As the end of tomato season approaches, our fare turns from fresh caprese salads to fried green tomatoes. The season’s first frost will kill your tomato plants, so in an effort to reduce waste, farmers will harvest the unripened fruits. While green tomatoes are delicious in their own right, the fully developed red or yellow fruits are more versatile, and you can do a few things to speed up the ripening process to get more out of your plants before the season comes to a close.
The secret to encouraging ripening is to stress the plants. Plants that are stressed put less emphasis on growth of the green foliage and more energy into making sure the plant will reproduce—in other words, fruit development. Tomatoes typically ripen in 20 to 30 days, so by putting these techniques into practice a little over a month before your area’s average first frost date, you may be able to get in one last tomato harvest.
1. Top The Plants
One way to stress tomato plants is by cutting off the top portions of the plant. Instead of putting energy into this growth, it will put energy into fruit production, which will, in turn, hopefully yield you a few more ripe tomatoes.
2. Limit Irrigation
By cutting off or limiting your tomato plants’ water supply, you’re signaling to the plant that it needs to worry more about continuing the species than growing up big and green. This may be difficult if you’re experiencing high amounts of rainfall this season, in which case, try techniques 3 and 4 instead.
3. Cut The Roots
By cutting a portion of the tomato plant’s roots, your limiting the amount of water it can uptake. With a shovel placed 8 inches from the base of the plant, dig into the soil until you hear the crunch of roots breaking. Do this halfway around the plant.
4. Yank The Base
If your green thumb is telling you that cutting the roots is a bad idea, give a gentle tug on the base of the tomato plant instead. This will disconnect some of the roots and stress the plant out slightly so that reproduction becomes its focus.
A bite into your last tomato of the season means summer has finally come to a close. Extend your season just a little bit longer by encouraging the ripening of your tomatoes and take solace in the fact that what doesn’t ripen will make a tasty fried side dish.