Lifestyle

COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Season is ripe for harvesting tomatoes

The second week of September is harvest heaven. Enjoy all the tomatoes, cucumbers and green beans now because cooler weather is ahead. Don’t harvest green or half ripened tomatoes yet – we could still have a month of frost-free weather and tomatoes ripen with more flavor when left on the vine. Pull up the yellowing remains of corn, beans or peas past their prime so as not to attract disease or insects. Continue to water vegetables this month if the soil is dry. Just plunge a shovel into the soil and check the color of the soil two or three inches below ground. Keeping the soil evenly moist will help to prevent the skins of your tomatoes form cracking and splitting and also defend against the disease called blossom end rot. This is when a dark spot starts and begins to spread on the end of ripening tomatoes. Here’s your most-asked questions on making the most of tomato time.

Q. I never got around to staking my tomato plants and now they are sprawling all over the ground. Should I risk straightening up the plants now? I do have lots of fruit – some red and many green tomatoes. R.T., Tacoma

A. No worries – tomato plants produce just as well either sprawling or standing up straight. Your problem will be keeping the ripe fruit from the slugs and molds when it sits on the damp soil. Try sliding wooden boards or roof shingles under tomato clusters that sprawl on the soil. Not only will you keep the ripening fruit dry but you’ll know where to find those pesky slugs and bugs. Just lift up the boards or shingles and squish the enemy.

Q. Last year my tomato plants were hit with a late blight that turned the leaves and fruit black almost overnight. There was some remedy I know but I can’t remember what to do to prevent this disease from destroying my crop again. Is it too late? - “Worried in Bonney Lake.”

A. Dear Worried, keep your tomato plants dry and they’ll never get blight. You can use chicken wire to make a support around the plants and then drape clear plastic over the frame. A better-looking way to keep off the rain is to duct tape clear umbrellas to a tall pole and place these over your tomato plants. Dry foliage will be safe from the September blight and you can also extend your tomato harvest when you cover the plants with plastic on the coming frosty nights of October. Sorry, there are no sprays that prevent late blight.

Q. My giant tomato plants are finally getting red fruit. Should I prune the tops off the plants now? They are still flowering and making baby green tomatoes but I know this young fruit will never ripen before we get a frost. My neighbor (who was once a farmer) says I should prune the plants now so that all the energy goes into ripening the many green tomatoes already formed. T., e-mail.

A. Smart neighbor. I agree that now is the time to prune any blooming branches or tiny flower buds from your tomato plants. We only have a month or less of frost-free weather and the flowering branches on tomato plants will never produce and ripen in time.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site, www.binettigarden.com.

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