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Prep fall tomatoes and peppers
Rip Winkel

The cold nights will be increasing in frequency now that we are into October. If you had planted tomatoes in your garden last spring, you may still have some fruits that are approaching maturity. The best thing to do is to leave them on the vine until red-ripe, or until that first freeze has been forecasted. Tomatoes will ripen off the vine but must have reached a certain phase of maturity called the ‘mature green stage.’ Look for full-sized tomatoes with a white, star-shaped zone on the bottom end of the green fruit. 

Now, if you are harvesting your tomatoes before a frost, here is an idea you may want to try. Separate those tomatoes into three groups for storage: those that are mostly red, those that are just starting to turn, and those that are still green. Go ahead and get rid of those tomatoes with defects such as rots or breaks in the skin. Then place the tomatoes on cardboard trays or cartons, using layers of newspaper to separate fruit if you are going to stack them. It is common that a tomato may start to rot, leaking its juice everywhere. The newspaper will help keep the juice from contacting the surrounding fruit. Finally, store these groups of tomatoes at, or as close to 55 degrees F as possible until you are ready to eat them.

And as the temperatures begin to fall toward the first freeze this fall, the pepper plants you planted in your garden continue to produce fruit. It is not uncommon for them to still have a slew of green fruits dangling on the branches when that first freeze kills the plants. When you know a freeze is in the forecast, you might want to harvest all of the peppers. The larger ones will be good for eating, but very immature peppers often taste bitter. Ergo, you might want to compost them instead of serving them for dinner.

As opposed to tomatoes, peppers can be stored fresh for a much longer period of time. They can usually keep in the crisper drawer of a refrigerator for several weeks if kept moist (not wet). For longer storage, freezing them is a great option.  Though mushy when thawed, the flavor still comes through when cooked in foods. Try dicing them into small pieces and then freezing on a cookie sheet. The frozen pieces can then be poured into plastic bags, and placed back into the freezer to be used later. Measuring is much easier as the pieces are not frozen together in a clump. This method works just as well for hot peppers, but be sure to wear gloves when handling.  


Rip Winkel is the Horticulture agent with K-State Research and Extension – Cottonwood District. Contact him by email at rwinkel@ksu.edu or call either 785-682-9430, or 620-793-1910.