The question I’m most often asked at this time of year is, “When do I take out my summer vegetables and plant my fall garden?” Your timing for transitioning the garden depends on two factors:
1) Space. Do you have to take out your summer vegetables to make room for fall? If not, leave them in the ground until the first frost.
2) Productivity. Are your summer plants still productive? If they are, leave them in and reap the benefits.
You may be surprised at how productive summer vegetables can be in October. Last year, my tomatoes had hundreds of green fruits on them when our local meteorologist predicted the first frost. I kept the larger ones on my counter, and they ripened over a 5-week period. Their taste and nutritional value were somewhere between fresh-picked, vine-ripened July tomatoes and grocery store offerings. It seems like the longer it takes them to ripen, the less flavorful they are.
As an alternative to covering your countertops with fruit, you can pull the tomato plants out of the ground and hang them upside down, in a cool but protected spot, picking tomatoes as they ripen.
Green tomatoes can be used in cooking (see Dot Russell’s recipe in the newest issue of Edible Upcountry) or pickled. Pickling was the method I chose for the cherry tomatoes. The only required additions were pickling salt and vinegar. I chose to include garlic and dill seed from my garden, before I processed the tomatoes with the water bath method.
So many recipes for pickled tomatoes are based on pecks or bushels – but here’s one that’s great for small batches: http://www.foodinjars.com/2010/10/small-batch-pickled-green-tomatoes/.
We’ll post more information about fall gardens soon – and watch for our upcoming courses on food preservation and cooking!