Gardening: Great tomatoes depend on where they were picked, stored and ripened

The difference between tomatoes bought in a store and a home grown one is the taste and texture which is derived from variety of tomato as well as when the fruit was picked, how it was stored and ripened.

Home grown tomatoes are picked when they are ripe. In the late fall, just before a frost, they are harvested green and allowed to ripen over time in a cool dark location. Not all the tomatoes picked make it to the table. Some get thrown out as they were not mature enough when picked and do not ripen properly.

Tomatoes that are grown commercially can be ripened on the vine if they are sold locally but not if they are trucked for long distances.

To insure that the fruit is in good condition when it arrives at the store fruit is picked green, washed and stored. Just before the product is shipped it is exposed to ethylene gas which starts the ripening process. Fruit that ripen on the vine, produce this gas themselves.

According to North Carolina State University mature green tomatoes can be stored for up to 28 days if the temperature is between 58 – 60 F (14.5- 15.5 The optimum storage temperatures for ripening tomatoes is between 48 and 50 F (eight and 10 C). these tomatoes should not be in storage for over two weeks. It is recommended that ripe tomatoes be stored at 40 F (4.4 for less than four days before they are sold.

Tired of tomatoes that do not have the just picked taste? Then purchase the tomatoes grown by Gull Lake and or Doef’s Greenhouse. Both companies grow and sell produce year round. Their produce is available at some local grocery stores, as well as at their self-serve outlet store in Gull Lake.

The self-serve store is open most hours. The selection varies but tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers potatoes and carrots are usually available. Fresh lettuce, herbs, and eggplants are often available for purchase. Produce is available in a number of different sized packages.

Payment is on the honour system. They accept both cash (exact change) and cheques. Those that do not pay, will find their picture displayed on the wall. Non-payment does not appear to be a huge issue as there are less than a dozen pictures posted.

Both Gull Lake Greenhouses and Doef’s use biological controls whenever possible. Beneficial predators can be seen throughout the greenhouses as well as the host plants which encourage predator insects to produce reproduce. Bumble Bees are in charge of pollination.

State of the art ventilation systems, thermostat controlled curtains, help to lower the heating costs which are still considerable. The CO² given off by the generators is captured and used to aid in plant growth.

LED grow lights light up the greenhouses when the days are short and plants need more light to grow and produce fruit.

Plants are all grown hydroponically in coconut fiber. Water and water soluble fertilizer is pumped to each tomato plant using drip irrigation.

Workers pick tomatoes and peppers twice a week and cucumbers daily. Produce is sent out for delivery within two hours of being picked and packed.

During the winter, the cost of produce reflects the increased usage of fuel and electricity. The flavour, can’t be beat. It says just picked.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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