How To Ripen Tomatoes: Tips & Tricks
Here are a few tips to help speed up and encourage tomatoes to ripen on the vine when it’s close to the end of growing season (there are also off the vine instructions below):
- Keep plants free of diseased leaves and pinch off new flowers so all the plant’s energy can go into the fruit.
- Watch daily and pick off any that are ready, more of the plant’s energy will go to the fruit left on the vine. They should be nice and red but not turning soft yet.
- Reducing water slightly can help speed up the process.
- Shortly before it’s time to harvest, boost the plant’s energy by giving it a last feeding of compost tea (see see this page.)
If a hard frost is looming, it’s time to get the harvest inside. You can still finish them on the vine by the following method:
- Pull up the plants then brush off the dirt from the roots and hang upside down in your garage or basement.
- Watch daily and remove the fruit from the plant as they are ready.
- Keep out of direct sunlight but not in total darkness.
- Position so there is good air circulation between them.
Off The Vine:
When a heavy frost is looming, pick all the fruit from the plant (including the green ones). Sort them according to size and level of maturity, set aside those that are bruised or damaged. Remove stems and wipe off the dirt with a dry cloth. Save the small ones for cooking, for those that are larger (about 3/4 the size of a mature one), here are a couple different ways you can finish them off the vine:
- Wrap individually in newspaper and lay them in shallow cardboard boxes. You can also lay them in bunches between sheets of newspaper, just make sure none of them are touching each other. Store them in a dark and dry location. Check regularly and quickly remove those that have matured. Watch for any rotting fruit, they must be removed from the batch immediately to prevent the others from rotting.
- You can also try layering them in a shallow box of styrofoam peanuts, leave enough room between them for good air circulation and remember to check the box daily to remove those that are ready.
Be gentle when handling and arranging to prevent damaging them. Tip: If you arrange them stem side up they won’t take to rot as quickly.
Ethylene Gas Boosters:
Fruit naturally produces ethylene gas which helps stimulate ripening. Here are a few different methods you can try with green tomatoes:
- Place them in a paper bag then add an apple, fold bag closed. This will help speed things up since the apple will add to the ethylene gas the tomatoes themselves produce.
- Place them in a brown paper lunch bag and fold over the top to close.
- Place them in a plastic bag that has several toothpick sized holes punched through. Seal the bag closed.
- Place in a container with a banana that still has a bit of green on the peel, seal the container closed (same idea as using the apple).
- Prolong The Growing Season: You can still keep them in the garden when light frosts are expected but protect them overnight by covering with sheets, tarp or burlap (remove during the day). When freezing or hard frosts are in the forecast, you need to hustle and remove them from the garden before the frost hits.
- Sorting: Keep the green ones showing a bit of pink around the stem area together in a separate box, these will mature the fastest and will save you digging around for them.
- Boost Flavor: Set those that are very close to being ready in a warm window a day or two before you use them, this will help increase the flavor.
- Shriveling: If the green ones tend to shrivel instead of ripen, it’s likely because the storage area isn’t humid enough for them.
- Moldy: If you have a problem with green ones developing mold or starting to rot before fully maturing, it’s likely because the storage area is too humid for them.
- No Flavor: The storage area was too cool, find a location where the temperature is at least 55° F. for best results.
- Won’t Work: They were either too small or stored in too cool a location.
- Why not take advantage of your bounty of green tomatoes by cooking with them? Here are over two dozen recipes to try.