Tomato Harvest in December

A few days before Christmas I harvested my tomatoes. This is late anywhere in the northern hemisphere, but here in Montana it’s absurd. I wish I could claim credit of some sort (Breakthrough! Cold-Busting Tomato Developed! Local gardening Gardner touts cold-tolerant tomato.) But no; the late date just testifies to my late start last spring.

I did my picking in the basement, where I’d hung my vines a couple of months back, upside down and full of green tomatoes–over eighty on my finest specimen, even after I’d plucked those damaged by frost. These were soft, and a darker green than the healthy ones. I’d done everything a good tomato-mother can do to protect the plants from frost–swaddled some plants, put hoops and  plastic over others, erected full-fledged greenhouses around others–but despite the protective layers, some suffered.

So at last I conceded, pulled the plants, and hung them from the big nails in the basement beams near, not so conveniently, the washing machine and the table where I dry sweaters in winter and plant seedlings come spring. Somehow, picking in the basement lacks romance, and the crumbling leaves sticking to my sweater and drifting to the floor couldn’t compete with flexible foliage. Still, there’s something satisfying about picking tomato after ripe tomato and piling them all in a bowl in the kitchen.

As the photo shows, I also picked plenty of green tomatoes, and these are unlikely ever to ripen no matter how much I swaddle and coddle them. I’ve made green-tomato chutney before, so this year I may try green-tomato pie. As for the ripe ones–they’re probably not of salad quality but should make good sauce.


The photo is pretty true to color, and you can see that while some of the tomatoes are the classic slightly orange of  "tomato red," several lack that orange tint. These are my heirlooms, and the pity is that I don’t know the variety, since I just planted a few seeds from a package of mixed heirloom seeds. It is true though, as heirloom aficionados insist, that these tomatoes have an intensity that puts others to shame. Interesting that that intense flavor is matched by this intense color.

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