Social Media is Full Of Debates On How To Ripen Tomatoes. From Bananas & Brown Paper Bags To Sunlight & Warmth The Debate Rages. I Was A Commercial Grower & Here Are My Answers.

How To Ripen Tomatoes? It isn’t as difficult as many people think.


Simply because the tomato wants to produce seeds, and to ripen its fruit, so it can reproduce. It really is that simple.

How To ripen tomatoes

The second simple fact is that most of us are far too impatient and don’t want to wait long enough. It’s as if we plant on Monday and expect to pick fruit on Wednesday. It doesn’t work that way.

Though a few varieties ripen slightly faster than others, there is a gentically fixed time that takes many weeks before the fruit is produced and ripens.

The plant has to grow, flower, be pollinated, grow the fruit to the right size, carry on growing and flowering the next trusses and mature the fruit before we can pick anything.

Factors Affecting Tomato Ripening

Plant & Fruit Maturity

As indicated above the plant and fruit must be mature enough to naturally ripen. Try to force the issue and it doesn’t work very well.

Air & Tomato Fruit Temperature

Tomatoes need warmth to ripen. If it is too cold they will take much longer to ripen, if they ripen at all. In a greenhouse they tend to ripen best in the low 70sF. Obviously if the sun reaches the fruit they will warm above air temperature and this often helps. So it’s not just down to air temperature. As a rough guide this is T-shirt and shorts weather .. NOT put an extra layer on weather.

Brown Bags & Bananas To Ripen Tomatoes

There is a huge amount of advice out there that says you should put a banana with the fruit and the ethylene the ripening tomato gives off will ripen the tomatoes.

This isn’t totally wrong .. but you don’t need a banana.

The truth is all fruits give off ethylene as they ripen and any ripening fruit near a tomato will speed its ripening. Provided that is, that it is mature enough to ripen.

True, bananas give off quite a bit of ethylene gas as they ripen. But so do apples. So you could use an apple.

The other fruit that gives off a lot of ethylene is … a tomato!

Yes, place a ripening tomato with your tomatoes and it will speed their ripening. Just like in nature where the whole truss hangs together and they ripen one after another, helped by the ones that are ripening fastest.

As for the brown paper bag, it does help retain the ethylene given off. But the bag doesn’t need to be brown. A white bag works just as well.
It’s preferable not to use a plastic bag as it retains any moisture and can lead to fungal growth. And if the bag is too breathable the gas isn’t retained .. which makes this start to get complicated. 🙂

Ripening Tomatoes On A Sunny Windowsill

The warmth of a sunny light windowsill will speed ripening. But be careful it’s not too sunny or the fruit just start to dry out and you could end up with sun dried tomatoes … or just a few shrivelled ones.

What Do The Experts Say?

If I were to believe all I read online I would be a very confused person. For example, the GW website page on ripening tomatoes starts by saying “Tomato plants fruit from June”.

To me that is a nonsensical comment as it depends entirely on when the seed was sown and plants transplanted, how much heat has been given etc. Even in the south of England picking tomatoes in June means they have been grown with some heat indoors and planted when the frosts have passed or maybe grown in a heated greenhouse. They are unlikely to be picked this early if grown in a cold greenhouse.

But more to the point it seems to indicate that it’s impossible to pick before June. The plant can be harvested much earlier if planted earlier. Some commercial growers plant before Christmas and start harvesting very early in the year. Long before June!

So it is in this context that I view most of the advice given by these experts as very dubious. Having been a commercial tomato grower I know reality is somewhat different to what websites often claim.

Some sites are very reliable, others need to be read in context and some are just plain wrong.

How I Ripened Tomatoes

In September each year I ripped out my tom crops and planted lettuce. 10,000 tomatoes plants came out and over 100,000 lettuce were planted in matter of a few weeks.

We started the process 3-4 days before we removed the crop. First we picked everything that showed signs of ripening.

Then we pulled th roots of the crop out and left them hanging by their strings. This was to desiccate the haulm/vines and reduce its weight as we had to manually remove all 10,000 plants and every gram of weight we could remove saved me carrying it.

Then we picked as many green tomatoes as I had orders for. That would be around a ton.

Then we picked each day as the crop continued to ripen until I removed the tomato haulm and started to prepare for lettuce.

By the time we ripped the crop put very little fruit was left. Our goats scavenged what they could. The rest was composted.

Any green toms left when we ripped out, that we couldn’t sell as green, we left in 600lb bulk bins to ripen. Each day we picked them over; there was often more than a ton to start with. After week the remnants weren’t of a quality I was prepared to sell and they were composted.

I know that sounds like waste and many people tell me I should have made chutneys etc. But have you ever tried to make a ton of chutney without a factory? It wasn’t a viable proposition.

Tag: How To Ripen Tomatoes
Image Attribution; Michal Klajban, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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