It’s the end of your gardening season, and it’s getting too cold at night to keep your tomatoes alive anymore. Problem is, many of them are still green. Do you pull them up? Toss them out? Let them freeze and break down and feed next year’s soil?
Or you can do what I do every year. I never waste a tomato. I ripen green tomatoes after the season. There are actually many ways to get this done. Some are easy, some are hard. Some ripen your green tomatoes slow, and some techniques ripen them quite fast.
The key to getting your tomatoes to turn green actually depends on if each tomato has made it to the proper green mature stage; the stage at which a tomato begins to produce ethylene. Ethylene is needed in order for the fruit to begin it’s ripening process.
If a tomato has not made it to this green stage, it will never turn red. This stage must be reached on the vine.
Two other chemicals that assist in a tomato maturing to the red stage are lycopene and carotene. They are not responsible for a tomato’s turning, but they help. Both are produced by tomatoes when their surrounding air temperatures are between 50-85° F. Anything cooler than 50° F and a tomato will not begin to turn. Anything higher than 85° F and the process will stop altogether.
This means the tomato must reach its green maturation stage on the vine when it’s temperatures are between 50-85° F. After this, ethylene will bring it to full red maturation.
If you live in a windy area, you will notice that tomatoes hidden inside bushy plants will mature faster than those on the outside. This is because ethylene will blow away easier around the edges than it does deep inside a bushy plant.
How To Ripen A Tomato Off The Vine
Start with a tomato that has been brought to the green maturation stage. If you aren’t sure if the tomato is at the proper stage or not, you can cut one open to see if the center has started to turn colors. If it has, that tomato is at the proper maturation stage. Of course you now cannot ripen it, but you’ll know what a green tomato looks like.
One of the varieties we grow is actually in this green stage when it looks white. Many varieties differ.
My preferred way to ripen mine is to pull them all off the plant with their stems completely removed. I segregate all my tomatoes by color and fill all my wheelbarrows. White, green, barely turning, yellow, orange, and almost red. All the wheel barrows go into the cold cellar. All the ones that are close to turning red are either stacked one or two high, no more. Very green ones can be four or five deep.
These are checked often. Since they are in the cold cellar, it can take a couple months for them to turn red. Because it’s such an intense harvest for us here, I’m busy harvesting and preserving other crops and I’m not in a hurry for them to turn red.
As they turn red, I prep them how they will be canned (pureed, chopped, etc.) and freeze them in zip-lock bags either by the pound or cup (depending on the recipe I intend to use them for).
When I’m ready to start canning the tomatoes, I bring the wheelbarrow closest to ripeness into the house (we’re not fancy). It’s warmer in here so they turn faster. I can somewhat control how fast they turn by bringing them in where it’s warm so they ripen faster, or leaving them in the cold cellar so it takes a bit longer.
Other Ways To Ripen Green Tomatoes
My sister-in-law, whose homestead is on the other side of the mountain, has an even shorter growing season that we do. She pulls her tomatoes up by the roots, removes all the debris, and hangs them in rows (by bailing twine of course) in her pantry, and pulls them off as they mature.
The door to this room is usually left open so it’s not always dark, nor always light. Her technique appears just as effective as mine, except that she doesn’t have to rotate her tomatoes to check for any that are going bad.
When You Don’t Have A Lot Of Room Or A Cold Cellar
Before I used my root cellar, I didn’t have the room to really keep the tomatoes anywhere else. I had to get a lot of cardboard flats, and individually wrap each tomato in a piece of newspaper, and only place them in a single layer in the flats.
I kept them in the pantry, and I had to check them every week or so. It was a lot of work. I’m so glad I don’t do that anymore.
If You Only Have A Few Green Tomatoes
Keeping in mind that tomatoes will ripen to red when fully green and in the presence of ethylene, you can come up with several creative ways to ripen just a few.
Keep them in a jar, paper bag, cardboard box, or something that will naturally keep them around the ethylene they themselves produce.
If you are in a hurry, put an apple or banana with them. They give off ethylene at a faster rate.
I’m never in this much of a hurry, but I’ve heard both ways work well.
What other ways have you used to ripen your green tomatoes?