Learn how to ripen green tomatoes long after the frost. Pick green tomatoes from the vine, and make the most of your harvest when you store them inside.
Our growing season is short compared to other places in the country, so we start our tomatoes from seed indoors and then transplant the seedlings in our high tunnel for the rest of the growing season.
Even when we use these tricks, we sometimes find ourselves short on time to ripen all of our tomatoes on the vine.
Tomatoes are not a frost-resistant fruit and will be killed at the first hard frost. So what do you do if you still have green tomatoes to pick from the vine?
You can make the most of your harvest when you store them inside. Follow along as I teach you how to ripen green tomatoes long after the frost. This method works for all tomato varieties, from large brandywines to tiny cherry tomatoes.
Why I Love This Method
While green tomatoes are edible, they tend to be limited in how they can be eaten. Tomatoes that are fully ripened provide not only a larger variety of uses but also contain a slightly higher nutritional profile.
For most, eating a fresh tomato from your garden later in November is a luxury. Green tomatoes ripened indoors can also be cooked or frozen for later use. Pro-Tip: We often roast these tomatoes because roasting helps concentrate the natural sugars, which really brings out the sweetness.
While green ripened tomatoes are very versatile, it is essential to note they are not suitable for fermenting because they have a lower sugar content than those ripened on the vine and they have a tendency to mold and spoil.
What Can You Do With Green Tomatoes?
While most tomatoes will ripen indoors, it’s realistic to plan on having a few green tomatoes left. Consequently, it’s important to have a plan for these tomatoes, so they don’t go to waste.
Ever heard of fried green tomatoes? This Southern dish is a great way to use up green tomatoes. Other recipes we enjoy are green salsa and even mock minced meat.
Tips for Ripening Before the Hard Frost
Tomatoes that ripen on the vine ultimately will have more flavor, so here are some helpful tips to speed up the ripening process in your vegetable garden before the hard frost sets in.
- Prune and Remove Extra Flowers – It is cooler in late summer and early fall. This is when you will want to prune the extra growth on your tomato plant and remove any extra flowers. Doing this will direct more energy to your green tomatoes, which will help them ripen faster on the vine.
- Feed the Tomato Plants – Giving your plants extra nutrients will help speed up the time needed for growing tomatoes. Using compost or liquid fertilizer is a great way to give your tomatoes a nutrient boost. Learn how to make compost the easy way here.
- Protect the Plants – Before the hard frost arrives, there might be a few nights of light frost. A light frost can occur when temperatures are between 32℉-34℉. To protect your tomatoes, you will want to cover them with a sheet or tarp in the evening and then remove it in the morning after temperatures have risen above 35℉. This hack can help give the tomatoes more time to ripen on the vine.
- Reduce Watering – Reducing water will put the plants under stress but cause the fruit to ripen faster. Less water also helps reduce the chance of tomato blight, slowing down the ripening process. Read here for more information on watering strategies for the garden.
- Pick the Ripe Tomatoes – Make sure you are picking tomatoes as they ripen to continue directing energy to the green tomatoes.
Harvesting Green Tomatoes
Keep track of the weather to know when the hard frost is coming. Pick all your green tomatoes the day before the hard frost and bring them indoors. Some tomatoes will be pink, yellow, light green, dark green and almost red.
The almost red to yellow tomatoes will ripen nicely. Most of the light green to dark green tomatoes can still ripen, but there is a chance that some of them may never fully ripen.
I don’t want any of them to go to waste, so unless I am intentionally eating green tomatoes, I try to ripen all of them.
Make sure you are only picking the healthy tomatoes when picking your green tomatoes. Make sure there are no bruises, insect bites, or diseased fruit that can rot and adversely affect the healthy tomatoes.
You will also want to wash any dirt from the tomatoes and let them air dry completely before storing them. You never want to store wet tomatoes.
How Fast Do Green Tomatoes Ripen
Green tomatoes do take a little time to ripen. Tomatoes put off ethylene gas which ripens the fruit.
Temperature also plays a significant role in ripening tomatoes. If you have fully green tomatoes and store them in a room about 70℉, they might ripen quickly, but I notice they tend to rot instead of ripening.
It’s preferred to store them in a room closer to 50℉, then they ripen in about 28 days.
Pro-Tip: If you want your tomatoes to ripen faster, put bananas or apples in your box of tomatoes. Bananas and apples produce this same ethylene gas and will help ripen the tomatoes faster.
Our favorite way of ripening green tomatoes is storing them in a cardboard box. Here are the supplies you will need.
- Cardboard Box – A clean and dry cardboard box. Make sure nothing has been rotting or molding in the box. I always ask for free produce boxes from my local grocery store because they’re very sturdy.
- Packing Paper – Any type of thick paper works well. I used packing paper from a delivery that was recently made. Just make sure it is clean and dry.
- Newspaper – Newspaper or a paper bag keeps the tomatoes from touching each other when layering. It will also make it darker in the box, which helps the ripening process.
- Dark Cool Spot – I put the green tomatoes in a dark, cool spot to slowly ripen with less chance of rotting. Also, make sure the spot you choose is dry. Moisture will promote mold to grow quickly on your ripening tomatoes.
How to Ripen Green Tomatoes
There are many methods to ripen green tomatoes, but I prefer the cardboard box method combined with the window sill. With these easy steps, you will have ripe tomatoes in no time.
- After you have picked your green tomatoes, bring your tomatoes indoors, wash them and let air dry.
- Once dry, you will need to sort the tomatoes by color (ripeness) and check for any bruises.
- Put a layer of paper at the bottom of the box.
- Now place a layer of tomatoes (same ripeness) at the bottom of the box. Ensure the tomatoes are not touching each other, increasing airflow.
- Once a layer of tomatoes of the same ripeness is laid out, put a layer of newspaper over the green tomatoes.
- Repeat the steps until the box is full, ending with a layer of newspaper on top.
- Take the box and store it in a cool dark location. I store ours in the basement, but you can also put them under a bed or in a closet.
- You will need to check your boxes every 3 to 7 days to see what has ripened. If any have started to rot, remove them immediately to put in your compost pile or feed your animals. Be sure to change your newspaper if it gets contaminated with tomato juices.
- Once your tomatoes start to turn red, take them out of the box and put them on a window sill to finish ripening. (This will take 1 or 2 days.)
Now you have fresh ripened tomatoes to cook, throw into salsa, and even can or freeze for later.