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The Mystery Keeper Tomato.
A tomato that stores for months.

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It doesn’t matter where you live in North America, this has been the longest, hardest winter in memory. We’ve become familiar with new words and phrases like Polar Vortex, Frostquake and holy shit. That last one is reserved for when you open your hydro or gas bill.

It’s the winter that keeps on giving, so it’s hard to believe that in a couple of short weeks, gardeners are supposed to start their seeds.

But it’s true. And much like the cast of the Jersey Shore, this winter horror will soon be forgotten.

If haven’t noticed yet my Seed Starting Calculator is back up on my sidebar so you can calculate when to start any seed you want to and when you can plant it out. All you have to do is punch in your first frost free date and it will calculate it all for you.

If you’ve never grown your own tomatoes before, you should really try it. A big tomato plant blends into almost any landscape, so even if you don’t have a vegetable garden, you can still have fresh tomatoes all summer.

And I have even better news.

You can ALSO have fresh tomatoes all winter. But you have to start right now.

Most of you will never have heard of Storage Tomatoes. Storage tomatoes are tomatoes that slowly ripen once picked. They are bred specifically to pick at the end of fall and keep for months. That’s why they’re also referred to as “Keeper” tomatoes.

Whatever you call them, they’ll stop you from having to buy grocery store tomatoes throughout November, December and January. Linda, from Tree & Twig has even had keeper tomatoes that lasted her until Easter. Easter!!

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They aren’t the prettiest tomatoes you’ll ever see, but that’s because they have a bit of a quirk.  They ripen from the inside out.

The type Linda grows and the type I’m going to try this year are called “Mystery Keepers”. I got them online from Mapple Farm a specialty seed producer in New Brunswick, Canada.  The interesting thing about these tomatoes is, as I said, they ripen from the inside out.  So while the outside might look sort of pale yellow/orange, the inside will be red.  You test for whether they’re ripe by how they feel.

You pick them at the end of fall, before the first frost, and just keep them on the kitchen counter.  No special storage is needed.  Of course you can keep them in the basement, bedroom or your bum, but the kitchen is probably your best bet. If only for the sheer convenience.

Some of the tomatoes may be further along in their ripening than others when you pick them, but that’s good because that means they’ll ripen inside the house at different times.  So you’ll have late fall tomatoes, Thanksgiving tomatoes,  Christmas tomatoes and possibly Easter tomatoes.  Unless you’re Jewish.  In which case, Mazel Tov!, you have Passover tomatoes!

For those of you in the United States, Burpee has their own version called Long Keeper you can order online.

So if you’re ready to kick winter in the snowbank, get yourself some seeds, stick them in some soilless mix, water, and put them on a sunny windowsill.

If you’d like to learn more about starting a whole bunch of seeds read my post on How to Grow Your Own Vegetables from Seed.  It’s a quick and easy guide to the basics of seed starting.

Which as I mentioned earlier starts in just a couple of weeks.   Or … right now.

Seeds-in-snow

 (please don’t plant a box and expect it to grow tomatoes.  Obviously this won’t work.  All you’ll grow is boxwood. Duh.)

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42 Comments | Filed Under: Outdoor | Tags: , , ,

42 Responses to The Mystery Keeper Tomato.
A tomato that stores for months.

  1. Feral Turtle says:

    So hard to imagine! If I can find my greenhouse under the snowbank I might start a few seeds. I have never heard of keeper tomatoes! I am going to get me some of those! Thanks Karen. Cheers.

  2. Marti says:

    Congratulations! You survived another winter in the tundra, Karen. (And please, I only knew what ONE of those three phrases was in the first graph. So keep the rest of that stuff up there!)

    Once again this year, I’ll just be admiring your garden from afar. My black thumbs will stay hooked in my belt loops. But I may pass along news of this “long keeper/months-to-rot” tomato breed to some friends who can succeed in greens. Seems like a great concept. This isn’t GMO, I take it?

  3. Barbie says:

    We are ordering from Burpee this year so I am totally going to order these seeds! Thanks Karen!

  4. Stephbo says:

    Boy, you’re not kidding about the “holy shit” gas bills. We’ve lived in our house for 5 years, and the past two months’ bills were twice what they have always been. I may need to sell a kidney to pay off last month.

    I had no idea these tomatoes existed! I am so spoiled by fresh summer tomatoes that I hardly eat any in the winter because they’re so awful. I’ll have to check these out. Thanks!

  5. Patti says:

    I had a tomato the other day, I must have bought it 4 weeks ago. I bought, put it on my kitchen windowsill, forgot about it for a couple of weeks, left for a 2 week vacation, then when I returned I was surprised it was still okay. We ate it and it tasted fine (as much as a winter tomato can be fine). The only thing was …..all the seeds inside the tomato were sprouting!! Even tiny little leaves starting! Hmmm…maybe I should have tried planting those determined little thing instead of eating them! lol!

    • Karen says:

      Wow! Are you sure it tasted fine, lol? It sounds like it could have fermented. (you ferment tomato seeds when you remove them to save them because fermenting gets rid of the anti-sprouting coating tomato seeds naturally have around t hem) It’s the thing that’s supposed to stop the tomatoes from sprouting inside! Weird. ~ karen!

      • Cindy says:

        This has happened to me, too! The tomato did taste ok, but I was very skeptical — more so because the forgotten tomato hadn’t done what forgotten tomatoes are wont to do, which is rot. Was it genetically modified to keep it from decomposing — implanted with genes from a six-pack’s plastic collar-thingy?

    • Lori says:

      I had that happen to me. I cut the tomato open and all the little sprouts popped out. You’re right, it tasted fine.

  6. ~gloria says:

    Do these tomatoes come with instructions on how to deal with the teensy flies that always seem to fill the house when I keep tomatoes inside? I’m assuming it’s the tomatoes, I never have them any other time. Maybe the seed companies should include a few bats with each order of tomato seeds, that ought to do the trick. It’s either that or I leave my computer screen on and smush them with my thumb, like I usually do. Just some thoughts on keeper tomatoes.

  7. Hazel says:

    Hurrah! Have just found Burpee’s Long Keeper is available in the UK- http://www.victoriananursery.co.uk/Tomato_Seed_Long_Keeper/

  8. Phyllis says:

    Hi Karen
    Love yor site and although I live in Hamilton – I am reading it while on my Asian vacation (currently in Kuala Lumpur and heading back to Cambodia tomorrow)
    The seed starting calculator is great – how do you know when your first frost fee day is?
    Thanks
    Phyllis

  9. magali says:

    I laughed really hard at that first paragraph!! And now I feel a little relieved. I thought it was because it’s my first winter on “The Rock” that my hydro bills were so high, glad to know we are all on the same boat. Our January bill for our 4 1/2 apartment was 280$! I didn’t even think that was possible!

  10. Debbie says:

    Having never grown tomatoes, and killlng most things I plant myself – especially f they flower, you have gotten my hopes up. Please elaborate on how a ripe Keeper Tomato feels as opposed to one that is not ripe. We get Costco tomatoes on the vine, and as long as they aren’t mushy, the family is happy. We also enjoy Jersey tomato season (we live in PA, not to far from some Jersey farms) in the summer. They are ugly, but tasty. Thanks.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Debbie – A ripe tomato feels firmish (not like mush) but your thumb can make an indent in it. Like a peach. An unripe tomato just feels hard. Not as hard as an apple, but that’s the idea. ~ karen!

  11. Karin says:

    Have you ever tried winter sowing with plastic milk jugs? It’s supposed to produce heartier seedlings. Think I may try that this year. Do you have all your seeds? What are you growing?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Karin – I haven’t tried that but was thinking of trying it this year. Problem is, in Ontario we don’t have those big plastic milk jugs, lol. We do have plastic pop bottles though. I have an enormous amount of seeds. I haven’t completely decided what I”ll be growing yet, but I guess I’d better start to give it some thought! The one thing I recommend everyone start from seed (which most people think is surprising) are beets. If you get them started inside they really take off outside. And they transplant perfectly. ~ karen!

      • Pam'a says:

        What a coincidence! I was reading about this just the other day. This guy starts his seeds outside in January! And you don’t need milk jugs, per se… lots of containers will do. Here, in case anyone’s interested:

        http://www.agardenforthehouse.com/2010/12/winter-sowing-101/

        • Karen says:

          Ha! I’ve actually been referred to that article before. The whole world seems to be ganging up on me trying to get me to try this method, lol. This is seed starting weekend, so I’ll see if I can find some suitable plastic jugs to start them in and give a few of them a shot. ~ karen!

  12. Gail says:

    Re: Plastic milk jugs: I thoughtlessly used the ‘white’ jug instead of the ‘clear’. We’ll see if the ‘greenhouse effect” still functions! ( I strongly suggest the clear for the light!!) Oh, boy, I just can’t wait!!! No- not Christmas- SPRING!!!!!!

  13. Tigersmom says:

    So, does this mean you are finally warming up to tomatoes? (somehow that came out like a bad end-of-the-forever-winter pun)

    Are Brussels Sprouts next?

    Who are you and what have you done with Karen?

    • Karen says:

      No. I still don’t really like eating tomatoes, lol. But I *do* love them in Caprese salad. Plus I’m just fascinated with them. ~ karen!

  14. Brandy says:

    Cool beans! Although, it can be a downer when you want fried green tomatoes and you find a red center. I bought one like that before… it was disappointing.

  15. Rebecca says:

    Hi Karen! I’m feeling super motivated to garden this year, thanks. Quick question though: What do you mean by soilless mix? Is that what you’ll typically purchase at a garden shop? What are the benefits to using soilless mix?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Rebecca – Good for you! You’ll love growing vegetables from seed. You can grow anything you want that way, not just what they happen to have at the nursery. Soilless mix is a sterile peat moss based concoction that has no nutrients in it. It also has no diseases or bugs so it gives your seedlings a better start in life. It’s very light and airy. And yes, it can be found at pretty much all garden stores. It’s quite inexpensive too. Good luck! ~ karen!

  16. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Just trying to think about where I could keep them in my way too small house..

  17. Amie says:

    I ordered about 20 different seeds since last fall from Cubits, I am looking forward to starting them!

    I am using the trial for the Farmer’s Almanac garden planner, and it is great to organize when I should be starting seeds indoors, and when I should be transplanting or hardening them off. Their seed library is pretty spot on for most varieties I got from Cubits.

    Moon and Stars watermelon, here I come!

  18. kelliblue says:

    Are these NON-GMO tomatoes? Only because it sounds like they might have had some GMO “help” in order to keep them fresher longer, if ya know what i mean. :-\

    • Karen says:

      Why are you yelling, lol? No need. They are not GMO tomatoes. They are heritage tomatoes, that aren’t even hybrids. Open pollinated. I may have confused everyone when I referred to them as “bred”. ~ karen!

      • You know, that was my first thought too, that they must by GMO….wow~ that’s pretty damn cool that they aren’t!!!! Now I want to try them! It’s back to that website again for me…

        Ciao!

  19. lori jones says:

    ok i am the weird one here i want to know where you got the “box” love it. good for storage.
    and i’ll have to try and find the tomatoes! Hubby love tomatoes, me not so much.

  20. Suzan says:

    Because I have become a Paleo freak and the price of organic produce is insane, I am putting in a raised bed garden this year. Every year since I have been in my house I grow tomatoes but this year I am taking the big plunge. Thanks for the post about this kind of tomato. I loathe those nasty ones from the market this time of the year with their mushy, pink innards. Ick! Eating a decent tomato in December will be a treat!!

    • Karen says:

      Uh oh. Paleo freak! I’ve actually always wondered why cherry tomatoes are always fine. They’re never that weird mealy texture that big tomatoes are. Whenever I need a fresh tomato for anything in the winter I use cherry tomatoes. Great for salads especially. ~ karen!

  21. Langela says:

    Karen, I was just wondering how they taste. Do they still have that fresh, homegrown flavor?

    • Karen says:

      I haven’t tried them Langela, so I can’t say for sure. But Linda assures me they’re great and I trust her. From what I’ve read they’re slightly more acidic than a regular tomato. If you’re O.K. with that you should be O.K. with the keepers. ~ karen!

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