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How To Ripen Tomatoes Off The Vine – And Why It’s Better Than Leaving Them On!

Did you know that it’s far better to ripen your tomatoes off the vine than leaving them on to mature?

It’s true! Not only does picking your tomatoes early and allowing them to mature off the plant help your tomatoes ripen and flavor more evenly – it can also keep them safe from all kinds of pest and health issues. And best of all – it can also help your plants to stay healthier and produce more too!

Every year as summer hits full stride, our inbox begins to overflow with questions about picking tomatoes. Not only do gardeners want to know when to pick their crop, they also want to know how to get their tomatoes to ripen faster as well.

how to ripen tomatoes off the vine
As you will see below, picking your tomatoes early can have big benefits for your tomatoes – and your plants!

Let’s face it, it can be frustrating watching and waiting for all of those green tomatoes to finally turn red. Or, as is the case with some alternate tomato varieties, waiting for them to mature to their final shade of orange, yellow or even dark green.

One thing is for sure, whatever tomato variety you grow, getting them to that perfectly juicy, ripe, and oh so flavorful stage is the ultimate goal. But interestingly enough, leaving them on the plant to get there is the last thing you want to do!

Why To Pick Tomatoes Before They Fully Ripen – How To Ripen Tomatoes Off The Vine

Contrary to popular belief, allowing your tomatoes to stay on the vine does not allow them to develop more flavor. Nor does it help them to turn a deeper or brighter shade of red. In fact, once the tomato begins to slightly turn color, it can no longer help the tomato at all.

The first slight turning of a fruit is known as the breaking stage for a tomato fruit. And once a tomato fruit reaches the breaking stage it can no longer absorb nutrients or power from the plant.

tomato breaking stage
Leaving ripening tomatoes on the vine can stall the ripening process of other tomatoes growing. In addition, it also puts them at risk of pest, storm and sun damage.

It doesn’t mean the plant doesn’t try to send it energy. It actually does. But the tomato simply can’t take the nutrients in to use them. In the end, the plant simply wastes energy and nutrients. Nutrients that could be going to help produce more new blooms and fruit.

The good news is that once the tomato reaches the breaking stage, it can be removed without worry from the plant. And once off, if placed in the right environment (we will cover that in depth at the end of the article), it will ripen far faster and better than if left in place.

That not only helps the plant save valuable resources to then use on producing more blooms and new fruit, it also keeps your ripening tomatoes out of danger.

Why Picking Early Is Better For Tomatoes – How To Ripen Tomatoes Off The Vine

In addition to saving energy for your tomato plants, picking your tomatoes when they first turn keeps them safe from injury.

The longer tomatoes stay ripening on the vine, the more attractive they are to pests. Ripening fruit attracts a long list of worms, bugs and insects. Ripe fruit also will bring racoons, groundhogs, deer and other wildlife calling.

Picking early also keeps fruit out of the hot sun. Tomatoes do not need sunlight and hot temperatures to ripen. In fact, both actually harm the ripening process more than help. Ripening tomatoes directly in the sun can create fruit that is mushy and soft. In addition, it can cause tomato skins to split open, ruining them in the process.

Excessive heat and humidity have the exact same effect on tomatoes as well. That is exactly why leaving ripening tomatoes on plants to mature is never a good idea.

How To Ripen Tomatoes Off The Vine

So what is the best way to ripen tomatoes off of the plants? For the fastest, most even ripening of all, pick your tomatoes just as they turn to about 1/4 of their final color. At this point, they will be firm and blemish free. And because they have begun to turn, they can ripen perfectly fine off the vine!

tomato splitting
The longer a tomato stays ripening on a vine, the more likely it is to begin to crack and split. Picking early and ripening off the vine eliminates this issue entirely.

Next, take your tomatoes to a shady area that is out of direct sunlight. In addition, make sure that area gets plenty of natural airflow. For best results, select a location where the temperature is usually between 60 and 70 degrees in the shade.

This is the optimum temperature for ripening tomatoes. Anything cooler and it will slow the ripening too much. Anything warmer, and you risk the tomatoes turning soft and mushy. Covered porches and patios or a lean-to or open barn are all excellent options. The key is to keep them out of the sun but in an area where a breeze is likely.

Avoid Hard, Flat Surfaces

When storing tomatoes for ripening, always place on a surface that allows airflow. Old screen windows, metal wicker tables, bread racks, and drying racks are all excellent choices. These allow for air to go under, over and around the tomato, ripening it evenly and faster in the process. SEE: OWG Drying Rack Plans

Avoid hard, solid surfaces such as counters, window sills, cookie sheets, or cutting boards. These don’t allow for airflow and can create soft spots on the tomato that can also easily rot out. Window sills are especially bad because they can also allow hot sunlight to unevenly ripen tomatoes.

Storing Tomatoes – How To Ripen Tomatoes Off The Vine

Once your tomatoes have reached peak ripeness off the vine – it’s best to use them as quickly as possible. If you are using them to make salsa, sauce or to preserve, doing so as soon as they are ripe will ensure the highest flavor and nutrient levels. See: OWG CANNING RECIPES

fresh sauce
Using tomatoes at the peak of their freshness is the key to getting full flavor and great nutrient content.

Try to avoid storing tomatoes in the refrigerator. Yes, it will stop the ripening process, but it also quickly destroys the flavor and nutrient levels. It can be a last resort to keep ripe tomatoes from going bad – but the flavor and quality will decline.

Here is to picking your tomatoes early and ripening them to perfection off the vine this year. Not only can it speed up the ripening process, it will leave you with the best tasting tomatoes around! Happy Tomato Picking – Jim and Mary

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