Save my tomatoes!
September 8, 2010 12:16 PM   Subscribe

It's getting cooler here in Heretical-land, and my tomatoes haven't ripened yet. Halp.

I have eight tomato plants. Four have produced almost diddly squat (which may have been my fault with poor companion planting), but the other four have so many growing tomatoes it's ridiculous. They vary from grape to tennis ball sized, but they're not ripening because the weather is finally cooling off since it's September and all that.

I don't want all this tomatoey goodness to go to waste. I've harvested all of five tomatoes this year, each of them so ridiculously good it hurts, and I want to eat more. What could I do to make use of all these not-quite-ready tomatoes, either as they are now or advice on helping them get to a ripe state?

I'm growing Cherokee Purples (not impressed), Yellow Taxi (omg yes), and Early Goliath (not very early, in my opinion).
posted by Heretical to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It would help if we knew where you lived.

If I were you, I'd quickly prune all suckers and probably about 80% of total vegetation on the non-fruiting parts of the plants, this will make the plant say ZOMG and start speed ripening.

Also, you can selectively remove the smallest, weakest fruits to let the big fruits get the bulk of the energy from the plant. Place any early-harvests in a brown paper bag and set on a counter for a couple days, they will likely ripen enough to enjoy, even if just as fried green tomatoes.

There's a peppers hack that involves placing a brown paper bag over a plant that's loaded in produce but not ripening, you leave it on for a few days, and because it's getting no sunshine it'll speed ripen...then you remove the bag and it'll go ahead and ensure they get nutrients and water to complete the ripening cycle w/o over seeding. I dunno if it would work on a tomato though.
posted by TomMelee at 12:24 PM on September 8, 2010

green tomatoes can be made into all manner of delicious things: fried, pickled, salsaed, etc
posted by cubby at 12:29 PM on September 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, where are you? Green tomatoes here in the Bay Area will still ripen in September, for example. If not, just put them in a paper bag. They won't be as good, but they will ripen.

Removing leaves from fruiting plants means the plants produce less sugars (which are stored in fruits). If you want to stress the plants, give them less water, rather than removing a food source.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:32 PM on September 8, 2010

You could try and feed them with a fertilizer high in potassium, though it's a bit late in the game for that.

There are plenty of delicious recipes using green tomatoes, so consider that option if they don't start ripening soon. I like to add some green tomatoes to salsa, they provide a bit more volume and a nice taste. There's a recipe for Green Tomato Pie which I've wanted to try, and plenty of other recipes out there too.

If it gets close to freezing temperatures, harvest them all and let them ripen up on your windowsill. I haven't found much of a difference in taste with the vine-ripened ones versus windowsill-ripened ones.
posted by Meagan at 12:35 PM on September 8, 2010

I live up in the mountains in Zone 4. It's definitely getting cold; I don't think it's cracked 75 in days up here.

The peppers hack would work fantastically too -- I have some bell peppers that I wouldn't mind hurrying the hell up.
posted by Heretical at 12:53 PM on September 8, 2010

I'm not sure how ripe they were to start with, but I think I'd pick the last of the tomatoes and ripen them on a sunny window sill indoors. I did that last year with some cherry tomatoes and it worked to some degree. Prune the bush and give it a week, though. If you're in northern New England, you should still have at least a couple weeks before the first frost.

(Errr, it may be earlier in the mtns, I'm from a zone 4 valley. Your local news will probably tell you when the first frost is due - ours always did.)
posted by maryr at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2010

root pruning. take a spade and plunge it about a foot away from the base of the plant. Cut a circle around the plant. This will prune the roots and shock the plant into action.
posted by Gungho at 1:12 PM on September 8, 2010

You don't even need the sunny windowsill. If there's a danger of them freezing or getting frost-bitten, pick them. Until then, leave them on the plant as long as possible. When they're fully grown and you feel like you need to protect them from the cold, pick them and bring them inside. Lay them in one flat layer somewhere (a box or cookie sheet really helps so that they're portable) and they'll ripen. They don't need to be in the sun.

Peppers will also ripen (i.e., turn red) off the plant.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:50 PM on September 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

mudpuppie is correct, here almost none of our tomatoes ripen on the vine. All of mine are picked & set out on the basement floor as it's about to freeze any day now.
posted by canoehead at 2:55 PM on September 8, 2010

My mum's been growing a lot of tomatoes this year, and she was getting impatient waiting for them to ripen. She just picked most of them and put them in a bowl with a couple of bananas. They've nearly all ripened over the course of about two weeks.
posted by lucidium at 2:59 PM on September 8, 2010

I've harvested over 85 pounds of tomatoes since June. It's a subject about which I feel comfortable proclaiming some expertise.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:04 PM on September 8, 2010

I grew tomatoes in Zone 3. Pick 'em ripe while you can (cover the plants with bedsheets if the forecast shows +2C low overnight or worse) and then when there's going to be a harder frost (-2C low overnight or worse), pick all the green ones and leave them to ripen on the counter (it's best to do this in a single layer, so you see when they get ripe and don't miss a rotten one that could infect the others). Leaving a ripe one around green ones tends to make them ripen faster.
posted by Kurichina at 3:05 PM on September 8, 2010

data point: I'm in zone 4 also, and my Cherokee Purples failed badly. One split green one and two green dwarfs since the end of May. I'm not sure they like zone 4 much. Cherry tomatoes are plentiful, though.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:38 PM on September 8, 2010

Bring em on in. Either let them ripen on a windowsill or:

Slice as if for sandwiches. Salt and pepper and dip into cornmeal, then fry.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:59 PM on September 8, 2010

For next year - you could consider "walls of water" or other similar tricks to get them going earlier. I'm in zone 5 so I'm not sure it would be enough for you, but these made the difference between lots of green (and ripened on the windowsill red) tomatoes and lots of delicious vine ripened tomatoes.
posted by lab.beetle at 6:27 PM on September 8, 2010

kuujjuarapik writes "data point: I'm in zone 4 also, and my Cherokee Purples failed badly. One split green one and two green dwarfs since the end of May. I'm not sure they like zone 4 much. Cherry tomatoes are plentiful, though."

We're zone five and all my heirlooms did poorly this year. The spring was cool and wet so poor initial growth and then we went from highs of 20 to highs in the mid 30s in the course of a week which knocked most of the blossoms off. After a month of heat we got weeks of rain which cracked the fruit that had set. The only thing doing well are early hybrids; I only got half a dozen deformed brandywines off of four plants.
posted by Mitheral at 9:19 AM on September 9, 2010

I'm surprised -- my tomatoes are still growing this late!

I took the advice of some folks and attacked the plants with a pair of scissors to trim them, picked off the larger fruit, and now everything's growing better! I also did the low-watering trick and that worked GREAT.

I'm cutting off new growth and tiny tomatoes now and just letting the ones already there ripen. I'm not getting huge tomatoes this year but I'm sort of making up in quality what I don't have in quantity. I've never enjoyed eating tomatoes raw as much as I've enjoyed these!
posted by Heretical at 1:40 PM on October 9, 2010

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