt. Blitz away. It’s amazing how the warm tomatoes turn the butter into a melted soup almost immediately. This makes pouring or spooning the butter into the molds way easier and helps make sure the tomatoes and garlic get completely incorporated.
This is the consistency you want. I start with salted butter but find that adding a little more at this step more makes the roasted tomato flavor come out a little better.
Press butter down into molds and put in freezer to set. Before I had butter molds I used waxed paper and rolling the butter into a log by twisting the ends which also works. I put extra thyme on the top of the butter with the garlic so I know which is which. The butter once frozen will be wrapped in waxed paper with a label and date and sealed in a zip locked bag kept in the freezer. When we want some with a meal we take it out of the freezer, cut off a chunk and let it defrost on the counter or put it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften it. The four sticks of butter seem to last us about 6 months in the freezer. This is probably my favorite way of enjoying tomatoes out of season so far. Tomato butter on a hunk of crusty bread with stew is quite good on a crappy weather day.
Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of those tomatoes….
It’s a sunny November the 24th. Our average first frost date for our area is December 2nd. It’s impossible to believe that in approximately 8 days from now the sweet potato vines will be withered and the annual flowers will stop blooming. Our cherry tomatoes are huge but are not ripening. After doing some research, it appears the temperature is too cold so tomatoes will not turn red on the vine. Daytime temps are 70 nights are mid 40’s. The garden patch my tomatoes are in gets very little direct sun in winter and that is apparently a recipe for evergreen tomatoes.
We already have sliced green tomatoes in our freezer, so I would love to find a way of actually ripening the green ones. We have an experiment going of three different ways to ripen green tomatoes. Hopefully at least one of them works.
counter ripening method
box and newspaper method
paper bag method
After some research it appears it can take anywhere from one week to three months for tomatoes to ripen when picked green depending on how developed they are before being picked. I gave up after three weeks for the sliced green tomatoes in the freezer. I’m actually going to be excited if it takes 3 months for some of the tomatoes to ripen. It will be great to have them in February!
I divided the green tomatoes into three groups, one is just going to sit out on the counter at room temperature uncovered, the other two in a paper bag and in a box with newspaper are in the dark closet. I’m really not a fan of the paper bag method already because I can’t see the tomatoes directly. I’m afraid of finding some moldy science experiment that will look back at me in the future. I’m the out of sight out of mind type person. We’ll see which method works best.
Until the frost comes I’m going to soak up as much of the greenery as I can get.
** It’s December 23rd And the paper bag method is the clear winner. The two larger red tomatoes on the left and in the middle have come from the paper bag. The blushing tomatoes on the right were cherry tomatoes that were super huge and should have ripened on the vine except for it being too cold. I’ve taken the red ones out of the bag to keep a closer eye on them as they continue to mature.
Birds, I love them. They are beautiful and funny to watch, lovely to listen to, and great at controlling bug pests. However, they can be a pest in and of themselves. Especially when it comes to tomatoes. The first year in Austin I went to pick my first perfectly ripe tomato from the vine and the bottom had been completely pecked out leaving this perfectly red ripe looking, but hollow fruit. I was so disappointed. I ended up cutting a huge chunk of bird netting off and wrapping it around the whole cage that housed the tomato plant. That works in spring for a while, but when the plants really start getting big, they grow through the netting which then you have tomatoes developing on the outside of the net and have to either put ANOTHER net on top of the first one (which is impossible to move now by the way since the vines are completely tangled in it) or suffer more bird damage.
This fall I’m trying something different. And it’s a little too early to give a verdict yet but so far it appears to be working. In the pacific northwest gardeners will commonly make strawberry rocks. Find little strawberry sized & shaped rocks, paint them red and place them below the strawberry plants right before they start setting fruit or when there are only green fruit on the plant. The birds peck at the rocks, realize it’s terrible and not good to eat. The birds remember that bad experience and don’t bug the plants when the actual strawberries are ready for picking. So I decided to effectively use tomato rocks. I bought fake tomato decoys from amazon and tied them to the tomato supports and didn’t put bird netting on at all.
The only thing I did was try to tie a fake red tomato close to a cluster of green real tomatoes, hoping it would look more appealing to peck. It appears to have worked for my first cherry tomato and my first early girl tomato of the season. It was picked a little earlier than perfectly ripe. Partly because I was going out of town and wasn’t certain how well this new method would work. But, so far so good!!! I’ve also heard of people putting fake rubber snakes on and around the plants. Another thing I could try is the lunch box barrier like I do for my persimmon tree. See my How to protect fruit from birds post for more information on that.
Putting time into a space and caring for plants should be rewarded. I don’t mind sharing what I can’t reach especially for trees and perennials, but the annuals take so much more attention and care that I dislike losing my (albeit small) crop.
LOW success with this one… I would say it’s definitely not as effective as a net. But it buys you a few days till the tomatoes look half ripe. So…. Back to the bird net. I have one more idea I’m going to try with the next set of tomatoes that ripen up.