Hanging Tomatoes to Extend the Garden Season

Brandywine ripening
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?

Fall Issue of Northern Gardener

The September/October issue of Northern Gardener has been out for a few weeks, and I’ve gotten so many positive comments on it. I love the cover of a ripe tomato from the garden of Ted Beverly and Rick Chrustowski in River Falls, Wis. Their “exuberant garden” is filled with large, lush plants and carefully designed to provide views and places to wander, no matter what the season.

In addition to being profiled in the magazine, Ted wrote a wonderful piece on eight, late-blooming perennials worth planting. I have several of the plants he suggests in my garden, but there are others I’m planning to plant next year for an extended garden season.

Speaking of extending the season, Colleen Vanderlinden of inthegardenonline, vegetable gardener extraordinaire, wrote about 10 ways to extend your vegetable season. Keeping up with the list theme, Michelle Mero Riedel gives top-notch design advise in her article on choosing perennials with foliage that is not just green.

Check it out at Barnes and Noble, Lunds and many garden centers, or subscribe or join MSHS.

Hardening Off: Seedlings on Wheels

Ready to roll back into the house!

I haven’t written much about seed starting this spring, because I’ve cut back on the number of plants I’m starting. After several years of seed-starting efforts, I’ve figured out that I do best starting tomatoes, Yvonne’s giant salvia and maybe a few brassicas (this year, Chinese cabbage and broccoli Romanesco). The brassicas are in the garden already, but the rest of the plants are still on my seed-starting shelf — which is a cheap metal shelf unit from which hang shop lights with fluorescent bulbs.

The seedlings started in the basement, but I was neglecting them, so I moved the shelf up to my office, which is now on our first floor. During the move, an inspiration struck — put the shelf on wheels! A quick trip to the local hardware store got me the wheels I needed, and today I wheeled the seedling cart from the office out to the deck for a couple of hours of fresh air. So easy! So quick! This might make hardening off, which I normally consider a huge pain, fun.

Hardening off means gradually acclimating seedlings to the outdoors. It is best done over a couple of weeks. (Northern Gardener has a good article by Colleen Vanderlinden on how-to harden off in the March/April issue.) I tend to rush the process because it’s such a pain moving all the plants in and out. With the wheeled cart, I can easily bring the plants out or in, depending on the weather and the sun. Hopefully, this will mean stronger plants when the time to put them in the ground comes.

Edible Gardening in the Midwest

A Gardener’s Reading, 21 of 30

By Colleen Vanderlinden and Alison Beck (Lone Pine Press, 2009)

If you are scrambling for a last-minute gift for a young or would-be vegetable gardener, here’s an inexpensive, helpful option.

Canada-based Lone Pine Press publishes a plethora of nonfiction books on everything from sports trivia to ghosts. Generally speaking, Lone Pine books are broad rather than deep, and that’s certainly true of Edible Gardening for the Midwest – that’s also the point of a how-to book like this and the reason it’s a good option for beginning gardeners. It gives readers enough information to be successful without overloading them with more details than they need.

Edible Gardening, written by Alison Beck and well-known vegetable garden blogger, Colleen Vanderlinden, is the perfect guide for a new gardener who wants to grow vegetables. The book opens with the basics: hardiness zones, soil, light, how to use vegetables in ornamental plantings, as well as preparing a garden bed, composting and seed starting. It also includes an A-to-Z of common vegetable garden pests, with enough photos to make a newbie feel confident diagnosing typical pest issues.

The bulk of the book goes from Amaranth to Watermelon, covering how to grow and harvest each vegetable. It’s the kind of book you might page through while thinking about ordering seeds. Do I have enough room to grow winter squash? Do I have the right soil type for blueberries or enough space to grow corn? Am I ready to commit to asparagus or raspberries or do I want the immediate gratification of green beans and tomatoes? The authors recommend specific varieties of many plants and the book has enough photos to guarantee any gardener will order more seed than there is room for outside.

Other vegetable gardening guides that I have used include The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden and Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardening Handbook. Friends highly recommend Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer.

Which vegetable garden guides do you use?