Well, I finally had to admit it, summer is over. I was holding out hope that it would last forever this year, but the leaves are coming down almost as much as the rain, and here on the Oregon Coast we’ve got plenty of both.
I saw my first light frost and knew I had to start thinking about harvesting a number of my crops before they were lost to the weather. My chief concern was my tomatoes. I had planted 14 roma tomato plants with hopes of getting at least enough fruit to can to keep us fed with chili and spaghetti sauces through the winter. My crops last year failed and it was a miserable winter with no homegrown goods. Despite starting my seeds in February, the tomatoes were just starting to get ripe in October.
Not prepared to let frost ruin my whole harvest, I decided to harvest all of the tomatoes on October 10th and ripen them inside.
There are so many tips online about how to ripen tomatoes, so I thought I’d try a few methods to see what worked the best. These are the results after two weeks
All of the tips I found had a few things in common that seemed like good advice. Toss any tomatoes with damage to them, as this invites mold and speeds rotting. When putting the tomatoes away for storage and ripening make sure they are clean and dry (I may have kinda ignored this tip). The main ripening agent when tomatoes are off the vine is a gas called ethylene. Ripe fruit including tomatoes and bananas produce this gas, so putting a ripe fruit in with your green tomatoes will promote ripening.
One method I tried was to put the green tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripe tomato. I only did one layer of tomatoes in the bag and picked the ones that looked somewhat closer to being ripe. This method worked well. It seemed like the fruit ripened most uniformly of all the methods. After two weeks most of the fruit had at least some color.
Another traditional method for ripening tomatoes is to put them on the window sill. I only did a few tomatoes this way, all were very green. I’m not impressed with this method, the fruit ripened somewhat, but they seemed superficially ripe, if that makes any sense. They weren’t the lovely deep red that tomatoes should be and seemed to be a bit grainy. It could be because the fruit was so green to start with.
Finally I used shallow boxes covered in plastic (they were originally ramen boxes, don’t judge). I put a couple riper tomatoes in each box and kept the plastic over the fruit. The plastic was the original packaging so there was a hole in it from where we retrieved the ramen. After two weeks this method seemed to produce the most ripe fruit. I think this may have been because the fruit were in a greenhouse-like container that kept the ethylene gas more concentrated.
Then I got lazy and just kept the rest of the fruit in the boxes we picked them in. One box was plastic with a bunch of holes like a milk crate. One was a cardboard box. The third was cardboard but between each single layer of fruit I put a layer of newspaper. I didn’t dry them or clean them off. Of all of these boxes, after two weeks I pulled out only four green tomatoes that were starting to mold. Honestly, these boxes had about the same amount of ripening going on and there was no more effort on my part than putting them in the boxes straight off the plants.
Today I rearranged all the tomatoes, removing any with damage that I didn’t notice before and any that were starting to rot.
I put the various levels of ripeness together so I can easily access the ones that need to get used up first and hopefully slow down the really green ones from catching up as I have at least a day of canning ahead of me already!
Overall, my impressions are that as long as the tomatoes are undamaged and they’re kept dry and at about room temperature, they will ripen on their own accord. The ones that were left with a ripe tomato did seem to progress faster. I would recommend keeping the tomatoes in one layer as it makes it a lot easier to see if any are going bad or if they’re ready to be used. If you’re like me and over-planted though, it might not be feasible, so I wouldn’t worry too much if your tomatoes go in a box together. I wouldn’t go longer than 2 weeks before checking them for mold though.
There are other types of produce that will ripen off the vine too, although nothing compares to the flavor you get when the ripen in the garden, including peppers and pumpkins. Get those guys inside before the frost gets them!