Most of us dodged the last frost chance a couple of weeks ago…I think this Saturday night/Sunday morning we’re going to have a much higher chance of frost that will likely kill any tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, or bean plants you have growing. Plants like kale, lettuce, spinach, turnips, carrots, beets, cabbage, and radishes can handle the cold temps and it actually may spur them to grow vigorously. My lettuce, radish, brussels sprouts, and cabbages are doing very well now and I’m looking forward to a great fall harvest.
If you have lots of tomatoes on the vine, it’s time to bring them in. There are a lot of schools of thought out there with how to handle them, but I’ll try to make it simple and easy for you to best use these fall survivors.
If you have fairly large tomatoes…on the verge of ripening, but not quite there yet (turning from dark green to bright green), use a pair of garden shears to snip them off of the vine…leave an inch or so of stem on them to avoid opening a wound on the stem end that may cause them to rot. Place them in a single layer in cardboard boxes and store them in a fairly warm area of the house…near a south window if you can. Some may ripen on their own in a few days. The others you can speed up their ripening by putting them in a paper bag with a ripening banana or ripe apple. Close up the bag and check it every day or so. The ripe banana or apple will give off ethylene gas and should get those big green tomatoes to ripen up in a few days.
If you have lots of smaller, dark green tomatoes, don’t bother trying to get them to ripen. They are immature and will likely rot before they ripen. It’s best to pick them and then use the in green tomato recipes: fried green tomatoes, tomato relish, green tomato pie, tomato chutney, pickled green tomatoes, etc. Don’t freeze the green tomatoes as they get a rubbery texture when frozen and then thawed.
Now for hot and sweet peppers…it’s best to pick them all and let the plants die. Chop up the peppers up and freeze them and use them in omelets, stews, etc all winter long.
Super Hot peppers such as Bhut Jolokia, Habanero, Trinidad Scorpion, and others can be brought in the house or greenhouse and they will grow for another month or two and ripen the fruit on them in November and December Prune them back to just a few stems after you pick off the fruits and water them sparingly until Spring. They should sprout new leaves and produce heavily for many years if you are lucky.
Once the frost has killed off everything, it’s time to remove all of the vegetation from the gardens and toss them in the compost pile. Add a layer of compost and/or manure to your beds now and they’ll be ready to plant in the spring. After that chore is done, start planning for next year’s garden! I’ll have my plant list ready to go in February and will be offering spring gardening classes in late February/early March.