By Charlie Nardozzi
September can be an overwhelming month in the vegetable garden. With lots of tomatoes, melons, zucchini, and cucumbers still pouring in on top of the greens, roots, and other crops, you sometimes lose track of the fact that a killing frost may be right around the corner. To get the largest harvest possible before a frost, you certainly can protect crops with a floating row cover. However, for fruiting crops, such as winter squash, cucumber, and tomatoes, it’s important that the fruits reach the mature stage before shorter days and colder temperatures set in. To help this maturing process and get the most from your last crops of the season, follow these tips.
- Tomatoes: The key with ripening the remaining tomatoes on your bush is to have the plant send as much energy as possible into the existing fruits and to keep the fruits warm. Cut back new growth, flowers, and tiny fruits because, in most places, they won’t have enough time to ripen before frost comes. Don’t remove foliage around the fruits, but as soon as the tomatoes show color, pick them and bring them indoors to continue ripening in a warm room.
- Vining Crops: Winter squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers will all keep sending out new growth and setting flowers and fruit right until frost. However, for pumpkins and winter squash, if the fruits aren’t large and maturing by now, chances are they won’t make it. Snip off the ends of the vines and remove any small fruits so the plant will send energy into ripening the existing fruits. Remember that you can harvest the squash and pumpkin flowers for eating, too. You can also do this with cucumbers, but leave the small fruits, because they still can be picked for eating, even at this immature stage.
- Peppers and Eggplant: These heat lovers don’t like the cool nights of fall. Cover them with a floating row cover to keep them warm at night, and remove flowers since they won’t have time to mature to fruits before cold sets in.