In many parts of the country, we welcomed autumn 2017 with unseasonably warm and humid conditions. And it might have fooled a few people – and plants – into believing it’s still summer. Some even wished for sweater weather. Not your tomatoes, though. Cold is definitely the wrong climate for them.
Now that cooler temperatures are invading our gardens, people are casting wistful glances at their tomato plants with an eye for getting the most from a flavorful harvest before it’s too late and frost takes the crop.
You can coax the ripening process from green to red when tomatoes are taken indoors — a much better plan than leaving them to wither on their vines. The key to ripening green tomatoes is a warm, enclosed and dry environment. Tomatoes need warmth to ripen (an indoor temperature of about 70º F).
First, pick the fruits that are mature, at their full – or nearly full – size, and softened a bit with a blush of color on the blossom end. Once you have them inside, wash and dry the tomatoes thoroughly. Then try these methods to turn those green tomatoes red:
- In the bag: To ripen a few green tomatoes, put them in a paper bag, close it up, and store in a warm location in your home. Kept enclosed together, their ethylene, a gas in plants that stimulates ripening, will have a cumulative effect. You can add a ripe banana or apple as well to speed things up. Once a tomato is ripe, remove it from the bag and enjoy it right away. Check the bag daily for mold or rot and remove any spoiled pieces.
- Box method: If you have several green tomatoes you want to ripen, consider using a cardboard box. Place them in the box so they do not touch one another. You can add a ripe banana as well. Close the box and, as with the bag-ripening method, check daily for mold and rot, or full ripening, and remove those tomatoes.
- The windowsill approach: Try this if your tomatoes have already started to show some ripened color. Simply put them on the sill of a window that gets sunlight. Inspect them daily for progress. You can also remove tomatoes you have ripening in a bag or box once they start showing signs of color and continue their ripening on the window sill.
- Hanging upside down method: Some gardeners pull up the entire plant – roots, fruits, and all – and hang it upside down in a location indoors. The theory is that the plant, while alive, will send all its available energy to the fruit. You should shake off as much of the soil as possible before hanging, then c heck the progress daily.
Keep in mind the following:
- Tomatoes tend to ripen best with part of the stem left on.
- These methods should ripen fruit in about 7-14 days, or sooner.
- Green tomatoes that are not yet mature cannot ripen once picked.
- These methods do not enhance flavor. No tomato is going to be as delicious as field ripened. But, it’s a better option than having them go to waste.
- Be sure to keep tomatoes at room temperature during the indoor ripening process. Do not refrigerate them, as this will ruin their flavor.