Will Green Tomatoes Ripen on the Counter?

green tomatoes ripen
The progression of a green tomato

I got a chuckle out of yesterday’s gardening column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in which garden writer Bonnie Blodgett bemoaned her difficulties getting green tomatoes to ripen indoors. I’ve also struggled with that issue, but am having better than usual luck this year,  just lining them up on the counter. Most of the tomatoes shown were picked about 10 days ago as green ones. I’ve been told that if there is a touch of white on the bottom of the fruit, it will ripen, and all of these had that little bit of white.

The photo shows the stages the tomatoes will go through as they go from green to white to pinkish to deeper pink then red. I plan to eat the reddest one today. Like Bonnie, I’ve discovered the ripened indoors tomatoes go soft pretty quickly. When they hit pale red, it’s salad time!

Have you had luck ripening tomatoes indoors?

Hanging Tomatoes to Extend the Garden Season

Brandywine ripening
Half-ripe Brandywine tomato

For many northern gardeners, the recent bouts with frost have come too soon. I don’t want to say good-bye to my flowers yet, and I have dozens of green tomatoes still on the vine. When a light frost struck the garden last night, I decided it was time to take action.

The most recent issue of Northern Gardener has an article about ways to stretch the vegetable gardening season. One of the tips was to hang tomato plants upside down to harvest more tomatoes. So, instead of picking each tomato and wrapping it in newspaper, I yanked out several plants by the roots. The article, written by author and blogger Colleen Vanderlinden, suggests hanging the tomato plants in the basement or garage. I was a bit concerned about the mess with that idea, so instead, I hung them on a drying rack we normally use for clothes on our back patio. I’ll cover the rack at night with a blanket or plastic sheet and put it close to the house to keep it cozy.

Hanging tomatoes
Three huge tomato plants hanging from a drying rack in hopes of getting ripe.

According to the article, the tomatoes will ripen gradually and you can pick them over several weeks. Of course, with their roots out of the ground, the plants will eventually shrivel. At that point, I will harvest any remaining fruits and put the rest of the plant in the compost pile. I’ve never heard of this idea before, but it sounds like a great way to extend the vegetable season.

What are you doing to extend the harvest season this year?

November Blooms

'Bee's Jubilee'

November can be a pretty month in the North, especially if you like the subdued beauty of shape and muted color that marks our usual landscape. But pink flowers? Not usually.


Still this weekend while cleaning up the garden, I came across two very unexpected blooms. To my surprise, they were still out there this morning, after our first dusting of snow fell overnight. On the pergola out back, the ‘Bee’s Jubilee’ clematis put out a couple of last blooms in the dim sun. Then, to my surprise, I found this pot of Superbena ‘Coral Red’, an annual verbena that came as part of the Proven Winners trial plants. It did not do well early in the summer, which I attributed to a soil mix that never seemed to dry out. (My fault, not PW’s.) But with the dry weather this fall, it decided to bloom.

What a cheerful surprise!


Another Fantastic Fall Bloomer

I started these gorgeous marigolds in the vegetable garden from seed back in May. They looked so pretty that I moved them to the front garden to brighten it up this fall. They survived the move and with adequate water show no signs of stopping the bloom parade. The marigolds are from pass-along seeds I got from a gardening friend of my older brother. I plan to collect seeds from these later in the fall and use them to add some bright orange to next year’s garden, too.

What’s Still Blooming in Your Garden?

Minnesota has experienced an extended Indian summer this year, with nearly two weeks of 70-plus degree temperatures and sunny skies. Since forecasters are predicting a snowy, tough winter, enjoy it while you can!

As a result of the warm temperatures, some of perennials and annuals are still looking great. Here are three I’m especially pleased to see continue.

Salvia with white Profusion zinnias and an Autumn Joy sedum

‘Victoria Blue’ Salvia. I planted these after reading Terry Yockey’s profile of Donald Mitchell’s hummingbird garden in Red Wing. Mitchell is a big fan of blue and red salvias for their ability to bring in the hummers. I did not see any hummingbirds at these, though last week a large white-lined sphinx moth (sometimes called a hummingbird moth because of their resemblance to each other) fed on the plants for several minutes. Bees also seem to love them. The plants bloomed slightly late because of our cool spring, but they have continued to bloom with no sign of stopping. They also make a pretty backdrop to these white ‘Profusion’ zinnias.

Going Bananas daylily

‘Going Bananas’ daylily. This plant will be introduced widely in 2012. I got one to try through the Proven Winners plant trial program. While many of my daylilies look sad and spent – and I’ve cut a few of them down, this creamy yellow plant is still going strong. If you see one in the nursery next year, give it a try.

Autumn Joy sedum. Yes, Autumn Joy is almost a cliché in northern gardens, but there is a reason so many people love these hardy sedum. They grow vigorously and can flop if they get too tall. I cut this one back in mid-June, per advice from Don Engebretson. For awhile, I did not think it was going to work, but voila, it did and the plant is just the right size to support its lovely pinkish flowers. I’ll leave this up all winter to provide sculptural interest in the garden.

What’s still blooming in your garden?

More than Six Months of Gardening in Minnesota? Yep.

This past week, I picked basil in my garden and made pesto — a typical garden activity for August or September, but it’s late October in Minnesota and the garden has been growing strong since early April. The petunias on my front porch are in full — glorious, really — bloom, and with the wimpy frosts we’ve had, many annuals that have never been covered are still blooming like it’s mid-July.

We’ve enjoyed more than six months of solid gardening in Minnesota this year — a season that is by my estimate at least two and maybe four weeks longer than normal. The combination of a near perfect winter in 2009-2010 with plenty of snowfall and an early snow melt followed by very moderate spring temperatures put most gardens two weeks ahead of normal this spring. On the backside of the season, an extended Indian summer has lengthened bloom and harvest times.

In my garden south of the Twin Cities, we had a legitimate frost Oct. 3, when the overnight temperature dropped to 32, but since then the weather has been more like mid-September than mid-October. According to climate data maintained by the University of Minnesota, by late October all of Minnesota except its warmest spots (Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, Winona, and Stillwater on the U’s chart) should have not only experienced a frost, but a hard freeze, which is an overnight temperature of  24 degrees F. We haven’t even come close to that — and while the forecast for this week calls for rain and cooler temperatures, overnight lows won’t fall much below 30.

Whether this is an aberrant year or the hallmark of a trend, it is both exciting and frightening to Minnesota gardeners. The prospect of another few weeks of warm weather means our gardening choices expand significantly. Japanese maples — no problem. Peach trees — sure, give them a try. Harvest lettuce from April until Thanksgiving — you can do it with a little cover.  Suddenly, we’re gardening more like Chicago or Des Moines than Fargo or Winnipeg. But with more heat (and possibly more precipitation) come new bugs and diseases and a great deal more uncertainty.  Can we plant longer season vegetables, like some melons and tomatoes, confidently? Or should we stick with proven plants and varieties? How much can gardeners “push the zone”?

For now,  gardeners may want to consider a two-pronged approach. First, rather than going strictly by the calendar, try using phenology — the study of nature signs — to determine when to plant or do other garden chores.  Several Minnesota websites describe these nature signs and their relationship to gardening. (My favorite is to plant peas when the spring peepers come out.) The second approach is purely practical: If you want to push the zone, don’t buy anything you can’t afford to lose. So, if you have your heart set on growing peaches in Minnesota, give it a shot, but plant your tree in the warmest spot you’ve got and be prepared to see a dead tree come spring.

In the meantime, I’m heading out to admire my flowers. This can’t last much longer. Really.

The Backside of October

Riding my bike home from downtown one day last week, it struck me how suddenly we had gone from a canopy of gold, orange, and red leaves over the street to bare branches above and leaf mulch on the road. We’ve hit the backside of October, and that means a rush to get the last garden chores done, an inordinate amount of gratefulness for any sun that shines on us, nightly frost watches, and inevitably, the first snow.  This weekend, I pulled and cut brush, picked a few surprise tomatoes, cleaned out the vegetable beds, and this morning, spent an early hour outside cutting down some spent hostas and daylilies. Sigh.

Fall Blooming

Not exactly giant, but it is attracting hummingbirds.

September is often one of the nicer months in my garden. The fall-bloomers kick in and after the heat of August, it’s nice to get a break. (Although we seem to have gone from August to October in record time this year.) Still, I’m hopeful that we will get an Indian summer yet.

Meanwhile, what’s blooming? The Yvonne’s Giant Salvia I grew from seeds saved last year is blooming in several spots around the garden and attracts hummingbirds every day, though I have yet to capture one on film (pixels?). The bright red-orange of the blooms is eye-catching to humans and well as hummingbirds and I think it makes a vibrant access plant. My salvia does not live up the name “giant;” the tallest plant I have is about 3 fee tall, but a start I gave my mother is over 4 feet tall in her front yard. It’s in a sunny spot, and she may be more diligent than I am about fertilizing. One other thing I noticed this year: Though the plant has gotten more moisture than last year and generally everything in the garden is ahead of last year, these bloomed about two weeks later than in 2009.

I also really like the look of the meadow area at the edge of our yard. The dominant flowers now are (I think) a species of Helianthus — either H. tuberosa or H. hirstus. I’m not sure which. I planted a few plants last year, and bang, it really took off this year. I like the varying heights of the plants, the way they sway in the wind, and the bright flowers.

Helianthus bloom
click for larger view

Lastly, I’ve been pleased with how our new front yard garden has turned out. The rocks do exactly what I hoped they would: They give use a sense of an entry closer to the door and they give me something to walk on as I move around to the side of the house where the hose is. We bought an inexpensive iron table, which I’ve sat at a few times to enjoy the view. The plantings have a few flowers during the season, but it’s the texture and contrast of the foliage in the blue false indigo (Baptisia), the grasses (Karl Foerster feather reed grass), the sedum, and the purple weigela.