The Great Green Tomato Rescue

buckets of Green Tomatoes

As I mentioned in my last vermicomposting trench update, this growing season I ran into some pretty serious issues with my tomatoes. I suspected that it was primarily due to my spacing (or lack thereof), but it seems that this has been a bad year for tomatoes in general in my region so that may help to explain why things turned out as badly as they did.

Originally, I had planned to simply let the tomatoes do their thing without my assistance and see if I’d end up with any sort of harvest. Although most of the plants were slumped over and looking pretty sickly in general, there were a LOT of nice looking green tomatoes, so I hoped that some sun and warmth would help them mature relatively quickly.

I started to realize however, that the tomatoes themselves were also becoming infected with the disease quite quickly, so I ended up making a hasty decision to simply salvage as many tomatoes as I could – regardless of their level of ripeness.

An thus, the ‘Great Green Tomato Rescue’ was born!

I picked a warm afternoon when my dad and two year old daughter were both around to provide some assistance, and I basically started ripping out plants and putting any and all usable tomatoes into buckets (my daughter seemed especially fond of putting tomatoes in the bucket, only to then take them back out again).

When all was said and done, I had two 5 gallon pails plus two smaller buckets full of mostly green tomatoes. I also had a big heap of diseased tomato plants. Most seasoned gardeners would be horrified by what I did with those plants – since anyone with half a smidge of good sense would burn them. I, on the other hand, decided to lay them back over top of the trench and the old tomato bed they came from. I will be building up a bit of a worm composting windrow there this fall (partially in an effort to help insulate the worms over the winter) and figured the bulky plant material would be of benefit.

Obviously, this is not a good practice, since it means that the disease is basically guaranteed to stick around until next season. In other words, using that garden for tomatoes next year would be a really silly idea!
In all honesty I had planned to move my tomato bed to the other side of the yard anyway, and I am also confident that if I treat my plants properly (starting with normal spacing) next year, they should do just fine (Dumb optimism? We shall see! :-)). I will once again be using plenty of worm compost to help keep my plants healthy, and have also decided to get serious about worm tea brewing (and use), so I’ll have at least a few things in my favor!

I also have a sneaking suspicion that bombarding these diseased plants with all sorts of composting microbes (not the mention the Red Worms themselves) will greatly reduce the population of disease organisms by the time spring rolls around.

Diseased Tomatoes

Despite the fact that I ended up with a pretty decent crop of tomatoes, it was obviously a tad disappointing that most of them were still green! Nevertheless, I decided to make every effort to NOT let them go to waste! I had been keeping quite a lot of space in our new freezer open for all the tomatoes I assumed I’d need to freeze, so BY GOLLY that space was still going to get filled! I have little doubt that I will indeed find plenty of uses for them once the cold weather hits and the taste of fresh garden produce is just a distant memory. They will be a tasty (and tangy) addition to soups, stews, sauces and omeletes for sure – and perhaps I will learn how to make some sort of green tomato salsa as well. Yum!

Sink Full Of Tomatoes

I’m not going to lie – there is a LOT of work involved in washing, chopping and bagging tomatoes for freezing. But in hindsight, I am glad I took the time to do it! What’s funny is that our freezer is basically jammed full (of garden produce) now, yet I was still left with a 5 gallon pail full of tomatoes! I can only imagine what would have happened if I’d actually ended up with a successful (non-diseased) crop. I guess I would have had to invest in a pressure cooker and some canning supplies as well!

What’s kind of cool is that the last bucket of tomatoes, which has remained out in the sun on my deck, has continued to ripen and provide us with an ongoing supply of for cooking (eg. I made a big ol’ batch of veggie chili last week and put lots of them in it). I’ve had to remove a bunch that were developing the disease (and have fed them to my worms), but all in all I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how long they’ve lasted in general – I thought for sure that the last bucket would basically just end up as worm food!

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    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 17, 2009

    My grandma used to wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and keep them in the cellar…they’d eventually ripen up. I usually keep them on the windowsill to get some sun and they do ripen in time.

    How about fried green tomatoes? They’re really good!

    • Bob Packard
    • September 17, 2009

    Bentley, I’m disappointed that you are not posting your garden adventures over at “The Compost Guy” site? The flowers from Monet”s Pallette are beginning to wilt! If you tire of that site, let me know.

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • September 17, 2009
    • Megan
    • September 17, 2009

    I usually end up with a bunch of tomatoes that can’t ripen enough before a freeze, so I’ve tried my hand at pickling them. I prefer pickled cherry tomatoes over the larger sliced tomatoes. The amount you have in the buckets up there would require a lot of jars! 😀

  1. Hi Bentley- try putting some of your tomatoes in a paper bag with a very ripe banana or two and leave them somewhere warm. The tomatoes should ripen up in a week or so.

    • Jayefuu
    • September 17, 2009

    @ Kim from Milwaukee

    Thanks for posting the link to my green tomato chutney recipe! It really is a GREAT way to use up and preserve excess green tomatoes. Mine too were planted far too close together and the weather wasn’t great for them this year.


    Although I didn’t have as many as you Bentley, after picking I had about 5kg of toms which made about 14 jars. Plenty of chutney to keep me going! (If you’d like to add a link to my instructable I’d be greatfull)


    • Eve
    • September 18, 2009

    Mom used to make green tomato sweet relish and green tomato jam. Mom wouldn’t ever tell people what kind of jam it was, would make them guess. No one ever guessed tomato.

    You can easly store home grown green tomatoes, just like the cold storage tomatoes you find at the market in winter. The store bought tomatoes are picked green and stored in cold storage buildings. Cases are removed from cold storage throughout the winter to ripen up for the markets.

    Kim from Milwaukee gave you one good method for storage.

    We used a slightly different version of the same method. The tomatoes were placed in shallow cardboard containers with a covering of newspapers. That way we could just lift the paper up and look to see if any were starting to ripen up.

    • Bentley
    • September 18, 2009

    BOB – sorry to disappoint, but one thing I’ve learned about owning multiple websites is that it is better to put most of your energy on just one site than to spread yourself too thin! While, the topic of this post may have made it a bit more appropriate for CG, the tomato garden (and disease issues) have been discussed here, in my last trench update – so I figured it would make more sense to write about it here.

    Don’t worry – I’m not giving up on CG (that’s my nickname after all!), and I do appreciate the reminder about keeping things going over there!

    As for everyone else – WOW, thanks for all the great suggestions! I only have a small quantity of unfrozen tomatoes left now (and many of them have ripened out in the bucket), but I will certainly keep your tips in mind for next time.

    Kim – you are right about fried green tomatoes as well! I love them!

    Also appreciate the other green tomato recipe ideas!

    • Verlene
    • September 30, 2009

    Veggie chili? Yum! You must be a vegetarian.

    Doctor Oz had a shocking segment on his show today about worms that
    can enter humans, then continue to live and grow inside their hosts. One
    of his guests had a worm in her brain, which was removed, and she lived
    to tell her story. They say to make sure your meat is well cooked. Worms
    are not the only problem with meat. There’s a long list of diseases and
    chemicals, drugs, hormones, mercury, lead etc. etc. It’s just not worth it!

    • wendy Y.
    • October 5, 2009

    Hey Bentley,

    It has been a long time since my last question to you………something interesting happened in my worm bin.. just the other day I discovered a collection of “black bean shapped” cluster on the top of the worm compost…..when I picked up a hand full and smashed it to see what was inside I was amazed to find something wiggling like a larve or some thing… any idea as to what it may be?

    the clusters look just like black beans…same color and shape however these are soft as opposesed to the beans which are hard on the surface

    are they dagerous to my worms? If some I will compeaty replace my bin

    since my purchase from you in may…. my worm count has grown into two wooden containers……learning alot from you websit
    I actually witnessed a worm hatching from the coccooon…..

    although I am not sure of what I am going to do for the winter….not sure if I am going to move them inside….I have very little space to spare

    always looking forward to reading your website
    warm regards,

    Wendy Y
    New Jersey

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