things to do

how to ripen your green tomatoes

harvest them asap – they may yet turn red!

By Kate Bryant October 22, 2010

The last few big tomatoes on my Brandywine tomato plant. Colder temperatures and rain are predicted and there’s no use leaving them on the plant at this point.

Okay, well some people have already mercilessly ripped out their tomato plants. To you impatient souls, I can only say: you’re missing out on the loveliness of watching your hard, green tomatoes slowly ripen into delicious red tomatoes by the holidays!

I’m sure it didn’t escape your notice but this was a fairly dreadful year for tomatoes. The plants were generally healthy and unbothered by fungal diseases but there just wasn’t a long enough warm season to ripen any of the serious big boy tomatoes. Cherry and grape type tomatoes were still pretty productive – they always are.


These tomatoes are keepers – they are unblemished, with no signs of rot. I clipped them off the plants with scissors rather than tearing them off the vines, to protect the fruit. It’s also important to handle them with care, as the slightest bruising can encourage rot.

But if you love big, hefty heirloom beefsteak type tomatoes, you were likely as disappointed as me this year. I only harvested two big, fat, ripe Brandywines – the creme de la creme of the tomato world, in many tomatophiles’ opinions – and they barely made it under the wire – last week! I’m sure the only reason they managed to ripen is because I boosted them with kelp and tipped back the foliage in late September and cut off all the flowers so the plants would focus on ripening the remaining fruit.

Jeez, it would have been nice of me to remind you to do that too, huh? (Sorry!)


There’s no use saving tomatoes with this kind of rot on them. It will only increase and possibly spread to the others if they’re stored together. Best to compost it.

But tomato season is not over yet – at least not at my house. Because I’ve just harvested all the remaining good (=non-rotten) green tomatoes and I’m about to tuck them into layers of newspaper in a crate, in a cool part of my basement. And there, over the coming weeks and maybe months, they will gradually, gently ripen to sweet perfection. If I get it right – and some years it works better than others – I will enjoy tomatoes over the December holidays.

The key to storing them is to keep them loosely stacked, with some air, and separated from one another. They also should be checked weekly for signs of rot (offenders should be summarily removed); and the temperature should be kept steady, in the mid to upper 50s or so.

If you want to speed up the ripening, close a few up in a paper bag with a ripe apple, which will give off ethylene gas. The next quickest solution is to put them on a cool, bright windowsill out of direct sunlight, where they will ripen within a few weeks if they aren’t too green. I’ll set a few up in these places but most of them are going two layers deep in a crate in the basement, each loosely wrapped in newspaper.

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