How To Ripen Tomatoes: Tips & Tricks

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BasketfulHere 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).

Title

  • 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.

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Published: July 28, 2009
Updated: September 3, 2012

What Readers Are Saying:
10 Comments to “How To Ripen Tomatoes: Tips & Tricks”
  1. Rex says:

    Are there any other ways to hold up my Plants thru the Growing Season, besides using STAKES…..Rex Ryan

    • Gaylord Lanham says:

      There is a variety of wire cages available at places like Wal-Mart or Lowes.

    • seth callahan says:

      stakes are a pain! I run two strong metal poles one on each end of the row about 7′ tall, then run braided cable from one post to the other. now when the plants are about a 1′ tall run a strong twine from the cable to the base of the plant tie around the bottom of the plant but leave room to grow. as the plant grows just take the plant every few days and twist it around the twine. my plants grow all the way to the cable then I just train them down the cable. I usually trim all the suckers off and let two runners come off the base of the plant. my plants this year were insane some if I stood them up where around ten feet tall and loaded!! best part about this is I just leave the poles and wire up and next year your good to go!!

  2. Toni says:

    Thanks for the exact information I was searching for. (Whether to offer the same amount of water to tomatoes on the vine in the fall when trying to get them to ripen) and also a good tip to take them in on the vine before the first frost to get them to ripen indoors.

  3. Donna says:

    My tomatoes are ripening verically, only half are red the other half is yellow and doesn’t get red. The right half will be red and the left yellow.

  4. Nichole says:

    thank you for this great article!

    i was wondering, can you just cut the plant at the base or do you have to pull it all up including the roots and clean the dirt from the roots?

    i’ve had great luck just pulling green fruit off the stems and putting them in a window. it has worked better for me than wrapping in newspaper which i tried last year.

    thanks

  5. John P says:

    One good method I discovered this year for supporting the plants, is suspension. I took some para-cord, tied it off above the plants, then came down about 6 inches from the top of each plant. Then, using a simple half hitch, secured the plant to the cord. Adjust the top end to ensure the cord is taunt, and then as the plant grows in height, “wrap” the plant around the cord as it grows. This helps keep the plant supported as it grows above the anchor point. My tallest plant right now is almost 7-8 feet in height, and grew about 2-3 feet above the anchor point.

    I did let the plants originally grow free along the ground, as my tomatoes were next to my wooden deck, so I wasn’t as concerned with ground rot as I would have if they were directly on the grass / soil. Once the plants were about 3-4 feet in length/height, I switched to the suspension method.

    I wouldn’t recommend using anything thinner than para-cord (known in the military as 550 cord), as it might put too much stress on the stem and cut through it.

  6. DONNA MCCOOL says:

    I have 6 bushels of green tomatoes turning ripe. The big mommas will keep for awhile and may get ripe enough to make sauce. Can I mix them and make sauce f
    rom green and red? I have yellow and red tomatoes too ,, these will not keep long,, do I make jam or sauce from them too?

    • kitchendiva says:

      The color doesn’t matter. Some recipes, like pickles and salsa actually look prettier with all the different colors.

  7. sally says:

    could one cover the tomatoes leaving some air during the day


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