Red as a tomato

Standard-sized tomatoes take 20 to 30 days from blossom set to reach full size–commonly called “mature green”; they take another 20 to 30 days to ripen, that is begin to change color. A tomato can be picked when it begins to change color–from green to red, pink, yellow, or orange depending upon the cultivar.

The optimal temperature range for tomato ripening is 68°F to 77°F; tomato ripening is slowed when temperatures are cooler or warmer than the optimum range. Tomatoes stop ripening when temperatures are less than 55°F and greater than 85°F. Once a mature green tomato has begun to blush or turn color, it can be brought to full color or full ripeness off the vine at room temperature–70°F to 75°F. A tomato will be equally flavorful brought to full ripeness on or off the vine–once it has moved beyond “mature green” to color change.

Estimated days to maturity, fruit size, and color can be used to estimate the harvest time for your tomato crop. Temperatures outside the optimum range can delay harvest. Tomatoes can not be forced to maturity more quickly than nature will allow. However, there are to expedite the tomato harvest when temperatures are right.

Once tomatoes on the plant begin to reach mature green, here’s how you can quicken the overall ripening of fruit on the vine:

• Harvest daily. Pick fruit as soon as it starts to show color; this will allow other fruit on the vine to gain size and come to harvest more quickly. Tomato fruit picked at first sign of color can be ripened at room temperature. Fruit ripened off the vine will be just as tasty as those left to mature on the vine. Cut or gently twist off fruits supporting the vine at the same time. Don’t leave overripe fruits on the vine; they decrease productivity and may spread disease.

• Remove flower clusters. Pluck new flower clusters from tomato plants that have already set fruit. Removing flowers will direct the plant’s energy into ripening the fruit already maturing on the vine. Remove flower clusters no later than a month before the first expected frost to ensure fruit on the plant makes it to harvest without frost or cold damage.

• Remove small or excess fruit. Pick small or excess fruit off of the tomato plant. Removing immature fruit or fruit you will not use will allow the plant to divert energy into ripening larger, already maturing fruit. Tomatoes that reach “mature green” size and have their first blush of color can be ripened off the vine at room temperature.

• Remove some leaves. Pinch away suckers and lower leaves. Tomato plants almost continuously produce new shoots–called suckers–between the main stem and lateral branches. Pinch or prune away this new growth so that the plant can channel its energy into producing and ripening fruit rather than producing new leaves. Leaves just above fruit or fruit clusters should be left in place to protect fruit from sunburn, but leaves low on the plant and yellow, brown, or diseased leaves should be removed. These leaves are taking energy away from fruit ripening.

Green Zebra tomato

• Reduce water and food late in season. Reduce water and fertilizer to encourage “mature green” fruits to ripen. Fertilizer–especially excess nitrogen–encourages new leaf growth at the expense of fruit growth and maturation. (Use fertilizer low in nitrogen 4-8-4 for tomatoes.) Reducing water as fruits reach mature size will enhance ripening (and concentrate flavor) and direct the plant’s energy away from new fruit set to ripening fruit already on the vine

• Stress roots near season end. Shifting or rotating plant roots by twisting gently at the crown of the plant will disturb distribution of nutrients and moisture from roots to fruit and foliage causing the plant to finish fruit growth, ripen, and go to seed.

• Protect plants from extreme temperatures. Shield plants from temperatures outside the optimum range; wrap cages with clear plastic or frost blankets to protect plants from temperatures below 60°F; drape shade cloth over frames to protect tomatoes from harsh sun and temperatures greater than 90°F. Temperature extremes will slow and even halt fruit maturation and ripening. If fruits have begun to turn color, pick them and finish ripening indoor at temperatures between 70°F and 75°F.

• Mulch with plastic sheeting. Use silver- or red-colored plastic sheeting or aluminum foil to speed growth where temperatures are low or days are overcast. The light reflected from colored plastic or foil stimulates the movement of carbohydrates into developing fruit resulting in early plant ripening by a week or more. Place a colored tarp under plants or secure the tarp to posts and stretch the tarp along the north side of the tomato bed or row.

Slow to harvest regions. In regions where tomatoes are consistently slow to ripen, here are general tips to speed the harvest every year:

• Early to mature varieties. Grow tomato varieties that require a shorter period of optimum temperatures. Quick-to-harvest tomato varieties that require 55 to 70 days from transplanting may be best suited for regions where temperatures do not stay in the optimum range long enough to ripen fruit.

• Plant earlier. Start tomato plants indoors and begin to harden off plants four to five weeks before the last frost. Move seedlings into the garden about three weeks before the last frost date. Set them into the ground an inch or so deeper than they were in their cartons and water them in. Place cloches or tomato cages wrapped in plastic around these transplants and protect them from low temperatures until night temperatures are consistently greater than 55°F.

• Keep plants warm. Where nights are cold, place self-standing sleeves or water around plants or flank young plants with flat tiles that hold the sun’s heat during the day and radiate it at night. Plant tomatoes near a wall or the side of a building that faces west or south. The wall will soak up the sun’s heat during the day and radiate it back out at night.

• Stake or cage plants. Support tomato vines with a stake or cage. Grow plants up exposing fruit to sun and air.

• Ensure pollination. On warm, calm days give flower clusters a little shake to aid pollination. Cool, wet weather or hot windy days can inhibit pollination. Blossom drop happens when flowers are not pollinated; where pollination does not happen, fruit will not follow.

I freely confess to being an obsessive tomato grower, experimenting with up to 60 varieties every year in my tiny Croydon plot. Sadly, my anorak-level fixation with the fruit makes much of July and August a long and frustrating wait for them to ripen. Without a greenhouse, my outdoor tomatoes often only just have time to ripen before being clobbered by autumn, not to mention the ever-present threat of late blight. If this sounds familiar to you, fortunately there are several evidence-based techniques anyone can use to speed the ripening of your little flavour bombs, even this late in the year.

Aside from the coddled conditions of a greenhouse, which cheat the seasons forward, the single most effective way to get earlier crops is to pick a variety whose genetics trigger it into fruiting early. There are many, such as ‘Early Girl’ and ‘Sub Arctic Plenty’, but the very earliest is a surprising one: ‘Sungold’. This beautiful orange cherry tomato famed for its sweetness consistently ripens weeks before any other for me – yet no one else seems to mention this. Definitely my choice for the impatient.

Even this late there are two things you can do to force your plants into directing their energies into ripening fruit. First, there is pruning. Limiting the growth of new leaves and roots gives the plant less drains on resources that could go into fruit maturation. This is as simple as keeping on top of removing all side shoots, as well as snipping out the top growth after the plant has produced four trusses.

Want them even faster? Research shows that the fewer trusses you let the plant produce, the quicker they ripen, with an interesting side effect that is each fruit is larger and measurably sweeter, and even more nutrient-dense. I often leave just one truss on some of mine for the best-tasting, earliest-ever fruit. Root pruning is simple, too. Insert a spade into the ground 40cm from the stem of a plant and work your way round in a circle to slice through the longest roots.

Salt-water treatment has been consistently shown to speed tomato ripening in scientific trials. This involves diluting 60g of sea salt into three litres of water and drenching the mixture over the soil once or twice as the tomatoes are ripening, being careful not to wet the leaves. This reduces the plant’s ability to uptake water, mimicking a drought.

The plants react to the stress by speeding up their ripening, but also producing more sugars and aroma compounds that can improve flavour. As the plants are mildly dehydrated, too, this concentrates the fruit even further, with delicious results. At this concentration and application rate, there is no risk of salt accumulating in your soil – in a few weeks it will be washed away by rain. Good luck!

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If your garden tomatoes look like they’ve been placed on hold, you’re not alone! Now it may sound like an easy excuse when we horticulturists blame such things on the weather, but I really think the extreme hot weather we experienced this summer might be the culprit.

Tomato fruits go through several stages of development during their maturation process. During early stages, the fruit continues to grow in size and remains green, typically requiring 40-50 days. Once the fruit has reached full size (called “mature green”), changes in pigment begin to take place, causing the green to fade to light green then to the appropriate pigments for that particular cultivar, be it red, pink, yellow or orange.

Ripening and color development in tomatoes is governed primarily by two factors: temperature and the presence of a naturally occurring hormone called “ethylene.”

The optimum temperature range for ripening mature green tomatoes is 68–77 deg. F. The further temperatures stray from the optimum, the slower the ripening process will be. And, when temperatures are outside the optimum range for extended periods, conditions may become so stressful that the ripening process virtually halts.

At the same time, tomatoes do not produce lycopene and carotene, the pigments responsible for ripe tomato color, when temperatures are above 85 deg. F. So, extended periods of extreme heat cause tomatoes to stop ripening. The resulting fruits often appear yellowish green to yellowish orange.

There’s not much the gardener can do but wait out the weather. As temperatures become more favorable, the ripening process should get back on track, assuming other stresses do not take their toll!
We may still have quite a few more weeks of good growing weather before killing frost; it’s hard to say for sure. But even if frost comes early, keep in mind that tomatoes that have reached at least the mature green stage can be ripened off the vine. Look for a color change to at least a lighter green — and a little bit of blush is even better. Those that are still immature green will never ripen, so save those for the compost pile.

The more green the fruit, the more sensitive it is to chilling injury. Store mature green to slightly blushed fruits at 60-65 deg. F, or warmer if faster ripening is desired. Ripe fruits can be stored cooler, as low as 45 deg. F. The typical home refrigerator is too chilly for storing tomatoes. Instead, pack fruits in shallow layers and keep in a well-aerated location where temperatures can be maintained and progress monitored.

Related Wonders for You to Explore

Quick! What color is a tomato? That’s easy, right? They’re red! Whether you’re enjoying cherry tomatoes in a salad or a thick slice of a beefsteak tomato on a cheeseburger, there’s no denying that rich red color.

If you go searching for a tomato in a garden, though, you might have some trouble if you’re searching for the color red. When tomatoes are growing on the vine, they’re not bright red like they are when they’re ripe and ready to eat. Instead, they’re green.

What’s going on here? Are these vegetables (or fruits?) transformers? Why do they grow green on the vine and then turn red when they’re ripe and ready to eat?

Tomatoes can give thanks to two of their pigments they use for photosynthesis for their color-changing transformation: chlorophyll and lycopene. Chlorophyll is green, and lycopene is red.

When tomatoes first begin to grow, they contain mainly chlorophyll. This gives them their green color you see when they’re on the vine. As they mature, however, a change begins to take place.

As harvest time approaches, days get shorter and temperatures fall. When this happens, chlorophyll starts to dissolve and lycopene takes over. You can watch this process unfold from the outside, as the lycopene’s red coloring slowly turns tomatoes from green to red.

Tomatoes must be at the mature green stage for this transformation to begin. At that point, tomatoes start to produce an odorless, tasteless, and invisible chemical gas called ethylene. Ethylene gas triggers the ripening process in tomatoes and other fruits. For example, it is the reason bananas bruise. In addition to turning red, tomatoes also get softer as their sugar levels rise and their acid levels fall, making them ready to eat.

While it may take months for tomatoes to grow, the ripening process occurs quickly during a fairly-short period of time. That’s why most farmers harvest tomatoes when they’re still green on the vine. As they’re sent to market, they’re treated with ethylene gas to jump-start the ripening process, so that they arrive at stores ripe and ready to eat.

Not all tomatoes will turn red at the same rate. Scientists have learned that smaller varieties of tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, tend to ripen faster than larger varieties, like beefsteak tomatoes.

Temperature also plays a role in the ripening process. Lycopene will not develop easily in either very cold or very hot temperatures. For tomatoes to ripen properly, the temperature needs to stay approximately 50-85º F.

If you grow tomatoes at home, you will occasionally find a tomato that has fallen off the vine while it’s still green. Likewise, you might buy a tomato at the store that’s still mainly green. Should you throw away these tomatoes?

No! If you have an unripe tomato, simply place it in a paper bag and give it a little time. As long as the tomato has reached the mature green stage, the paper bag will trap ethylene gas as it’s produced by the tomato. The trapped ethylene gas will help to speed the tomato along to full ripeness in a matter of days!

Yellow vs red tomatoes – Colour science

Fruits and vegetables are probably the most colourful foods on our table. Meats and fish are all pretty similar (white/reddish), carbs are often yellow/brown/white, but fruits and vegetables can be so many different colours. These colours aren’t just pretty, they are also fascinating for scientists to study. Colour molecules are often highly complex and often seem to have nutritional benefits.

Whereas we were used to red tomatoes, nowadays there’s also yellow tomatoes in our supermarkets and market stores (as I also saw when visiting a greenhouse!). It got me wondering what the differences between the two are. Is it just colour molecules, or is there more to it?

From green to yellow or red

During ripening of tomatoes various processes occur simultaneously. The sugar concentration in the tomatoes will increase, but the most apparent one is the change of colour. Tomatoes are green when they start growing and only when they stary ripening is when they start turning red.

The green colour in tomatoes is caused by chlorophyll. The concentration of chlorophyll decreases a lot during ripening. The concentrations of carotenoids (the molecules that will give the tomatoes their colour) on the other hand will increase significantly. In the case of red tomatoes (see more below) the concentration of lycopene increases a lot.

This ripening process is not unique for tomatoes, a lot of other fruits and vegetables have similar ripening processes.

What makes a tomato red?

The colour red of a tomato is caused by mostly one molecule: lycopene. Lycopene belongs to the group of carotenoids. It is a quite strong colour red. It has this red colour thanks to all the double bonds. These bonds can influence light in such a way that only specific wavelengths are reflected.

All-trans lycopene (source).

Apart from lycopene, rd tomatoes also contain quite some β-carotene. This molecule also gives oranges and carrots its orange colour, it has an orange/red hue.

The Beta-carotene molecule, again a lot of double bonds. Yellow tomatoes in a green house as well as green (unripe) tomatoes that still have to turn yellow.

What makes a tomato yellow?

Yellow tomatoes on the other hand have a very different concentration of these colour molecules. They contain far less lycopene and β-carotene than the red variety. In some cases the concentration goes down to 0%, but in most cases there is a reduction of more than 90%! This explains why they’ve lost their red/orange hue.

Nevertheless, yellow tomatoes still contain a lot of carotenoids. Carotenoids are a very large group of molecules, to which also carotene and lycopene belong. However, the yellow tomatoes contain slightly different types of cerotenoids. They seem to contain more lutein, this is a colour molecule which makes fruits and vegetables, yes indeed yellow!

Lutein molecule (source).

The fact that these colour molecules are all closely related makes it easier for growers to obtain different colours of tomatoes. They don’t have to aim for species that make completely new molecules, instead, they only have to tweak the existing processes.

Red vs. yellow tomatoes

The main difference between red and yellow tomatoes simply is their colour. This also causes their compositions to be slightly different. They contain different molecules, simply because it’s these molecules that change the colour. There are some other differences, for instance in vitamin C content and other minor components. However, the exact differences depend a lot on the exact variety tested.

The same goes for taste. Some claim yellow tomatoes are sweeter, but it will strongly depend which yellow tomato you’re comparing to which red tomato. The same goes for tartness and the related acidity.

Sources

I’ve used at least two scientific articles that have analyzed yellow and red tomatoes (1 and 2). The New York Times also wrote about the differences between the two colours of tomtoes.

The ripening of tomatoes and the concentrations of components during ripening has been investigated by Dutch researchers.

Why are my tomatoes not turning red? This is a very common question! In this post, I will talk about when tomatoes should turn red, and give you some reasons why they don’t. Then I’ll share my five tricks for ripening tomatoes on the vine faster.

Are your tomatoes slow to ripen on the vine? There’s nothing more frustrating about growing vegetables than being forced to frantically pick tons of green tomatoes the night before frost.

Then you bring them inside to ripen, where most of them end up rotting in a paper bag on your counter instead. Yuck!

If you live in a cold climate like I do, you start to get pretty nervous in late summer when your plants are full of large tomatoes that aren’t ripening. If you’re tired of being stuck with tons of green tomatoes in the fall, I’ve got you covered.

But first, let’s talk about when tomatoes should ripen, and the most common problems that cause them to stay green.

When Do Tomatoes Turn Red?

Tomato ripening time depends on a few things, like the variety of tomato you have, and your growing zone. But in general, they should begin turning red about 6-8 weeks after the flowers are pollinated.

As far as what month tomatoes ripen… again, that depends on a lot of factors. But here in Minnesota (z4b), my early tomatoes start ripening on the vine sometime in late-June. But the bulk of them start turning red in mid-July.

Red tomatoes ripened on the plant

Why Won’t My Tomatoes Ripen On The Vine?

There are a few things that prevent tomatoes from ripening. Some varieties will mature faster than others, and the temperature is a huge factor too. Tomatoes won’t turn red if it’s too hot (above 85F) or too cold (below 50F).

Also, as tomato plants mature through the summer, they can become huge and overgrown. When that happens, they tend to spend most of their energy on growing leaves and flowers, rather than ripening tomatoes.

Properly pruning tomatoes throughout the summer is important, and will result in more red tomatoes. So keep that in mind for the future.

But this won’t help you if you’re staring at a bunch of green tomatoes not turning red in late summer. Don’t worry, it’s not too late! There are still a few tricks you can try to give them one last push to ripen before cold temperatures are here to stay.

Related Post: Building Sturdy Tomato Cages

Tomatoes ripening on the vine

5 Tricks For Ripening Tomatoes On The Vine Faster

We can’t force the plant to ripen tomatoes on the vine, but there are a few things we can do to help them out. So, if fall is quickly approaching, and you’re stuck wondering how to turn green tomatoes red, then try these five tricks…

1. Cut off the new growth – The growing season is coming to an end, so your plant doesn’t need to waste anymore energy growing new leaves. Topping the plant and cutting off all the new growth will give it more energy to ripen tomatoes faster.

2. Trim off the flowers – Since it takes a couple of months for tomatoes to ripen after the flowers have been pollinated, it’s a pretty sure bet that new flowers aren’t going to amount to anything. So pick off all the flowers.

3. Pinch off the suckers – Suckers are the smaller stems that grow between a branches and leaf joint. They get their name because they suck energy from the plant. So be sure to pinch off all of the suckers you see on your tomato plant.

4. Pluck off tiny tomatoes – I know it’s hard to remove any tomatoes from the plant, but these poor little babies won’t have time to mature before frost. Pull them off so your plant can focus on ripening the larger green tomatoes instead.

5. Prune some of the leaves – Don’t cut off all of the leaves, deleafing tomatoes is never a good idea. But if your plant is huge and full of healthy green leaves, you can trim off much of that vigorous growth.

Getting my tomatoes to ripen on the vine

Sometimes tomatoes can be slow to ripen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help to speed things up. If you’re tired of your tomatoes not ripening on the vine, then try these easy hacks to turn green tomatoes red in no time.

More Vegetable Gardening Posts

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  • How To Grow Garlic In Your Garden

Share your tomato ripening tips in the comments section below.

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Tomatoes are my arch nemesis. I work hard each year to plant enough tomato plants to provide the right amount of tomatoes I need for canning. Without fail, something goes wrong. Sometimes, my tomatoes don’t turn red. One day, blight infected my tomatoes. It’s always something.

For me, I like to find the answer to my questions. Why is something happening, or not happening in this case? In the case of tomatoes not turning red, there are some definite reasons.

Why Tomatoes Turn Red

There is a whole, scientific reason why tomatoes turn red, but let’s sum it up to make it easier to understand.

Lycopene is a chemical naturally found inside of fruits and vegetables that cause them to develop their color. Lycopene isn’t just found in tomatoes; it is in watermelons, apricots and more. Almost 80% of the lycopene you need in your diet is found in tomato products.

Believe it or not, your body processes lycopene better when it is heated. Sources such as ketchup and tomato sauce are perfect for getting lycopene into your diet!

Why do you need lycopene? It is valuable in the fight against heart disease, as well as some cancers (colon, pancreas, bladder, ovaries, and breast to name a few).

6 Reasons Why Your Tomatoes Aren’t Turning Red

1. Longer Time to Maturity

On each seed packet, you will find an average time for maturity for every vegetable you plant. You might be tempted to overlook this date, but I encourage you to pay attention! Certain varieties take less time to mature.

If you have a shorter growing season, you will want to select varieties with a shorter maturity time. It is a good idea also to plug in some longer growing varieties. You can rest assured knowing the shorter varieties will at least yield some fruits for you.

2. Temperatures aren’t Hot Enough

Tomatoes love warm temperatures, which is why you can’t plant them until well after your final frost date for the season.

Unfortunately, our weather in Ohio has been rather unpredictable, and chilly summers are becoming an issue. As I write this, it is the beginning of August and the high for the day barely touched 80 degrees. That is insane!

Sometimes, you will notice your tomatoes turning pink but never reaching the redness needed to indicate ripeness. They lack in flavor, but they will typically ripen if you leave them on your countertops.

3. Temperatures are TOO Hot

On the flip side, your tomatoes can be too hot for your tomatoes to ripen. High temperatures happened a few years ago, leaving my harvest in ruins. Yes, they love the heat, but they don’t want to roast on the vine.

The ideal temperatures for ripening are 70 to 75 degrees F. Once the temperatures go higher than 85 to 90 degrees F, the plant is unable to produce the correct amount of lycopene to create the right pigments. The green ones on your vine will stay green for a long time.

4. You Picked Tomatoes That Aren’t Red

If you grow heirloom plants, there are a lot of varieties that aren’t red. You can buy tomatoes that ripen to pink, yellow, white, orange, purple, and green! They make great additions to the dinner table and farmer’s market stand.

It is easy to forget what varieties you plant. You need to mark each variety, so you know what to look for in ripeness. For example, we always grow Brandywine tomatoes. Brandywine ripens to a beautiful pink, but they never turn red. If I forgot, I would let the entire harvest go to waste waiting for red tomatoes to arrive.

5. Blossom End Rot

Do your tomatoes have black lesions on them, small or big? If so, you have blossom end rot. It is a disease caused by low calcium in your soil. It is highly suggested that you add natural sources of calcium to your soil during the growing season.

Blossom end rot also forms from uneven watering. If you have frequent downpours of rain, blossom end rot can result.

6. Plants Don’t Receive Enough Sunlight

Another possibility is that you selected a bad location for your tomato plants. Tomatoes love heat and sunlight. The plants need at least seven hours of direct sunlight per day.

You might have picked a great location, but planted them too close together. Tomato plants need at least 18 inches to two feet apart, depending on the variety. Large plants, like the Brandywine, need two feet apart to receive adequate sunlight.

If all else fails, you can take some of your green tomatoes and put them in a cardboard box with a few ripened tomatoes. It should encourage the tomatoes to turn red! I know how it feels to have dozens of plants full of green tomatoes and end up with a pitiful harvest.

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It’s really easy to ripen tomatoes at the end of the season – no wrapping required. Use these tips for what to look for and 3 easy steps to make sure your tomatoes don’t go to waste.

I’ve mentioned occasionally (usually writing about things like what to do with pounds of tomatoes) that I ripen tomatoes at the end of the season by harvesting and bringing them indoors, but I haven’t ever written what I do, how to do it, and what to look for. I finally took some pictures for you as I went through this fall ritual a couple weekends ago because it’s super easy and I reliably get tomatoes to ripen with these lazy simple steps.

You’ll usually find me grabbing any tomatoes with ripening potential (more on that later) in October – hopefully late October or early November if it’s been a mild fall – but some years I may have to harvest the green-ish tomatoes at the end of September. Here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon (zone 8) if we get rain off and on for a week or more at the end of the season, the tomatoes start to split and mold. Any time this happens or a heavy, cold rain was predicted, I fill baskets with any tomatoes I can salvage.

What about wrapping each tomato to ripen with newspaper?

As you may have figured out from reading AOC, I like to do things the easy way (freezing vegetables without blanching, designing a garden for easy maintenance, and super easy crafts to name a few). So in in the fall when I have tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and corn coming out of my ears I would never have time to individually wrap each tomato like I read about here.

For example, I had more than a 5-gallon bucket full of green tomatoes this year and didn’t have an hour or more to spend wrapping each of them. But that’s only half of it – then you have to check them by unwrapping each tomato and then re-wrapping the ones that aren’t ripe yet. Over and over again.

Now, all you wrappers out there – I love you. One day I may be you. But my simpler method works for me now – it ripens tomatoes that may go to waste on my vines but are perfect for fresh eating or making into Roasted Tomato Sauce to freeze (I don’t can with late season tomatoes since they are typically from late-blighted vines in my garden).

And since I’m sure there are a few more out there like me (right?…right?), I’m sharing my fairly quick and definitely easy method. Below you’ll find the tips I use to FIND the tomatoes that will ripen (and those that won’t – yes there are some) and then the other two steps I take to ripen tomatoes.

3 Steps to Easily Ripen Tomatoes at the End of the Season

Step 1: Harvest all the tomatoes with “potential.” Of course you will grab those that are already lightly red – that’s a no-brainer. They will even continue to ripen on the window sill or in a bowl. But you’ll also want to look for tomatoes with these signs of ripening potential:

  • A hint of yellow on the side – this tomato pictured happens to be a Pineapple heirloom which is yellow, but if any green tomato is slightly yellow, there’s a good chance that it will ripen if brought inside.
  • Starting to turn pink on the bottom – inspect all sides of the tomatoes and if you see any color, harvest.
  • Any blush of pink on the top – again, harvest with a touch of any color.
  • A red tip – this Amish Paste tomato always starts to ripen at the tips, so I harvest even though the rest is solidly green.

The last photo is what you don’t want to bother harvesting – a solidly green tomato with no hint of color anywhere and is hard as a rock will not ripen inside at all in my experience, so no need to waste your time with it. (But you don’t need to toss solid green tomatoes – they make wonderful salsa verde in place of tomatillos, and of course, fried green tomatoes.)

Step 2: Separate. You’ll want to separate the tomatoes that are lightly red all over from the barely colored ones.

  • Lightly red all over: Simply place the lightly red tomatoes into a bowl and set them on the counter or line them up on a window sill and they will be fully ripe in a couple of days.
  • Barely blushing tomatoes: place them in a brown grocery sack in a single layer, or as close as you can get – sometimes you’ll need to put a few on top of others, but just make sure they are balanced between two on the bottom, so they aren’t directly on top of a tomato. Place slicing tomatoes on their tops to keep them in better condition, and paste tomatoes on their sides. TIP: I’ve found that adding one of the lightly red tomatoes, as pictured above, somehow helps the others to ripen better.
  • After placing the tomatoes in their bags, fold over the tops a couple times and seal with clothespins or other bag holders. Set them on your counter or in a room you can check often (meaning, where you don’t forget about them, ha!).

Step 3: Check your bags regularly. It’s important that these bags of ripening tomatoes be in a place where you can easily check them every couple days, because there will always be one or two that will start to rot and if you can remove it quickly, it won’t spread to the other tomatoes. Pull out the ripe tomatoes, reseal, and check again in a couple of days.

That’s it – three easy steps and a few minutes (depending on the amount of tomatoes you have) and within a week or two you will open the bags to find fully ripened tomatoes!

There are often a few areas that need to be cut off, but this method to ripen tomatoes creates fruit that is terrific fresh in soft tacos, salads, and sandwiches, and of course a couple last batches of garden harvest roasted tomato sauce or plain roasted sauce to use in recipes all winter.

Wondering about that green tomato at the bottom of the bag pictured above? There’s usually one or two of those – the tomatoes that refuse to ripen. Don’t sweat it – just gather them to make salsa or fry them!

How long do these ripened tomatoes last?

When I ripen tomatoes this way, I’ve had some tomatoes still going in their bags all the way into mid December. But years when I have to harvest earlier it’s usually through October. But that’s still a pretty good run!

How do you ripen tomatoes at the end of the season?

This article has been updated – it was originally published October 2013.

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