Leaving Tomatoes To Mature Off The Plant: Here’s How To Do It
Tomatoes are some of the few types of vegetable that can ripen indoors after harvesting. You can find out the best way to ripen them off the plant here.
Tomatoes can be very successfully ripened off the plant indoors. The fruiting vegetable differentiates itself in this way from many other types of vegetable that are not climacteric. The ripening gas ethylene plays an important role in ripening off the plant. Tomatoes produce this substance themselves, emit it into the environment and thereby also control their own ripening. This means you do not have to dispose of unripe, green tomatoes: If they are allowed to ripen off the plant, they continue to develop.
Healthy, undamaged tomatoes ripen best in a warm location between 64.4 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The fruit can either be wrapped in paper and placed in boxes or the entire plant can be hung upside down. Light is not required for ripening off the plant, in fact, direct sunlight is actually counter-productive.
Ideally, tomatoes should only be harvested when they are fully ripe. This is the case when they have taken on the color typical for their variety. That doesn’t have to be red - there are also yellow, green, creme or orange colored tomato varieties, for example. Ripe fruit gives a little under gentle pressure. However, in some cases it is not possible to wait for tomatoes to reach full maturity. At the end of the season in particular - in late summer and fall - you need to take action: If the temperatures drop and the hours of sunlight wain, the last tomatoes will generally no longer ripen. Then they should be picked before the first overnight frost at the latest and brought indoors to ripen.
However, it may also make sense to ripen off the plant in the summer, for example when there are cool or rainy weather phases forecast. If you bring the fruit indoors in good time, the plants remain healthy and will not burst, as is often the case in heavy rain showers after a dry period. Timely harvesting of healthy, intact tomatoes is also important to prevent leaf blight and brown rot from spreading across the plants. Because fugal diseases can infest the fruit, particularly in damp weather conditions.
Ripen undamaged, unripe harvested tomatoes off the plant individually next to one another in a box or on a tray and place them in a warm location. Because, contrary to many opinions, it is not light but sufficient warmth that is decisive for the formation of the red pigment in tomatoes: The perfect temperature for ripening tomatoes off the plant is between 64.4 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrapping the tomatoes in newspaper or placing them in a paper bag is also a proven method for accelerating ripening off the plant. You can also place an apple next to the tomatoes: This fruit also emits ethylene, thereby ripening the fruiting vegetable more quickly. It is best to check the state of the tomatoes every day. The ripening process should be fully complete after three weeks at the latest and the tomatoes should have taken on the color typical for their variety.
If there are still a considerable number of unripe tomatoes hanging on a plant at the end of the season, you can also dig up the entire tomato plant with its roots. Then hang it upside down in a warm location, for example in an boiler room or cellar. This will allow you to continue harvesting for at least two more weeks. Tomato plants that have already been infested with brown rot should be disposed of in the household garbage. However, individual, healthy fruit can be left to ripen off the plant in warm rooms.
If you do bring the unripe, green tomatoes indoors early, be patient and do not consume them directly: They contain the poison alkaloid solanine that only recedes with increased maturity. If tomatoes ripen the classic way on plants in the sunlight, they develop a unique, sweet aroma. Fruit that has ripened off the plant can taste somewhat different: Its aroma is often not quite so intense. If the tomatoes have only been exposed to limited sunlight before the harvest in the fall, they can also taste a little watery.
Tomatoes that are available in the supermarket have often travelled long distances. It’s common for these to be harvested when they are not yet ripe and then sprayed with ethylene in order to induce ripening. However, if they are still not ripe when they reach their destination they can also be left to ripen off the plant at home, as described above. A note of caution: Not all green tomatoes in the vegetable aisle are actually unripe. Lots of green fruiting varieties are now also available on the shelves.
You can use the ripe fruit of open-pollinating tomato varieties for harvesting your own tomato seeds. You can find out how and the correct way to store seeds in our video.