How to Make Your Tomatoes (and Other Produce) Ripen Faster

It’s inevitable.

As the season changes and temperatures drop, most gardeners will still have unripe produce hanging from their plants. And once days remain below 50˚ F, these late fruits will simply refuse to mature.

If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. Chances are good you can salvage many of your green tomatoes and other not-quite-ready crops. Just follow these five steps to speed up the ripening process.

Note: With the exception of tomatoes, most crops will not ripen any further once harvested. So the first four techniques below focus on how to make produce ripen faster while it’s still on the plant.

1. Harvest whatever is ripe.

When a plant has several un-harvested fruits, it tries to ripen them all at the same time. And that can take awhile.

But when you harvest as much as possible as soon as possible, your plant focuses its energy on the unripe produce that remains.

Tower Tip: You can harvest and eat many crops — including peppers and tomatoes — while they’re still green, thus encouraging the fruits left behind to mature faster.

2. Stress your plants out.

It may seem counterintuitive, but pruning can facilitate ripening.

Aggressive trimming puts plants in survival mode. And in so doing, the practice accelerates fruit development (as plants try to produce seeds — and ensure another generation — before dying).

To use this natural response to your advantage, cut your plants’ roots up to half their length, prune away as much as one third of their leaves, and pinch off any flowers. These steps should introduce enough stress to speed the ripening process without killing your plants.

3. Give your garden more time.

When you end up with unripe fruit, it’s usually because you didn’t have warm weather for long enough.

But with the right tools, you can extend the growing season and give produce more time to mature:

  • This weather protection blanket will protect your crops from light frosts.
  • An aquarium heater can help you keep your Tower Garden’s water temperature in the ideal range of 60–80˚ F.
  • A greenhouse will allow you to maintain a suitable microclimate indefinitely.

4. Hang up whole plants.

If you’re expecting a frost, harvesting any fruit left in your garden is wise because frost damage halts the ripening process.

For most crops, it’s best to hang whole plants — fruits to roots — upside down in a garage, mudroom, or other dry, frost-protected place. This promotes ripening even as plant vines and stems wither.

5. Pump up the ethylene.

Did you know that most grocery store tomatoes are actually harvested green? (Just one reason homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes taste and smell so much better!)

This is possible because tomatoes continue to ripen even when removed from the vine — thanks to ethylene, a naturally occurring plant hormone that many foods, including tomatoes, release.

The more ethylene tomatoes are exposed to, the faster they ripen. So if you want to turn your green tomatoes red as quickly as possible, follow these simple steps:

  • Harvest, wash, and dry the tomatoes.
  • Place tomatoes in a breathable container, such as a paper bag or cardboard box. (Non-breathable materials, such as plastic, trap humidity and increase the likelihood of rot.)
  • Consider adding other ripening produce to the container — bananas and apples both release ethylene, too.

With this approach, ripening can take days or weeks. It all depends on how ripe the produce is to begin with. Tomatoes that have started turning red or have a little give when squeezed usually ripen faster than bright green, firm fruits.

Note: Many people place unripe tomatoes on windowsills to speed the ripening process. But this isn’t the best idea because the sun toughens the skin of tomatoes and can hasten decay.

Though this is an effective technique for tomatoes, keep in mind that most plants will not continue to ripen off the vine. So for peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, squashes, melons, and so on, stick to the four methods above.

How to keep harvesting all winter long

I hope these techniques help you get one more harvest from your garden as we close out the growing season. But it doesn’t have to be your last harvest.

With grow lights, Tower Garden flourishes indoors. And that means you can enjoy just-picked produce any time of year, regardless of the weather outside.

Learn more about indoor gardening »

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