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One of the benefits of growing vegetables in zone 9 is that we are able to grow vegetables all year long.  

However, despite our relatively mild winters, warm-season vegetables such as  peppers and tomatoes can’t handle temperatures when they dip below freezing.  So just before freezing temperatures hit, I run out to the garden and pick off all our tomatoes and peppers before pulling out the plants.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing this – I’ve done it for years.


I allow my green tomatoes to ripen indoors – click here to see how.


I then dice my green peppers, place them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer where I can use them whenever I make my kid’s favorite Mexican rice for dinner.

A few years ago, I decided to try to overwinter my tomato and pepper plants instead of pulling them out. 


This is what my tomatoes looked like with no frost protection.  That was no surprise.

But the next year, I decided to protect my tomatoes & peppers by covering them with old sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.  

I even went one step further and hung an outdoor light underneath the sheets.  

To my surprise, both my tomato and pepper plants came through the winter just fine, with a small amount of frost damage, and I had an early start to the growing season.

It was a lot of work though – having to cover them and uncover them whenever temperatures dipped below freezing.

Also, that winter was a relatively mild one and temperatures never strayed below the upper 20’s.  However, we do occasionally experience temperatures that dip in to the low 20’s and in that case, protection or not, the peppers and tomatoes would most likely die whether or not they were protected.

So, do I still try to overwinter my peppers and tomatoes?  

The answer is “yes”and “no”.


I do throw sheets over my peppers, but not my tomatoes.  The reason is that tomatoes are slightly more sensitive to the cold.

If we were to experience temperatures in the low 20’s, my 2-year old pepper plants would most likely not survive.  But, that is what it is like to grow vegetables – you try your best, but sometimes it’s not enough.

**Have you ever successfully overwintered a warm-season vegetable?**

The temperatures outside are not just chilly – they are COLD (21 degrees outside yesterday morning in my garden).  

You may recall that I wrote about picking the green tomatoes off my vines a few weeks before the first frost appeared.  

I had quite a few.

 

 
Well, I decided to let them ripen indoors. So, I placed the tomatoes on a cookie sheet and left them alone.
 
And this is what they look like four weeks later.
 
They are starting to ripen!
 
Every day as I check on them, I find more starting to turn yellow and then red.
 
I love that you can pick unripened tomatoes and let them ripen on their own.
 
If I had left them on my tomato vine, they would have frozen during our first freeze of the season.
 
Now, we can enjoy them in salads or even in making pasta sauce 🙂

 

The gifts are wrapped and the house is decorated for Christmas.


I do still have to clean my house and start baking goodies for Christmas Eve dinner.  My mother-in-law is bringing her famous lasagna, so I only have to focus on side dishes and dessert – yum!


I am fairly prepared for the holidays at this point.  Tonight, we are expected to experience our first freeze of the season.  I needed to harvest the remaining green peppers and tomatoes today before they were harmed by the frost.  So, I went out this morning to my vegetable garden to harvest the remaining green bell peppers on my two pepper plants and my tomatoes.


I had some big peppers left along with some smaller ones…


It is amazing how hidden the peppers are under the leaves of the pepper plants.  But, I got them all.

Then I got to work on my tomato plants.  They are over a year old and I decided to start over with new tomato plants this coming season, so I will let them go ahead and freeze.

I did however, pick off the green tomatoes.

When I came inside and poured out my bounty, I was surprised at how many green vegetables I had.


I got to work at cutting up my peppers and diced them before putting them into freezer bags.


Over the next 8 months, all I have to do is take out  as many diced peppers as I need.  

I realize that I probably should have ‘flash frozen’ them by placing the diced peppers on a single layer on a baking sheet until frozen before putting in a freezer bag.  That way, they are separate and come out of the bag easily.

But, I am a bit lazy and don’t like to wash extra dishes so when I need some diced peppers, I simply bang the freezer bag on the counter, which loosens them so I can take out the amount I want.

Now, all I have to do is decide what to do with all those green tomatoes.  

I could make a green tomato salsa OR I could let them ripen.

What would you do with green tomatoes?

This morning, I spent some time outside in one of my vegetable gardens with my granddaughter, Lily.



While I worked, she had fun with the plants in my containers.  


My cool-season containers are in full bloom.  Leaf lettuce, petunias, garlic, parsley and nasturtiums are growing very well.

My 1-year old tomato plants are huge.  They extend over the fence between my containers.

There is even a small tomato seedling coming up in front of the yellow container.


They have taken over this part of the vegetable garden.  I admit that they aren’t particularly beautiful with the dead, brown area in the middle (the result of sunburn before I got my shade cloth up this summer).

There are a few green tomatoes on the vines, but they won’t have time to ripen before the first freeze.  So, I plan to keep an eye on the weather report and pick my green tomatoes just before a freeze is scheduled.

The green tomatoes will ripen indoors in my kitchen.


My bell peppers are doing just fabulous.

Last summer, I treated them with epsom salts, which helps to promote fruit production.  (You can read more about my experiment with epsom salts and my pepper plants here).


The epsom salts did their job.  I have over 6 bell peppers ready to be picked.  I’ll pick them before the first freeze, dice them and freeze them until I need them for making my Mexican rice.

Both tomato and pepper plants are damaged or killed in freezing temperatures in my zone 9a garden.  I will protect my pepper plants from frost by covering them with old sheets.  

I will not do the same for my tomato plants because they are very large and it would be hard to cover them all.  The other reason that I won’t bother to protect them is that many gardeners report that the size of tomatoes decreases as the plant gets older.

I will start again with new plants in late winter.

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I hope you are enjoying this holiday season.  You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting as often.  Partly this is due to the fact that I get busier in December preparing for Christmas.

The other reason is that I am having tendon trouble in my thumb.  I wear a splint, which helps somewhat – but it is very hard and laborious to type one-handed.

I do have some new posts coming up though, so stay tuned 🙂