MCC Daily Tribune Archive

Local Tomatoes in Season


A large portion of the local tomato crop started coming in during the end of August and can be found at most farm stands and markets.

Harvesting is expected to continue through mid October or until a hard frost occurs. Most local tomatoes come in a variety of colors, including red, yellow, orange and even purple, and a variety of types, such as Heirloom, which are older varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation.

The United States produces almost 20 billion pounds of tomatoes of fresh market and processing tomatoes every year, and New York ranks 10th in the nation in tomato production.

When buying a tomato, look for a blemish-free skin with good color and firmness. Flavor and quality can vary due to variety, environmental factors, and handling and storage conditions by the grower. The ripening of a tomato is initiated by the ethylene that the fruit produce.  Depending on the time of year, some types of tomatoes sold at supermarkets and farm markets are supplemented with commercial forms of ethylene in order to hasten ripening and encourage a more uniform ripening.

Whether you are picking tomatoes off the vine or buying them from a local farmer consider the following storage tips.

*Generally, when tomatoes are green, store them at temperatures from 63 to 70 degrees to avoid injury from chill and decay, and to encourage optimal color and flavor as they ripen. When tomatoes show color (light red, orange or fully red), reduce the storage temperature to as low as 50 degrees to maximize their shelf life.

*Mature green tomatoes are the most susceptible to chilling. Even if chilled for only a short time in the field or during transport or storage, they can decay easily. When faced with significantly cold weather or frost, it’s very important to protect them from both cold and wetness, which also will adversely affect the flavor of a tomato as it ripens. Mature green tomatoes ripen at an optimum temperature range of 63 to 70 degrees. If temperatures exceed 80 degrees or fall below 55 degrees, they will not ripen normally.

*Light red tomatoes, which are 60 to 90 percent red to orange color, can be stored for up to a week at 50 degrees without any appreciable loss of color, shelf life or firmness.

*Keep fully mature red tomatoes at 46 to 50 degrees with a 90 to 95 percent relative humidity.  These tomatoes likely will hold up for at least four days and sometimes as much as seven days.

Bob King
Agriculture and Life Sciences Institute
09/26/2007