Juicy red tomatoes are a favorite garden bounty. Vine-ripened, these taste treasures may be a highlight of the horticultural harvest. However, tomatoes take time to turn a vibrant red, and sometimes the weather or garden conditions won’t wait.
What can a tomato growing gardener do?
Try these tried-and-true tips for ripening green tomatoes.
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First, tomatoes that remain attached to the mother plant (either in the garden or in a patio pot) tend to ripen the best. The sun and natural growth process produce the most flavorful fruit. On the other hand, a frost or a pest infestation can ruin a tomato crop.
The next best option for ripening tomatoes is to place the plants inside a greenhouse, where they may still mature on the vine. Tomatoes may ripe much faster in a hothouse environment than in an outdoor garden, where temperatures may cool off overnight.
In the absence of a greenhouse, the gardener may cover tomato plants (especially overnight) with plastic or lightweight cloths. This is a proper solution, if tomatoes are already turning red.
If colder weather is coming soon, the another option may be to pick unripe green tomatoes. Early harvesting requires ripening indoors. Even still, home-grown tomatoes may become more flavorful than many of the store-bought varieties.
Ideally, the gardener picks the larger, shinier, more mature green tomatoes first – especially from the strongest plants. Smaller, bullet-hard tomatoes are not likely to ripen off the vine. Any showing evidence of insect damage, excessive bruising, mold, or split skins are often discarded.
The stems and all of the leaves must be pinched off before washing the just-picked green tomatoes. Next, they may be placed in a brown paper bag or a plain brown cardboard box and set in a cool, dry, spot with adequate air circulation and no direct sunlight. A tomato grower might choose to stick a banana in the bag or box to accelerate ripening of the tomatoes.
These tomatoes will likely ripen within a few days. This step may be staggered, so some tomatoes are ready sooner than others.
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To hasten the process, a gardener might place a red tomato among the green ones.
Fresh, ripe tomatoes will usually keep for a couple of days at room temperature, as long as they are not set in direct sunlight. They may be chilled for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Generally, cooler temperatures promote slower ripening of tomatoes. Kept at 50 (F) to 60 (F) degrees, tomatoes may ripen in up to two weeks. At 60 (F) to 70 (F), they may complete the task in a few days.
Unless a recipe specifically calls for green tomatoes, this zesty fruit should be ripened before use. Over-ripening, however, will produce soggy tomatoes.