Are you staring at a bunch of over-enthusiastic tomato plants in your garden and wondering how to ripen green tomatoes without losing them to frost now that summer is over?
At the end of summer, there’s always a few green tomatoes that haven’t yet started to turn red. While you can always pluck them off the plant and eat them while they’re still green, they can be a bit tough and sour, especially if they’re very under-ripe.
If fried green tomatoes or salsa verde isn’t your thing, and you’re dreaming about pasta sauce, there are a few things you can do to speedily ripen green tomatoes.
Before we get started, you should only look to harvest green tomatoes that are healthy, with no soft spots, insect holes, or diseases (these tomatoes might ripen, but also might not be edible once they DO ripen – so use them for animal food or just compost them).
Here’s 3 ideas to help to ripen green tomatoes!
Choose green tomatoes that already show signs of ripening
Tomatoes that are not fully mature will either take FOREVER to ripen or won’t ever ripen – so for the best results, make sure the green fruit feels a little soft when you squeeze it.
If it’s starting to show a little pink, that’s even better, and you can pull them off the vine and they’re more likely to ripen for you.
Allow green tomatoes to ripen on a sunny shelf
To ripen, some fruits, tomatoes included, produce ethylene. If you leave your green tomatoes on a sunny shelf, eventually they’ll let off enough of the gas to ripen on their own. This is the simplest and most straight forward way to let them turn red.
Place with a banana or apple to speed it along
While we’ve never had much of a problem getting healthy, mature green tomatoes to ripen, it CAN take a while. One option to cut the ripening time down is to place your tomatoes in a paper bag with an apple or banana.
Both fruits give off ethylene – it will trigger your tomatoes to start the ripening process.
Choose a banana that still has green areas on it – just-starting-to-ripen bananas release more ethylene than when they’re fully ripe. This method cuts down the amount of time it takes your green tomatoes to ripen.
For larger amounts of tomatoes, place them in a cardboard box (you only want 2 layers to reduce the chance of squishing, especially as they ripen) along with the banana or apple.
Don’t allow the tomatoes to touch to increase circulation around each fruit. Place newspaper between layers.
Store in a cool, dry place since humidity can attract flies, other insects, or cause mold. Check on them frequently and pull out tomatoes that have ripened, or any that show signs of decay.
Allow green tomatoes to ripen on the vine
If you still have a few weeks before the first fall frost date, you can try to speed along ripening on the vine.
Pinch off any new flowers that bloom so the plant puts it’s effort into completing the reproductive cycle of the fruits that already have started to grow.
If frost threatens but it won’t be a hard frost, you can try using a row cover to keep the temperatures higher around the plant.
If you have a sunny, south-facing room in your house, and you grew your tomato plants in pots, then you can try bringing the whole plant indoors.
We’ve had mixed results with this, so we usually skip this step and just harvest the remaining green tomatoes. However, if you live in an area with higher winter temperatures, you might have more success.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.