The possibility of losing produce is every gardener’s worst nightmare. You chose the best tomato seedlings, and selected the perfect garden location in your garden for them. Your family worked hard all season, watered them well, and gave them the love and care that they needed. Now cold weather is looming, but those tomatoes are still green! What can you do? Well, you can follow this essential guide on how to ripen green tomatoes, so you don’t lose a single morsel.
1. Save Those Tomatoes!
Tomatoes might be the trickiest crops when it comes to cold temperatures. Unlike other, cold-hardy plants like lettuce, onions, radishes, and such, tomatoes are rendered worthless once the first frost hits them. The first frost happens once temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, ice crystals form, which will permanently stunt tomato growth.
You’ll know that your tomato has been hit by frost when the fruit hardens and turns dark green in colour. Be sure to research your region’s expected first frost date, as it may take time for your fruits’ colour to develop. To avoid this devastation, make sure to pick all of your tomatoes before the first frost hits.
Harvest tomatoes individually, either by the vine or by uprooting the whole plant. Tomato plants are annual, which means that they won’t start to reproduce fruit in the next growing season. Bring your harvested tomatoes indoors.
2. Only Choose the Best of the Bunch
Once you’ve brought your tomatoes inside, it’s time to sort through them. Remove any that are bruised, black, cracked, or rotten. This is to avoid blights spreading from the unhealthy fruit to healthy ones, as tomatoes share diseases quickly.
3. Give Them a Bath
Wash your tomatoes with cold running water to wash away dirt and bugs. Dry thoroughly to avoid mould production. Choose cold water, as hot water may throw your tomatoes’ insides off balance, which will prevent them from ripening correctly.
Use running water instead of soaking, as the water’s friction will remove undesirable dirt more easily. That said, feel free to do both methods if you want to take extra precautions.
4. Choose Your Method
There are many different methods for tomato ripening indoors. Sure, you can just leave your tomatoes on the windowsill, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Of course, that usually results in wasting valuable window space while the tomatoes rot and attract fruit flies.
We recommend that you follow one of the following methods instead.
Each one works in roughly the same fashion, thanks to the science behind the tomato-ripening process. Fruit ripens after being subjected to ethylene gas—also known as H4C2. All fruits produce this gas as they ripen, and the gas ripens other fruit around them in turn. To think of it simpler terms, ethylene gas = growth hormones that are born in the flowering stage. It encourages these flowers to mature into a ripe, delicious piece of fruit.
For this method, you’ll need a large glass jar, your unripe tomatoes, and an ethylene gas-rich fruit. Recommended fruits include bananas, apples, and/or pears. Simply place your washed and dried tomatoes in a clean jar with one of these fruits. Seal the lid and wait. This method is good if you only have a few tomatoes to ripen, as a single jar won’t be able to accommodate a whole tomato batch.
If you happen to have several clean, empty jars around, then you’re golden.
Brown Paper Bag
The bag method is probably the easiest of these four methods because the materials used are certain to be found in any household. First, find a clean brown paper bag. Canvas won’t work as well, and plastic can hold in dangerous moisture, which may cause rot.
Place a few tomatoes and an ethylene gas-producing fruit in the bag. Then place the bag in a dry, warm room, and neglect it for about a week. Pop the bag open to see if the fruit has ripened, then enjoy.
Cardboard or Wooden Box
This is the best method to use if you have a large number of tomatoes in need of ripening. First off, you’ll need a box in the size required to accommodate the number of green tomatoes you need to ripen. The box can be made of cardboard or wood. You can even use a drawer if need be!
Next, line your box with a dry-but-absorbent material like paper towels or newspapers. Arrange your tomatoes inside the padded box, allowing enough space for air to circulate. If you like, you can add in one of those bananas or pears to speed the ripening process. You can also wrap each tomato in a paper towel or piece of paper if you’re worried about mould or rot.
Close the box, and don’t open it again for about a week. Check on your fruit, and allot more time as needed for them to ripen fully.
Choosing to ripen your tomatoes by hanging them is the oldest method that’s still in use. Although this technique requires a lot of space, it doesn’t require any extra materials. All you need to do is uproot your entire tomato plant and bring it indoors.
This is okay to do as tomato plants are annual: they’ll only grow for one season but won’t come back next year. This is contrary to perennial plants, such as certain flowers and trees that will continue to grow and produce each spring.
Make sure you have a large room that has a high ceiling, and meets the environmental requirements listed in the section below. You can then hang your whole tomato plant—or each vine if you choose—from the ceiling. Hang them by the rafters on hooks or heavy twine, and simply wait for your tomatoes to ripen.
This is an unusual method that isn’t particularly recommended. The fruits could easily be contaminated by pests or disease via their stalks. There’s is also the possibility of fruit falling off and smashing into the floor. If you go this route, it’s best to hang a mesh hammock or similar beneath them to catch them if/when they fall.
5. Check your conditions
Whatever method that you choose, some requirements need to be the same. For instance, light has nothing to do with tomato ripening, and won’t speed or slow down the process. What needs to be considered, however, are temperature and humidity levels.
The recommended temperature for ripening tomatoes ranges from 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. If you overheat the tomatoes, then they’ll turn soggy and will decompose. On the other hand, if you under-heat them, they won’t ripen at all. Similarly, you need to have an environment that is as low in humidity as possible. Air moisture will spur mould growth on your fruit.
Even when the above precautions have been taken, check your tomatoes at least once every two days. Keep an eye on their ripening rate, as well as checking for pests, diseases, and mould growth. Remove any affected tomatoes as soon as possible.
Your tomatoes should reach their desired colour in about two weeks, depending on your home’s atmosphere. When that happens, wait at least two more days to ensure that their flesh has fully ripened. Tomatoes’ skins tend to ripen first, giving the illusion that the insides are ready too.
Once you’re sure that your tomatoes are ripe, feel free to remove them from whatever ripening method you had chosen, and use them to your heart’s content. You can eat them raw, or refrigerate them for later consumption. You can also turn them into a sauce or salsa if you wish, and either eat that fresh, or preserve it for later.
Why Growing and Preserving Your Own is Best:
Let’s face it: fresh, homegrown tomatoes just taste better. Although the absolute best way to experience tomatoes’ full flavour is by letting them ripen on the vine outside, that isn’t always an option. Unless you live in a warm climate, you know that not all of your tomatoes will be able to ripen before Jack Frost comes to trample them.
Most big-brand farmers know this too. This is why they pick their whole tomato crop while still green. They then ship them to stores in ethylene packer trucks so their fruit will be just ripe enough for the market. This maximizes the tomato’s shelf life, as well as the amount of money going into farmers’ pockets.
We’ve gotten used to being able to buy tomatoes and other summer-fresh produce in the middle of winter. Unfortunately, shipping them green as mentioned above is how that happens. They’re often grown in South America (with lots of pesticides), and shipped up to us as needed.
Hopefully though, with this guide, you can rely on your home-grown tomato crop. Don’t let anything go to waste. Ripen your green tomatoes, then dry them out, or can them, or even freeze them whole. They’ll keep your tomato cravings under control well into the winter months, until you can restart your garden in the spring.