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This time of year when the first frost is headed our way, one of the biggest questions for gardeners is how to ripen green tomatoes indoors. When living in an area with a short growing season, many of us end up with tomato plants hanging full of green tomatoes when the first deep frost of the season arrives. Figuring out how to ripen green tomatoes will help you have delicious homegrown ripe red tomatoes well into the fall. I’ve even heard of some folks having their green tomatoes ripen all the way up to Thanksgiving!
In years past, our gardens were small enough that I only had room for about ten tomato plants. They were easy to cover with old bed sheets and blankets when the first light frost hit. Once the heavy frost hit, we would have a pound or two of green tomatoes to harvest. I always laid them on a piece of newspaper on the side of the kitchen table or counter to ripen.
This year we have over 60 tomato plants in our 7000 square foot garden. When our first light frost came last week, it took us well over an hour to cover everything with old sheets, blankets and we even had to pull some of our good sheets from the house to get everything covered! (Next year we’ll be more prepared by buying a big roll of this stuff!)
When the deep frost of 26 degrees was predicted for this week, we knew we would have to harvest all our green tomatoes. Every single tomato plant was loaded down with beautiful green tomatoes. It took me three hours to harvest them all! We’ve never had this many green tomatoes to store and ripen so we faced a dilemma this year. How were we going to ripen this many green tomatoes?
For starters, here are the basics of ripening green tomatoes:
- Green tomatoes ripen the best at temperatures between 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The best area to ripen green tomatoes is where it is warm but not in direct sunlight since that will dry them out.
- Green tomatoes will ripen quickly in about a week when kept in an area around 70 degrees.
- When stored at cooler temperatures in the 50’s, the tomatoes may take up to a month or more to ripen.
- Green tomatoes ripen the best when you leave a small part of the stem on.
- Only mature green tomatoes will ripen indoors. You can tell mature fruit by the shiny color of the skin. Small tomatoes with a non-shiny matte type skin will typically not ripen indoors.
Knowing the basics of ripening green tomatoes still had us scratching our heads on exactly what to do. How can we get over 200 pounds of green tomatoes to ripen? Where in the world should we put 200 pounds of green tomatoes while they ripen?!
We asked some fellow homesteaders for advice on how to ripen green tomatoes and got some great ideas to help us figure out what we were going to do.
5 ways to ripen green tomatoes from fellow homesteaders:
- Jess from The 104 Homestead suggests “Wrap them individually in newspaper, place them in a box and store in a cool dry place. They’ll be ripened in 2-4 weeks. A word of caution: check them daily because if there was a nick in the skin it could cause the tomato to rot.”
- Kathie from Homespun Seasonal Living also harvested a couple hundred pounds of tomatoes and recommends “ I just put them in cardboard boxes and leave them sit in the guest room. They ripen slowly over time. Go through the boxes every few days to look for any that might be getting bad and pull out the ripe ones. Have done it for years that way.”
- Jenna from The Flip Flop Barnyard suggests “I set them out on the deck rail in the sun if it’s still warm weather. When I pull the last ones before frost I put them in the window seals.”
- Andrea from Little Big Harvest recommends “ I use paper grocery bags and add an apple or a banana to the bag before rolling up the top. The apple or banana (both seem to work equally well) release a gas called ethylene that helps ripen the tomatoes. I usually fill the bags only half to three-quarters full to prevent too much squishing, and then sort through them every other day or so to make sure none are rotting.”
- Teri from Homestead Honey suggests “We ripen green tomatoes by laying them in a single layer and covering with sheets of newspaper. Check the tomatoes every few days for ripeness!”
How we’re ripening our green tomatoes:
So what did we end up doing? The day before I harvested all the green tomatoes, some friends brought over a huge stack of store bought boxes that were left at their house by the previous owner. They knew we have a busy Etsy shop and are always shipping things so could put them to good use. The large size boxes were too deep for just one layer of green tomatoes so my husband cut them all in half before they were assembled. Then we taped the sides together to form cardboard flats about three inches deep. These made the perfect size box to store a single layer of green tomatoes and the boxes were easy to stack.
I took these boxes out to the garden with me and as I filled them up, I put them in the back of the four wheeler wagon. Once they were all full, my husband drove the wagon into the shop for the night so they were protected from frost.
The next day I sorted through the tomatoes and pulled out any that had marks or spots on them that would potentially cause rot and ruin the rest of the tomatoes. These tomatoes we turned into homemade green tomato salsa verde (recipe coming soon!)
The rest of the tomato filled cardboard flats were stacked in our mud room since the shop would be too cool for them to ripen since we don’t heat it every day. Every couple days I sort through the flats and pull out any tomatoes that are ripe. My hope is that the majority of them ripen all at the same time so we can make and can one big batch of homemade tomato sauce!
How do you ripen green tomatoes?