What to do with your tomatoes in September & how to ripen unripe tomatoes!

What to do with your tomatoes in September

As autumn’s whisper reverberates through our landscape, many plants are now fading, as they respond to the changing season and become rapidly aged by the ever lengthening nights’ embrace.  This is a season of salvage, protection, and celebration; it’s time to bring tender plants inside our homes, conservatories, and glasshouses, and to gather in our harvest.

If your tomato plants have produced an abundance of green tomatoes, which have yet to ripen, don’t fret; I have a number of quick and effective ways to help you ripen your tomatoes.  However, first things first, if you’ve not done so already, cut off (or pinch out) your tomato plant’s top growing shoot; this will prevent your plant from growing any taller and it’ll divert your tomato plant’s energy into developing the plant’s harvest instead of producing new growth.

Next, remove all of your tomato plants’ lower leaves; continue working your way up your plants’ stems, cutting off almost all of the leaves as you travel further up the plant.  This will enable you to find and evaluate your plants’ tomatoes and will clear the way to allow sunlight to reach your plants’ bounty and ripen the fruit.  To avoid spreading disease, I’d recommend sterilising your scissors before you move from one plant to another.

Green tomatoes can be used to make chutney, pickles, ketchup, and other preserves. These unripe tomatoes can be used as an ingredient for other culinary dishes.

Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans)

At this time of year, Late Blight (Phytophthora infestans) is often viciously working its destruction through our tomato and potato plants, marking tomato leaves and stems with patches of brown and spreading rot and disease, turning green or ripening tomatoes a deathly brown.  Consequently, it’s important to to check your plants for signs of Late Blight, so you can make the most of whatever situation your plants are in.  If your plants are severely affected by Late Blight, gather in any ripe and unripe tomatoes that are as yet entirely untouched by the disease and bin or burn the remnants of your tomato plants, including any twine.

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans) often leaves marks like these on tomato stems.

Minimising tomato losses to Late Blight

In my garden, a number of my tomato plants have just started showing signs of blight.  Many of my tomato plants are now displaying at least one or two brown markings on their stems and leaves and I’ve also found a few blight-ridden brown tomatoes.  When I first spot the signs of Late Blight on my tomatoes, I spring into action to minimise losses; I harvest all of my ripe and semi-ripe tomatoes, and at the same time, I’ll also gather up the full size green tomatoes along with a good proportion of the smaller green tomatoes, too.

Blight can spread quickly, especially in periods of wet weather.  Thankfully, it has been warm and dry this week, so the disease won’t be spreading as rapidly.  As my tomato plants haven’t all succumbed to Late Blight and the plants that are displaying signs of disease have not been entirely ravaged yet, I’ve decided to leave the smallest tomatoes on my disease free plants, to give these fruits the chance to grow larger; so I can hopefully harvest a greater weight of healthy green tomatoes, before all the plants inevitably become totally overwhelmed by disease.  I must stress that it’s only worth trying this method if you have plants that haven’t yet contracted Late Blight, as this disease is catastrophic and signals the end of life for both tomato and potato plants

If like me, you’re going to try and keep some of your tomato plants going, it really is important to wash your hands and sterilise any tools you’re using before you move on to your next tomato plant.  Late Blight is spread by splashes of water, so water your plants carefully; focus your watering can or hose low down, at your plants’ roots and do all you can to avoid splashing your plants’ stems and leaves.

Dispose of infected plant material

If your tomatoes have been affected by Late Blight, bin or burn any tomatoes and leaves that you’ve removed so far.  Ensure that when your tomato plants have totally given themselves up to disease, that you dispose of this additional plant material in the same way.  Don’t leave any plant debris behind, as the spores of this disease travel in wind and water to journey on and infect other tomato and potato plants.

Here’s one of my tomato plants that’s suffering with Late Blight. I’ve now removed the green, healthy tomatoes and I’ve disposed of the brown tomatoes.

How to ripen unripe tomatoes

Here’s a bowl of tomatoes harvested from the plants in my garden.  I’ve popped this bowl inside one of my cupboards, as I’ve found that placing the tomatoes in a dark, contained space speeds up ripening; usually the smaller the space, the faster the ripening.  I usually pop some unripe tomatoes in my cutlery drawer, as it’s a restricted area and a dark space, but the drawer is also opened frequently – so you can see when your tomatoes are ripe and you won’t accidentally forget about them!

I’ve also ripened tomatoes in cardboard boxes and in thick paper bags, using the same principle; again the darkness and the contained and restricted space hastens ripening.

This bowl of green tomatoes contains a number of different tomato varieties, including: Tomato ‘Honeycomb’, Tomato ‘Orange Fizz’, Tomato ‘Rosella’, Tomato ‘Brandy Boy’, and Tomato Brandywine’.
Here’s the same bowl of tomatoes after spending less than 24 hours in a dark cupboard.
Here’s the same bowl of tomatoes after spending less another 24 hours in a dark cupboard. These tomatoes would have ripened at a faster rate, if they were kept in a smaller space.

Another trick is to pop a ripe banana near your tomatoes, as the ripe fruit releases a gas called ethylene, which speeds up ripening.  Avoid keeping bananas and ripe fruit near to your vases of cut flowers, as the ethylene the fruit releases will also cause your flowers to fade more rapidly.

Hey presto! Ripe tomatoes!

Whatever you do with your unripe tomatoes, don’t store tomatoes that have split open, as these will rapidly decay.  Healthy, and clean tomatoes with split skins should be enjoyed as a bonus for the gardener or used in cooking on the day of harvest.  If your tomatoes are particularly prone to splitting, to prevent further casualties, take care not to store multiple layers of tomatoes above each other.

The skin of this ‘Cherry Baby’ tomato has split. Pictured on the 8th September 2018, during my Tomato Trial.

Alternatively, you can also ripen tomatoes by placing them in a shallow bowl or plate, on a bright and sunny window sill.

Don’t look at green tomatoes as a disadvantage.  Unripe tomatoes produce fantastic chutneys, pickles, and other preserves and can be used in many culinary dishes.  Here’s a link to food writer, Rosemary Moon’s chutney recipes.

By the way, there are a number of tomato varieties that produce fruit that remain green when they’re ripe.  If you’ve grown a green fruited tomato, like Tomato ‘Green Envy’, don’t forget to harvest your ripe, green tomatoes!

For gardening more advice for August, please click here.

For gardening more advice for September, please click here.

For gardening advice for October, please click here.

For gardening advice for November, please click here.

Other articles that may interest you………….

For tips on growing garlic, please click here.

To see my Compost Trials, please click here.

To see my Tomato Trials, please click here.

For more information on growing vegetables, please click here.

For more tips and tricks for growing tomatoes, please click here.

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