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Get the Most from Your Tomatoes & Pumpkins

by Don Janssen, Extension Educator

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Powdery Mildew

Although messy, you can pull the entire vine
to ripen green tomatoes

Tomatoes and pumpkins are the two vegetables that we get the most calls on in the fall. To get the most from these vegetables follow these recommendations.

Harvest mature, green tomatoes when frost is imminent. The fruit should be solid, firm, and free of defects. Mature, green tomatoes are full-sized and have a greenish white skin color. Remove the stems, then clean and dry the fruit.

Individually wrap each fruit in a piece of newspaper and place in single layers in boxes or shelves. Store the tomatoes in a dark, cool (55-60 degree F) location, such as a basement or cellar.

Inspect the tomatoes periodically during storage. Discard any soft or decaying fruit. When the tomatoes begin to color, remove the newspaper and place them at room temperature.

An alternate ripening method is to leave the green tomatoes on the vine and pull the entire plant and hang it upside down in a cool, dark location. (Obviously, this method can be a bit messy.) Harvest the tomatoes from the vine as they ripen.

Pumpkins can be harvested when they have developed a deep, uniform orange color and the rind is hard. Pumpkins can remain in the garden through a light, vine-killing frost. A light frost will not damage the pumpkins themselves. However, all mature pumpkins should be harvested before temperatures drop into the mid to low 20's. Green, immature pumpkins will not turn orange after a killing frost.

When harvesting pumpkins, handle them carefully to avoid cuts and bruises. Cut the pumpkins off the vine with a sharp knife or pair of lopping shears. Leave several inches of stem attached to each fruit. A pumpkin with a 3 to 5 inch stem or handle is more attractive. Also, pumpkins with stems are less likely to rot. Do not carry pumpkins by their stems. The stems may not be able to support the weight of the pumpkins and may break off.

After harvesting the pumpkins, cure them at a temperature of 80 to 85 degrees F and 80 percent relative humidity for 10 days. Curing helps to harden their skins and heal any cuts and scratches.

After curing, store the pumpkins in a cool, dry place. Storage temperatures should be 50 to 55 degrees F. When storing pumpkins, place them in a single layer where they don't touch one another. Good air circulation helps to prevent moisture from forming on the surfaces of the fruit and retards the growth of decay fungi and bacteria. Placing the pumpkins in piles generates unwanted heat which may result in the rotting of some fruit. Promptly remove and discard any pumpkins that show signs of decay.

Pumpkins that are properly harvested, cured, and stored should be in excellent condition for Halloween painting or carving in late October.

For tips on Freezing Raw Tomatoes (with and without skins), Visit HERE

(This resource was added September 2004 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office