Seeing as the end of May is upon us, most of you probably have all your tomatoes in the ground and have moved on to plant direct seedlings and start the rest of your garden. Here at Pine Mountain most of our tomatoes are in the ground as well, but we have one special batch of seedlings that are just beginning to grow. Storage tomatoes were suggested to us by one of our participants, so we though why not try them out? Who doesn’t want a fresh homegrown tomato in December?
As far as I have been able to determine there are only several varieties of storage tomatoes that can be found, these include the Red October, Garden Peach, Reverend Morrows and Long Keeper. We chose to use a Long Keeper tomato from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Long Keepers seem to be the only variety that are grown specifically for storage, and therefore seeds are started in early May, a later date than most regular summer tomatoes, and are harvested before they are completely ripe. Long Keepers are a semi-determinate tomato that is supposed to be 78 days to harvest, with fruits that do not become completely ripe for 1 ½ to 3 months after being harvested.
The tomatoes should be harvested before frost, when they have a pale, pink blush and stored at room temperature until they ripen to a red-orange color. Fruits should be stored so that they are not touching and checked for ripeness and rotting weekly. Some growers report successfully storing tomatoes for 4-6 months. Many growers suggest storing tomatoes in used apple boxes, or canning jar boxes which have cardboard separators to keep the tomatoes apart. Some gardeners also suggest that rather than picking the fruits, the whole tomato plant can simply be pulled up and hung in a cellar for storage.
Most seed companies and growers will readily admit that the quality of storage tomatoes does not match that of fresh summer tomatoes, however the flavor and texture is still said to be much better than what can be found at the supermarket in the dead of winter. I for one haven’t even bothered buying supermarket tomatoes in recent years so I will be excited to see how these turn out, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a homegrown winter treat and hope to share a success story with all our Grow Appalachia partners when the cold weather comes!