Growing vine ripe tomatoes in a northern garden, like my Maine garden, can be a bit of a challenge particularly when Mother Nature hands us a cool summer. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy red juicy tomatoes from your garden. It simply means you will need to provide a little extra TLC and exercise a little patience.
The first step, of course, is to choose varieties that mature early and thrive in cool weather. As I shared in Four Best Tomatoes for Short Season Gardens, Early Girl is my tomato of choice-but your taste may vary.
Early Girl typically ripens in my garden, but there are years when frost threatens before my green tomatoes have had time to ripen. At this point, you have three choices.
To speed ripening in the garden, root pruning is in order. According to Cornell University, severing some of the roots hastens ripening. Cornell recommends inserting a spade into the soil to sever the roots approximately 12 inches from the main stem forming a circle around the plant. Some prefer to sever the roots 6 inches from the stem on one side only. A local gardener swears by giving the entire plant a sharp pull to loosen the roots in the soil. If you choose root pruning to so several weeks before the expected frost to allow all tomatoes to fully ripen.
Some prefer to trim back the foliage and pull the tomato plant with the tomatoes intact and hang the entire plant upside down in a cool area to ripen. For small tomato plants or if you have one or two plants this may work well, but it really isn’t practical if you have more than a few plants.
Pick and Ripen
The other alternative, of course, is to pick the green tomatoes before the frost arrives and ripen them inside. A few tomatoes can be ripened in a paper bag, but for large quantities of green tomatoes, a box works better.
Pick the tomatoes on a dry day. Wipe them down with a paper towel. Moisture or soil from the garden promotes rot. For best storage and ripening, tomatoes should be clean and dry.
Wrap each tomato with newspaper and layer them in a box. Because they are individually wrapped, you can layer them on top of each other without concerns about rotting-but you do need to check them often.
Place the box in a cool dark area and allow the tomatoes to ripen. Check your box often for any signs of rotting and removing the offending tomatoes.
Tomatoes begin ripening within a week, but some may take up to a month. If you are lucky, your supply of ripe tomatoes may extend well into fall.
Although vine ripe tomatoes may be the goal, ripening green tomatoes inside does provide fresh tomatoes long after the frost has arrived-and in my Maine garden, anything that extends my gardening season into the fall is appreciated.