Knowing how to ripen green tomatoes can make the most of your garden. Perfectly-ripened tomatoes are the most flavorful and robust. There’s no doubt that vine-ripened fruits and vegetables far supersede the flavors of anything you would be able to find in the grocery store.
However, gardeners are often left with green tomatoes on their vines. Whether the temperature dropped quickly in your area or it’s too hot, you can still make the most of these tomatoes so you don’t have to throw them away.
In addition, gardeners may want to preemptively pick green tomatoes before the birds get them. Birds have a way of finding just-ripening tomatoes. It is disheartening to come out to the garden only to find holes in tomatoes from birds and insects.
With the help of this guide, you’ll learn how to quickly ripen tomatoes, using various methods that are easy to follow. Let’s learn how to ripen tomatoes into delicious fruits.
How to Ripen Green Tomatoes
If you were to take a look at your tomatoes while they are ripening, you’d find that some varieties of ripening green tomatoes will turn red on the side that is opposite to the sun. So, although the popular belief is that your tomatoes need a lot of sunlight to reach the perfect color, that is not always the case.
What seems to be the most important factor is temperature. Tomatoes that are kept in a warm environment are going to ripen faster than those in cold climates. The optimum temperature for tomatoes to ripen on the vine is 70 – 75 degrees F.
Knowing this allows you to slow down the process by putting them in a cool area or speeding it up by placing them somewhere moderately warm.
Another critical part of the process is ethylene, which is a gas that is typically used during commercial production. Ethylene is used to help ripen vegetables and fruits before they are sold in grocery stores, which allows them to have entirely red coloring.
With that said, you don’t need an industrial manufacturing plant to take advantage of this gas. That’s because ethylene is naturally produced by apples and bananas; it’s an age-old trick that we will discuss below.
How to Ripen Tomatoes Off the Vine
Even though it would be ideal to allow tomatoes to have more than enough time to ripen on their own, frequently, you will need to refer to how to ripen tomatoes off the vine. There are plenty of popular methods, ranging from putting them in a paper bag with fruits or storing them in a cardboard box where it’s warm.
Here we discuss four of the most popular options.
1. Cardboard Box Method
With this method, you will want to find a decently-sized cardboard box that allows you to put all of your tomatoes inside in a single layer. Ensure that you line the bottom of the box with newspaper or fruit cardboard if you have some available before adding in the tomatoes.
Once they have been entirely spread across the bottom of the box, cover them with another layer of newspaper and place them somewhere warm in your home.
Another variation of this method is to allocate a wooden drawer specifically to ripening tomatoes, as it can have the same effect. You must check on them regularly to make sure the ripening process has begun and that they haven’t started to spoil.
2. Paper Bag Method
Our favorite method is putting green tomatoes in a paper bag. Using the paper bag method, you’ll also be relying on the ethylene gas produced by fruit, such as an apple or a banana. You will want to put your tomatoes in a paper bag, up to 10 at the most, and add a ripening banana or apple.
Seal the paper bag and place it in a dry and warm location while allowing the fruits and vegetables to ripen at a reasonable pace. The most important tip for this method is to check for signs of rotting or molding regularly, as this can happen with either the banana or the tomatoes.
If you don’t have an apple or a banana, you can still put the tomatoes in the brown paper bag. Seal it and wait. It will take longer for them to ripen, but they will in time. You can also set the tomatoes in the bag to get them started and then add the banana or apple when you get one.
3. Jar Method
Another tested and traditional method is to put two to three tomatoes in a glass jar, sealing the container, and then letting it rest in a warm room to speed up the ripening process. Tomatoes are known to release ethylene on their own, so a sealed jar helps to contain the gas so that they are ripening themselves.
However, this environment is the perfect breeding ground for mold, so you will want to make sure you regularly open the jar to alleviate any excessive moisture or warmth.
4. Hanging Method – Not for All Climate Zones
This method for ripening green tomatoes is the hanging method. It’s a fantastic way to save all the tomatoes on your plants right before the end of the season and if there is a frost on the horizon.
By removing the entirety of your tomato plant — roots and all — you can hang it upside down in your cellar or garage as long as it is weatherproofed and moderately warm. Note that the temperatures will have to be above freezing.
This method allows the sugars in the tomatoes to continue circulating so that they can ripen, even if it’s cold outside. You’ll find that this is one of the best options for producing flavorful tomatoes.
However, only do this if the tomato plants will die from frost. Do not use this method if you live in a hardiness zone that has mild winters (for example, USDA hardiness zone 9b). If your tomato plants can survive the cold months, you won’t want to ripen tomatoes this way.
Indeterminate tomato varieties will produce tomatoes several times throughout a growing season, and if protected from frost, can live for several years. This is also true for determinate tomato plants. While determinate tomato varieties mostly produce once in a growing season, depending on the variety, they can often produce in the next year.
Ripening Tomatoes on the Vine
If you’re fortunate enough to have enough time left in the season to allow your tomatoes to continue ripening on the vine, there are several additional ways to help promote them to transform from a bright green to a deep red.
These are our favorite tips that beginners will love to use, especially if you want to continue growing your tomato plants.
1. Stop Spraying
When you’re heading into fall, there’s no need to continue spraying your tomatoes for diseases, which can reduce the time it takes to manage them. At this point, your best bet is to remove any diseased leaves and throw them away, rather than maintaining them with disease-resistant sprays.
2. Continue Feeding
It’s best to continue to feed your tomato plants later into the year. This can help to provide the plant with a little extra energy to help it get the last boost of ripening for the season. Compost tea is a phenomenal option, as is fish emulsion, to help speed up the ripening process.
3. Protect from Frost
If you know that there is an early frost in the upcoming forecast, you will want to ensure that you protect your plants. This will protect them from dying before they have the chance to finish their ripening cycle.
For gardeners who want to keep their plants outdoors until the last minute, we recommend using on a row cover or a massive sheet. These will keep your tomatoes protected. You will want to make sure to cover the plants at night and remove the sheet during the day so that they still have enough sunlight.
4. Protect from Heat
If you live in a hot climate, you will want to ensure you are watering enough. Depending on if you have monsoon rains, this may be daily or every other day. Setting them up on irrigation is an easy way to keep them watered.
Be sure to keep the tomatoes out of the direct afternoon sun. When it’s over 90 degrees — lycopene and carotene — which are essential to turn tomatoes red — don’t produce. If you are growing tomatoes in pots, you can easily move them to a shaded area or hang a shade sail.
Reasons to Pick Green Tomatoes and Ripen at Home
1. Harvest green tomatoes before it gets too hot
I live in gardening zone 9b. When I grow tomatoes in the spring and into summer, I often pick tomatoes when they are green. I do this because it gets so hot and the tomatoes don’t ripen on their own on the vine. I harvest green tomatoes, put them in brown bags with apples or bananas, close the bags, and leave them on my counter.
2. Ripening Green Tomatoes Before Birds and Insects Eat Them
When I grow tomatoes, I don’t use bird netting. This means I often have to deal with birds getting the tomatoes before I do. Depending on the climate and other factors, sometimes insects will make holes in the tomatoes as well. Rather than composting partially-eaten tomatoes, I will pick them when the tomatoes seem fully-grown but are still green.
Tomatoes are among the easiest fruits to grow. Whether you have just planted your first crop of tomatoes or if you are an experienced gardener, there are plenty of questions about ripening tomatoes to get the most out of your crop as possible.
1. Can I ripen green tomatoes in the house?
Yes, there are several ways that you can ripen your tomatoes in your home. The easiest is to put them in a brown paper bag with an apple or intact banana. The ethylene from the fruit will help ripen them. Seal it and keep it in somewhere in the kitchen where it won’t have temperature fluctuations. Putting the bag in a kitchen cabinet or cupboard is ideal. In time, you will have ripe, red tomatoes.
2. How do you get green tomatoes to turn red?
The process of green tomatoes turning red is also known as ripening. You can help ripen them in many ways. If you want to learn how to make tomatoes ripe while your plant is still outdoors, you will need to make sure they are regularly protected from pests and blights, as well as frost.
You will also want to make sure you feed them regularly and water them adequately. This encourages them to produce more energy for a more efficient ripening process.
When it comes to ripening late-season tomatoes indoors, you can use the tips and tricks we discussed above, such as hanging the plant in a cellar or putting them in a paper bag with a fruit that produces ethylene.
3. How long does it take to ripen green tomatoes?
When you’re trying to figure out how to ripen tomatoes, it all depends on the gardener. Each person has their idea of what is ripe to them. Some individuals prefer to cultivate their tomatoes when they are pink. Others like to wait until they achieve a deep red color because these could be the most flavorful.
It can take an average of 40 to 60 days for tomatoes to fully ripen on the vine and have the red coloring that you expect. Standard-sized tomatoes can take up to 30 days to blossom to a mature green. Depending on how hot it is, it can take an additional 30 days to change color.
4. What is the optimum temperature to ripen tomatoes?
The best temperature in order to ripen tomatoes is 70 – 75 degrees F. When it reaches 90 degrees F and hotter, ripening often slows down or stops completely. In consistently hot weather — such as summertime in gardening zone 9b — the pigments which give tomatoes their orange and red color can’t produce. These are lycopene and carotene. When this happens, tomatoes remain in their mature green phase.
You can speed up the ripening process by picking them and letting them turn red indoors.
5. How do I ripen a lot of tomatoes at once?
If you want to harvest and ripen tomatoes a lot of green tomatoes at once, you can put them in a large cardboard box. Line the bottom with newspaper if possible. Add an apple or a banana along with the tomatoes. Add two if it is a very large box. Seal the box so no light gets inside. Soon you will have red tomatoes. You can also put them in a separate drawer in your kitchen where it is warm to speed up the process. Be sure to line the drawer.
Ripening Green Tomatoes
Even though green tomatoes are beautiful and the literal fruits of your hard work, they aren’t ideal for eating. It’s important to know how to ripen green tomatoes.
Grow a variety of tomatoes, such as roma tomatoes, which ripen well indoors. It’s important that there’s some “give” and that they aren’t too firm when you pick them.
Larger varieties, such as beefsteak tomatoes, may take longer to ripen on the vine because of their size. Be ready to harvest tomatoes when they are green if you don’t have a bird cover over your garden.
Depending on how you want to use the homegrown tomatoes, consider whether growing determinate tomatoes or indeterminate tomatoes is better for you. If you live in a climate with a mild winter, you may want to consider indeterminate so they will live through the frost and produce for several years.
From giving them time to grow properly on the vine, to taking the individual crops inside to ripen off the vine, there are plenty of easy ways to help them turn red. Also, consider learning how to grow hydroponic tomatoes for a soilless way to grow tomatoes.