September 19, 2016

Tips for Ripening Green Tomatoes

Tomatoes are warm-weather plants. They like it hot! (As long as they get watered regularly.)
So when the temperatures start to dip, especially at night, their ability to ripen fruit slows way down. Every year there are many green tomatoes on the vine as the first frost approaches.
Frost will kill your plant completely and turn any fruit left on the vine to mush.
You don't want that!
So what can you do about it?

Encourage Faster Ripening Outside

Leave your green tomatoes on the vine as long as possible.
Sun-ripened is best--and easiest--if you can get it!
There are a few things you can to do to help the process along.

1.Snip or break off the tips of your vines.
I usually do this in August--about a month before the projected first frost date--but you can do it now if you still have a few weeks before frost. This stops the plant from growing any taller or putting on any more blossoms. Once it stops putting energy into new growth, the plant will direct energy towards ripening what is already on the vine.

2. Cover or protect at night.
Once night temperatures dip below 50 degrees F, tomato plants will benefit from some kind of light cover at night--an old sheet works well.
To be honest, I haven't ever done it, but I've got friends who swear by it for extending the season.
The cover holds in the heat of the day, which helps your fruit to ripen more quickly.
Do as I say, not as I do! :)

Ripening Tomatoes Inside the House

[Last tomato harvest of the year, circa 2012.]

Okay, so say you're expecting a frost any day now.
Go ahead and pick every tomato on your vines--ripe, green or in-between.
 (Unless you're using method #2, below. In that case, pull up the whole plants.)

Since we don't want any of those precious tomatoes to go to waste, let's talk about ripening them inside the house. You've got a couple of options.

1. The Lazy Way
This is the method I've used the most often. :)

Put all the tomatoes on a tray in a single layer (if you don't have very many), or in a cardboard box if you have a lot. Leave them in your kitchen out of direct sunlight. Every couple of days, go through and pick out and throw away the rotten ones. Use the rest as they get ripe.
It works, though you will probably lose at least 1/3 of your tomatoes to mold.

To get them to ripen more quickly, you can put them in a brown paper bag (close the top).
The bag will trap the ethylene gas that all fruit gives off as it ripens, speeding up the process.
You could also put an apple in the bag with them for the same reason.

2. Whole vine
This way requires space in a cool, dark place--like a garage or basement--with enough room to hang up your vines. Yep. You hang up the entire vine upside down.
The tomatoes will continue to ripen and you can pick them off as you need.
This one can get quite messy, as leaves and such will fall off the vine as it dries.
You may want to put newspapers or a small tarp underneath.

I tried this once, but our garage is not very big, and we are constantly in and out of there.
Having a vine hanging was a real hassle and got in the way.
Maybe if we had a corner where it could hang undisturbed....

3. Wrap 'em up
Okay, this one is definitely the most time intensive.
You wrap each tomato individually in newspaper, then put them in a box or on shelves in a single layer, again in a cool dark place. Check them regularly, throwing out rotten ones.
Once they start to turn red, bring them up into the warmth and light of the kitchen (but again, not in direct sunlight) to let them ripen the rest of the way.

I have never done it this way, because first of all--who has that much newspaper?
We don't get a paper newspaper anymore.
(My kids would probably say, "What's a newspaper?")
Also, I know that I would not be consistent with checking them regularly--out of sight, out of mind. Plus, wouldn't you have to unwrap each one--at least partially--to check it?
Then you would need to re-wrap the ones not ready.
I can't see myself taking the time to do that every few days.

So if you try this way, let me know how it goes!
Was it as much work as it seems like it would be?

* * * * * * *

Have you tried any other method for ripening green tomatoes?

Good luck! Hope this helps!


  1. Hello Linnea, nice to see your new blog :-)
    I grow cherry tomatoes every year and here in London we rarely have proper frost so sometimes I have tomatoes still in late October. But if there are still some green ones when the night temperatures get down towards freezing I take them inside, put them on kitchen paper on a single layer in a box and ripen them in the cupboard where my boiler is – it’s dark and warm in there and that always works well, within a couple of weeks even the greenest tomato is ready to eat.

    1. Hi Helene!
      Dark and warm--thanks for the tip! I'll have to give it a try this year. It sounds like my lazy method, but a bit faster. :)
      I'm glad you stopped by!