Are there still green tomatoes hanging on the vine and a hard frost is coming your way? For far too long gardeners have shaken their collective heads in disgust at the loss of robust and juicy looking tomatoes that simply are not going to ripen in time to beat Mother Nature.
Sure, you can try to cover your still producing tomato plants with a sheet, tarp, or piece of plastic to protect them from an oncoming frost, but at some point, the weather is going to win out and outdoor garden plants will succumb to the cold.
Before reducing your tomato plants to the compost pile, pick all of your green tomatoes or turning tomatoes and take them indoors to ripen. You may not have a 100% success rate – especially dealing with wholly green tomatoes, but you will be able to save a large percentage of them.
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What Kind of Tomatoes Can You Manually Ripen?
Placing partially ripe tomatoes in a windowsill should allow them to continue naturally in only a few days. But we are talking about nearly all green tomatoes here folks – you really can ripen them on your own and use them to eat raw or in recipes.
To determine which tomatoes are the best candidates for manual ripening indoors, there are a few easy tests that you can administer – and only have to sacrifice a couple of green tomatoes in the process.
Test #1. Check each green or slightly yellowing tomato to see if a tiny tinge of color exist at the blossom end. If such coloring exists and the tomato is not soft like a young tomato but more solid like a maturing tomato, it should be a good candidate for manual ripening.
Test #2. Cut a tomato in half to see if the interior is yellowish or has a sticky (jelly-like) tissue in the middle. If both exist, all green tomatoes that look similar on the outside should be able to be ripened manually.
Although the sliced open green tomato itself can no longer be ripened, it can be fried, used to make green tomato pickles, or green tomato relish.
Ripening green tomatoes will likely only require some items you already have on hand – no special equipment or batteries required!
Tomatoes release their own ethylene gas so when grouped together in an enclosed space they should begin to ripen, but if you add a banana or an apple to the mix (which release more ethylene gas) they will ripen quicker, and decrease the chances or rot or mold developing.
Here’s a full video of Tara showing 3 of the 4 methods step by step:
Jar Method – For Cherry and Grape Green Tomatoes
- firm-fitting lid
- 1 banana ripe or ripening
- 4-5 green tomatoes small
- Remove all of the twigs, stems, leaves, or vines that might be attached to the tomatoes.
- Wash and air dry the tomatoes.
- Place about four or five small tomatoes in a jar that has a firm fitting lid, like a Mason jar or a crock.
- Place a ripe or ripening banana inside the crock or jar and close it firmly. Make sure the jar or crock is not filled too tightly, mashing the tomatoes and the banana too closely together can cause bruising or molding.
- Place the jar or crock containing the green tomatoes and the banana in a warm and preferably semi-humid location that does not get direct sunlight.
- Check the progress on the ripening of the green tomatoes daily to make sure there is not any rot developing. You may have to replace the banana once during the processing.
- It will take about one week to 14 days for the tomatoes to fully ripen.
Paper Bag Method – For 4 to 6 Medium to Large Tomatoes
- Place four to six medium to large green tomatoes in a paper bag. I use sacks that are a little larger than a school lunch sack. If you have a fullsize store brown paper bag, you should be able to ripen up to 12 tomatoes inside.
- Place 1 to 2 bananas inside – depending upon the size of the sack and the number of tomatoes. For the size of sack and number of tomatoes that I use, one banana should do the trick. Do not place too many tomatoes inside because doing so can bruise them and facilitate rot.
- Roll the sack down tightly towards the tomatoes and tape or staple together to prevent it from opening back up and to decrease air flow.
- Put the paper bag in a cool and slightly humid place for up to two weeks.
- Check the progress of the ripening tomatoes every few days to ensure no rot is occurring and to see if the banana needs replaced with a fresh one.
Some folks use plastic grocery sacks with a few air holes punched in them to ripen tomatoes. I have not personally tried this because I do not use plastic bags, but I am told that they work well as well.
Cardboard Box Method for Ripening Green Tomatoes (For Large or Dozens of Tomatoes)
- cardboard box
- black and white newspaper
- 12 to 24 green tomatoes large
- 1 banana ripe
- Line the bottom of the cardboard box with black and white newspaper – not glossy and preferably no colored ink. Some folks individually wrap every tomato in newspaper instead of just lining the bottom of the box with it. This step is optional but highly recommended to help speed up the ripening process and to decrease chances of molding.
- Place 12 to 24 medium to large green tomatoes in a cardboard box.
- Fold the flaps of the cardboard box closed. If necessary, place something with enough weight to make them stay closed but not so heavy that the box is damaged, on top. I recommend against taping the box closed because when you check the ripening progress every few days or replaced a rotting banana, some of the cardboard will be pulled off and could infuse too much air into the box.
- Place the box of green tomatoes in a warm but slightly humid place for up to two weeks to ripen.
- You can add a second layer of black and white newspaper on top of the tomatoes to create space for a second row of green tomatoes. But, do not add more than two layers or the weight on top can become so heavy that the tomatoes on the lower layers are bruised, or worse yet crushed and ruined. When creating a second layer, use about five to seven sheets of newspaper or a piece of cardboard cut to fit inside the box.
These are the tomatoes right after they were placed inside the box to start the ripening process:
And these are the same tomatoes after 8 days. As you can see, some of them are ready to eat:
Let’s take a closer look at those three. Aren’t they beautiful?
Whole Plant Hanging Method to Ripen Green Tomatoes
- Remove the entire tomato plant from the ground – after picking any remaining ripe tomatoes. Depending upon your soil, you may be able to tug firmly from the bottom of the above ground stem and lift out, but using a shovel to dig it out might be necessary. The roots MUST remain intact for the hanging ripening process to work.
- Gently shake as much dirt off of the roots as you can without dislodging the green tomatoes.
- Hang the tomato plant upside down, just as you would herbs to ripen indoors.
- The tomato plant MUST avoid any environmental extremes, such as being in complete darkness or indirect sunlight.
The location where you store the green tomatoes during the ripening process is vital to your success. The temperature should range between 55 F to 70 F degrees, ideally (that’s between 12 C and 21 C).
Place the unripened tomatoes in a sack, jar, box – or hanging them in a warmer place will speed up the ripening process. But, if you raise the temperature more than slightly, the chances of rot or mold developing increases substantially.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.