Sow There!: Tips for ripening green tomatoes, 10-6-17

Poppies grew in our school's raised bed garden last May.
Poppies grew in our school’s raised bed garden last May. Photo by Heather Hacking

I love to note the first day of “sweater weather.” The kids in my elementary school class arrived one morning wrapped in outer clothes. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of those jackets and pullovers would be at the lost-and-found after the first noontime recess.

Layered clothing also means upheaval in my bedroom. At about this time, I haul the dusty bins filled with warm clothes from the back of the closet. Next, I sort through my summer and spring clothes to decide what to toss and what to save.

Typically, I dump everything on the bed and decide if skimpy summer clothes are no longer “age appropriate.” Usually I remind myself that I am “young at heart,” and hope I look younger next year.

Right now, I’m thankful I have clothing in three separate sizes. When I worked in an office I sat at my desk all day. When days were stressful, I ate mindlessly and filled out in the middle. As a student teacher, I rarely sit down. If I snack during recess, it is in between one of the millions of things a teacher does when the kids are racing around outdoors, losing their sweaters.

I’m also mindful that children notice what I eat. I want to model healthful eating, and place my green beans and sliced apples prominently on the edge of my desk.

(Never mind that when I get home I eat three bowls of ice cream).

The result has been that I’ve lost weight, and might even fit into some of those clothes I’ve unpacked, saved and repacked for the past 10 years.


For gardeners, the upheaval in autumn includes calling it quits on the summer vegetables. Last weekend there was a garden clean-up at the school. I was specifically invited to the event by the transitional-Kindergarten teacher. “I thought you would want to come,” she said correctly, assuming that my idea of fun is making dust and pulling weeds in a group setting.

She also knew that when seven adults and four children work for two hours, the job gets done quickly.

As is often the case when you hang around teachers, I learned something that day.

Before clean-up morning, our school garden included weeds growing between the bricks, a smattering of water-deprived green onions, dead sunflowers and a thriving cherry tomato plant.

With the help of several children, we picked a mound of ripe yellow, bell-shaped tomatoes. However, the sprawling tomato plant was still covered with green tomatoes.

I have the same problem with the tomatoes in my yard. Through the heat of that long, wretched summer I waited for tomatoes to arrive. Now it is cooler and I have more green tomatoes than I harvested from June through August.

Ever the optimist, I tend to wait and wait for those green orbs to ripen. As history notes, I leave the plant in the ground through November, then clean up tomato mush the day after the first frost.

This day at the school garden I was happily working to eradicate weeds, particularly the spotted spurge wedged between faded red bricks. When I turned around I noticed the transitional-Kindergarten teacher had lopped off about half the tomato plant and plunked the extra vines on a bench.

That’s the way to do it. If anyone wanted green tomatoes, they were there for the taking. There were plenty of green tomatoes remaining on the plant, likely destined for a fate similar to the green tomatoes in my back yard.

One of the parents explained that if the green tomatoes are taken indoors, they will continue to ripen (and won’t turn to mush one cold night).


Rodale’s Organic Life has some painstakingly thorough information for those who want to capture every last tomato,

Even though green tomatoes seem as tough as softballs, they should be handled gently. Even the slightest bruise can turn to ooze when ripened indoors. Another idea is to simply lop off the tomato vine, (as our T-K teacher demonstrated) and hang the vine in the garage. You can harvest the tomatoes over time, if they happen to ripen. You could also intersperse the tomato vine with holiday lights, for a festive look in the garage.

If you think about it, tomatoes that we buy at the grocery store are picked before they are ripe. The fruit partially ripens somewhere between the field, the store and our kitchen counter. You can also speed up the ripening process by placing the tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripe apple or a banana, Rodale notes reasonably. The fruit releases ethylene gas which speeds the ripening process.

Of course, do not expect your cloistered tomatoes to be as sweet as the warm, red fruit you devour in mid-August.

Rodale also has some suggestions for a tomato tent, which they call a “floating row cover.” If the days are still as warm as 50 degrees, but the nights are chilly, a row cover might extend the harvest season until it’s time for trick-or-treating.

In the meantime, we had brisk winds this week. I’ve been worrying about a midterm project and completely forgot to water the tomatoes in my raised bed. Maybe I’ll ask those six adults and four children from the school to spend a few hours to help yank dead plants from my back yard.

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