Knowing how to store and preserve garden tomatoes is critical when you have a garden full of tomatoes and the weather forecast includes frost alerts.
Tomatoes do not like frost. Even a light frost can kill tomato plants and damage their fruit.
What To Do When There’s a Frost Warning
If it’s early in the season, the forecast is for only a couple of degrees below freezing and you anticipate many more warm days to come:
- Pick the ripe tomatoes.
- Cover tomatoes with blankets or sheets overnight. Not plastic.
- Remove cover during the day to allow sunlight on your tomatoes.
If it’s late in the season, the nights are consistently cool and day time temps don’t go above 10°C (50°F), you might as well harvest all the tomatoes. Tomatoes will barely grow or ripen when temps are consistently below 10°C (50°F). And if day time temps are that cool, the risk of overnight frost is high, so…
- Harvest all of the tomatoes – green, orange and red.
- Pull plants and compost.
How to Store and Preserve Garden Tomatoes
Storing & Ripening Tomatoes
Sort tomatoes before ripening or storing. Remove any split, bruised or frost damaged tomatoes and use right away. These tomatoes will spoil very quickly and may cause the entire batch to spoil. Use these tomatoes to make soup or roasted tomatoes.
Store under ripe tomatoes in a single layer in a newspaper lined, shallow box. The warmer the storage temperature the faster the tomatoes will ripen. Storing them with ethylene gas producers like bananas or apples will ripen them even faster.
To slow ripening, store tomatoes away from other produce in a cool, dark, dry space. They’ll keep even longer if you wrap each tomato individually in newspaper. Check and rotate them frequently and remove any that show signs of decay. Never store cut, bruised or frost damaged tomatoes as they will spoil very quickly.
When time is limited, tossing handfuls of ripe tomatoes in the freezer is a quick and easy solution. You can use them as is or can them later if you need to free up freezer space.
Raw tomatoes can be frozen whole, chopped or pureed without any blanching by simply placing them in a freezer container. They can be frozen with or without the peel, which slips off easily when thawed. While they retain their flavor, frozen tomatoes will be quite mushy when thawed.
Any style of cooked tomatoes can also be frozen by simply placing them in a freezer container.
According to the USDA, tomatoes labelled “sun-dried” do not actually have to be dried in the sun; in fact, very few sun-dried tomatoes are actually dried under the sun. You can make your own sun-dried tomatoes in an oven or dehydrator. The best tomatoes for drying are paste tomatoes that aren’t as juicy as slicing tomatoes, but given enough time, any variety can be dried.
To dry tomatoes in an oven, cut tomatoes lengthwise in quarters, remove liquid and seeds, place on wire racks and bake at 65°C – 95°C (150°F-200°F) for ten or more hours until tomatoes feel leathery throughout. For bigger quantities a dehydrator is a good option.
Canning tomatoes using a hot water bath is my preferred way to preserve tomatoes. It takes a little more prep, but it’s a convenient way to store a large bounty of tomatoes. Because tomatoes fall on the border of safe acidity levels, extra acid is required to make them safe for hot water bath canning. Always use trusted sources when canning tomatoes or tomato based products. Here’s more information on Canning Tomatoes Safely.