Green tomatoes are simply unripe tomatoes that have not fully matured and turned red on the vine before the end of the growing season. As temperatures drop in the fall, tomato plants slow or stop production of new fruit. Any remaining green tomatoes left on the vines will not have time to ripen before the first frost. Luckily, green tomatoes can be picked and stored to ripen gradually over the winter months. This allows home gardeners to enjoy vine-ripened tomatoes long after the summer growing season ends.
Should you pick green tomatoes before the first frost?
Yes, it is recommended to pick all remaining mature sized green tomatoes on your plants before the first hard frost in your area. Light frosts will not immediately damage a tomato plant, but a hard killing frost that freezes the vines and leaves will also ruin any fruit left on the plant. Picking the green tomatoes ahead of time allows you to bring them indoors and ripen them slowly over weeks or months. If left on the vine, they will either freeze and rot or never fully ripen once nights become too cold.
When to pick green tomatoes from the vine?
Time your green tomato harvest around 2 weeks before your average first frost date. You want the fruit to be as mature as possible but still unripe. Choose the largest green tomatoes on each plant and leave any fruits that are underdeveloped or golf ball sized. Look for tomatoes that are full sized but show no blush of color yet. They should be firm to the touch with smooth, shiny skin. Handle them gently to avoid bruises. Use pruning shears or scissors to cut the tomatoes from the vine, leaving a short stem attached.
How to store freshly picked green tomatoes?
After picking, allow the tomatoes to cure at room temperature for 1-2 weeks. Place them in a single layer on newspapers or cardboard and store in a cool, shady spot around 55-65°F. The curing process helps seal up any cuts and micro-abrasions on the skin from harvesting. Once cured, you can then transfer the tomatoes to their long term storage container.
What is the best way to ripen green tomatoes indoors?
There are several methods that can be used to ripen green tomatoes indoors over the winter:
On the Counter
Simply letting them sit at room temperature on your kitchen counter is an easy option. Check the tomatoes every few days for ripening and remove any that start to spoil or rot. Keep them out of direct sunlight and aim for around 65-70°F if possible. This gradual warming encourages the tomatoes to continue the ripening process.
In a Paper Bag
Place green tomatoes individually in paper bags, fold over the top of each bag, and store in a dark cupboard or closet. Check them daily and re-bag any ripe tomatoes to keep them from over-ripening. The paper bag traps ethylene gases released as the fruit ripens, speeding up the ripening process.
Wrapped in Newspaper
Individually wrapping green tomatoes in newspaper insulates them and traps some ethylene gas. The ripening timeframe will likely be longer than with other methods. Check them regularly and re-wrap ripe fruits in fresh newspaper to extend their shelf life.
Store green tomatoes and bananas together in a box, basket or paper bag. Bananas give off high levels of ethylene, which will hasten ripening. Keep checking both daily to use them at their peak. Once a tomato shows signs of color, separate it from the bananas.
What are the best storage containers for green tomatoes?
The most suitable containers for storing green tomatoes to ripen over winter include:
– Cardboard boxes or wooden crates – line the bottom with newspaper
– Bamboo baskets or bushel baskets – allow air circulation
– Mesh bags or burlap sacks – provide breathability
– Open plastic bins or buckets – avoid moisture build up
– Paper bags – use small bags to ripen individually
– Storage racks designed for root vegetables like onions and garlic also work well for green tomatoes, allowing air flow on all sides.
The key is to use containers with adequate ventilation and air flow. Avoid sealing the tomatoes in plastic bags or airtight lids at this stage. Placing a sheet of newspaper or paper towel in the bottom of containers will absorb excess moisture and keep stored tomatoes from direct contact with surfaces.
Where is the best location to store green tomatoes for ripening?
The ideal storage location for green tomatoes is a space that maintains a consistent temperature between 55-65°F and has good air circulation. Possible areas include:
– Unheated basement or cellar
– Walk-in pantry or closet
– Insulated garage or outbuilding
– Under the bed or bottom dresser drawer in a spare bedroom
– Behind books on a bookshelf
– Under the stairs
– Back corner of a heated mudroom or entryway
Avoid storing green tomatoes in areas that get too hot, too cold or humid. Temperatures below 50°F will halt ripening while excess warmth over 70°F can cause uneven soft spots and rot. Low humidity is preferred, along with moderate airflow.
What conditions are needed for green tomatoes to ripen indoors?
Green tomatoes need proper temperature, humidity, airflow, and ethylene gas levels to ripen successfully when stored indoors. Ideal conditions include:
– Temperature: 55-65°F
– Humidity: 85-90%
– Airflow: Moderate ventilation and air circulation
– Ethylene: Exposure to ethylene-producing fruits like apples or bananas will hasten ripening
Aim to provide steady, cool conditions without large fluctuations. Sudden drops or spikes in temperature cause uneven ripening and spoilage. Some air exchange is beneficial to prevent excess moisture but avoid direct drafts on the fruit. Grouping tomatoes with ethylene-releasing produce introduces the natural plant hormone that triggers ripening.
How long does it take for green tomatoes to ripen indoors?
On average, green tomatoes can take 2-8 weeks to fully ripen once picked and stored indoors. The timeframe depends on several factors:
– Maturity level – tomatoes picked later in the season with some color change will ripen faster than those harvested fully green and undeveloped.
– Storage method – creating a warmer microenvironment with ethylene exposure speeds ripening.
– Tomato type – heirlooms and varieties bred for harvest at later maturity stages ripen more quickly than standard slicing tomatoes.
– Storage location – warmer spaces within the ideal temperature range will hasten ripening.
Check stored green tomatoes every 2-3 days for signs of ripening. Expect heirloom varieties and late-season tomatoes to take 2-3 weeks. Hard, fully green tomatoes harvested well before frost could take 6-8 weeks or longer.
What are signs that green tomatoes are ripening when stored indoors?
Look for these cues that indicate your stored green tomatoes are progressing in their ripening process:
– Color change – skin lightens from dark green to pale green, creamy white or starts blushing pink/red.
– Softening – firm texture begins feeling more pliable and giving to gentle pressure.
– Aroma – pleasant tomato fragrance becomes noticeable when held close.
– Shoulder indent – the hard ridge where the tomato stem attaches sinks inward and softens.
– Internal development – cut into a sample fruit to check seeds and jelly development.
The combination of color transformation, softening skin, ripening aromas and loss of the stem indent are clear signs that green tomatoes are nearing ripeness when stored at home.
What causes green tomatoes not to ripen when stored indoors?
Several issues can prevent stored green tomatoes from properly ripening:
– Cool temperatures below 50°F halt ripening enzyme reactions.
– Temperatures fluctuating widely between day/night cause uneven results.
– Lack of ethylene gas exposure prevents or delays color change and softening.
– High humidity encourages rot and fungal issues to develop.
– Poor air circulation allows moisture to accumulate and mold growth.
– Storing tomatoes that were overly immature or damaged during harvest.
– Containers that are too crowded prevent air movement.
– Sunlight exposure, rodents, or physical injury during storage.
Maintaining the right conditions, gently handling mature green fruit, and monitoring ripening progress minimizes problems.
What to do with green tomatoes that fail to ripen?
While the goal is fully ripe red tomatoes, some stored greens may sometimes fail to fully develop acceptable color or texture for slicing and eating fresh. There are still plenty of uses for these disappointing fruits:
– Use in cooked green tomato recipes like fried green tomatoes, chutneys, jams, and pickles. Heat diminishes bitterness.
– Dice and add fresh to salads, salsas, bruschetta, and Italian pasta dishes for tangy flavor.
– Puree or process with herbs and vinegar into a green tomato sauce. Freeze extras into cubes.
– Slice, dehydrate, and grind into distinctive green tomato powder to add bold flavor to rubs, marinades, baked goods, and spice blends.
– Ferment sliced green tomatoes into a tangy salsa verde. The lactic acid fermentation reduces bitterness.
– Chop, freeze, and add straight from the freezer to chili, soups, stews, and braised meat dishes all winter long.
Can you ripen green tomatoes after frost?
Light frosts will damage the tomato plant foliage but immature fruit is more cold tolerant, especially if it is protected within dense growth. As long as the frost has not penetrated deep into the core, green tomatoes can often still be salvaged.
Pick any tomatoes larger than a golf ball before the next hard freeze. Discard any with blackened skin or mushy spots. Move them indoors and ripen using your preferred storage method. Expect ripening to take longer if the fruits were significantly chilled. Small, hard green tomatoes may not mature properly.
How to tell if green tomatoes are still usable after frost damage?
Inspect each tomato after exposure to freezing temperatures:
– Check for mushy spots, wrinkled skin or dark water-soaked patches indicating interior damage. Discard any with signs of rot.
– Cut into tomatoes that show no obvious exterior defects. Discard any with blackened seeds or jelly inside.
– Tomatoes that appear firm throughout with bright green seeds can be ripened. Core temperature matters most.
– Small golf ball sized fruits are unlikely to ripen well even if the skins seems fine. Prioritize larger tomatoes.
Salvageable green tomatoes will withstand a light frost with minimal damage but several hard freezes penetrate deeper. If the core remains undamaged, there is still potential to ripen the fruit.
Allowing green tomatoes to ripen indoors is a simple way to extend the tomato season and enjoy homegrown flavor well past the end of your garden’s production. Look for mature, firm green fruits and carefully harvest before frost. Cure them for 1-2 weeks then store using your method of choice in ideal ripening conditions. Expect most green tomatoes kept between 55-65°F to develop full color and flavor within 2-8 weeks. Monitor them closely and remove ripe tomatoes promptly to prevent over-ripening. Even tomatoes nipped by frost can often be rescued if their cores remain undamaged. With a little patience and care, it is possible to keep enjoying vine-ripened tomatoes all winter long.