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How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

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What to Do with Green Tomatoes Photo: © Marie Iannotti

There are always green tomatoes left on the vine in the fall. Deciding when to either pick the tomatoes green or let them get hit by frost, is a tough call. And then there’s the problem of how to get them to ripen.

Most tomatoes need temperatures above 60 degrees F. to finish ripening and some days can be better than others. But once the days begin to shorten and cool, you are going to need to take some precautions to prevent losing your final tomato harvest.

Here are some tips to keep your tomato plants healthy into the fall season and for getting those green tomatoes to ripen on the vine or how to salvage the obstinate tomatoes you actually have to pick while still green.

  1. Don’t panic. Your tomato plants aren’t meant to last forever, so be thankful for the crop you've gotten and start planning for next year.

  2. It’s not really worth spraying for diseases at this point in the season. Just remove any diseased leaves and dispose of them.

  3. Give your tomato plants a last dose of food. Some compost tea or fish emulsion should give them the energy to finish up the season.

  4. Once night time temperatures start dipping into the low 70s F., you probably aren’t going to get any new fruits forming. To speed up ripening of the existing green tomatoes, pinch off any new flowers.

  5. If a light frost is predicted, cover your plants with a row cover or sheet. You can leave the row cover on during the day, but the sheet is too heavy and opaque, so remove and replace as needed.

  6. If you still have green tomatoes well into the cool days of fall, you can lift the entire plant and hang it in a dry, sheltered location, like the garage. The fruits will continue to ripen and will still have some of the benefits of ripening on the vine. Try and take some roots with the plant, but you can shake off any soil. You don’t want to hang the plants in direct sunlight or total darkness.

  7. You can also go the old tried and true route of picking the more mature green fruits and ripening them in the house. These will have a tinge of color at the blossom end and feel a little softer than the solid young fruits. Options for ripening green tomatoes indoors include:

    • Placing them on a sunny window sill. This is a hit or miss solution. You’ll have much better luck ripening mature green tomatoes. Although the tomatoes are more stable sitting on their stem side, they will rot less readily if you can place them blossom side down.

    • Wrapping individual green tomatoes in newspaper and layering in a box, no more than 2 layers deep. Place the box in a dark, dry spot and check weekly for progress. It usually takes 3-4 weeks for the tomatoes to ripen, but check frequently and remove any fruits that show signs of rotting.

    • Placing the green tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripe apple. The apple gives off ethylene gas, which speeds up ripening. Check the bag daily.

  8. And finally, you can always eat your green tomatoes.

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