What to do with Tomato Blight and Green Tomatoes

What to do if your tomato harvest isn't as great as expected.

Credit: Flickr / Chris Feser

How green were my tomatoes?

Very green! This year has been an odd year for tomatoes – not great like 2009. That year, plants got an early start – in the garden by early May as temps were steady and warm! This year, we were lucky to be able to plant by late May, and June was pretty much a washout. Too cold and wet followed by way too hot (tomatoes prefer moderate heat), then lashing rain followed by humidity. All this equals blight in many of my tomatoes – even Sungold, which has never happened to me in over 10 years of growing them.

In any case – time to move on to what to do now!

Tips on dealing with tomato blight

Do not dispose of any tomato foliage including plants affected by blight into your compost. Put it in the garbage (sorry)….I would not even recommend you put it in the green waste. Those blights are nasty diseases – think “Irish Potato Famine” and we don’t want to mess with them and keep re-introducing them back into our gardens. I have it on good authority via my friend Arzeena Hamir, professional agronomist.

The blight in my garden (and at West Creek in some of the beds, particularly the ones with the ‘heirloom’ type tomatoes) seems to be a slower form of this disease than what I normally associate with “late blight” which strikes without warning, decimating plants almost overnight. It starts as brownish/grey decidedly unhealthy-looking patches near branching areas of the stems. Some of the fruit are affected (lumpy, discoloured areas, or brown patches) and some are not. Tomatoes in my back yard garden have been hit by it – not all but most. Of the two Sungold F1 plants, one has blight, the other doesn’t. Go figure. Both Green Grape plants have succumbed as well as Black Cherry. So, hybrids and open pollinated alike.

The front yard is a different story – all tomatoes remain blight-free. Positano, Fox Cherry (will grow these again next year – very large-sized cherry type, produces a lot), Soleil (a sport of Sungold from Two Wings Farms) all still going strong. This makes me think that though blight is supposed to be airborne it must have something to do with the soil. Soil in the front is all brand new – it was a lasagna garden, in fact – a fantastic way to grow tomatoes!! Back yard soil was some new and some old stuff – volunteer tomato plants came up all over so though I try to practice crop rotation – well, it wasn’t perfect.

How to ripen tomatoes off the vine

Having ranted about blight, plants that don’t have it still have many green tomatoes – lots of people are telling me they have them and don’t just want to make chutney or the ubiquitous “Fried Green Tomatoes” – does anybody really make those except on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives? So, here are some ideas from Christina Beaudoins about what to do with green tomatoes. Christina kindly shared this knowledge which she says is from her dad at a tomato event a few years ago at the Italian Cultural Centre put on by Slow Food Vancouver. I haven’t tried any of these things but intend to try the “upside down plant” method this year.

Upside-down plant method

Lift the entire plant out of the ground, making sure that some roots are still attached. Shake off as much dirt as you can and hang it upside down or upright in a dry, sheltered location, such as the garage. Avoid extremes (direct sunlight, total darkness). The tomatoes will still ripen almost as well as they would have on the vine.

Cardboard box method

This works well if you have lots of tomatoes.

1. Prepare a cardboard box. If possible, add some foam or fruit cardboard in the base; or simply line with newspaper.

2. Place a layer of tomatoes in the box, each one next to the other. If you have a lot of tomatoes, a second layer on top is okay but be gentle. Do not make any more than two layers in case you bruise the fruit at the base.

3. Add some ripening bananas if you’d like. The tomatoes are likely to ripen anyway, as they release their own ethylene and influence each other. However, using bananas will help to speed up the process.

4. Place in a cool, slightly humid room away from light. A pantry shelf is ideal if you have one.

Plastic bag method

This is great for a few or many tomatoes.

1. Assemble plastic bags. Punch a few “air circulation” holes in each bag you are going to use.

2. Place 3-4 tomatoes with 1 banana in each bag. Depending on the size of your bag, you may be able to add more (or perhaps less). Be guided by the size of the bag, tomatoes and banana.

3. Store in a warm, semi-humid area away from direct sunlight.

Paper bag method

Go this way if you don’t have so many tomatoes.

1. Open paper bag and insert ripening banana and amount of tomatoes as will fit.

2. Store in a warm, semi-humid area away from sunlight.

3. This method is useful where you don’t have a lot of room and few tomatoes.

We can always dream of next year. And, do not forget to save tomato seeds from ripe tomatoes – not green ones! Good luck with your harvest – soon we’ll be enjoying those wonderful winter squash dishes – yum.