As summer loosens its hold and autumn looms ever closer, many nervous gardeners may be wondering: ‘Will my fruiting vegetables ripen in time?’ This is a reasonable question to ask as the weather takes an inevitable turn for the worse.
Warmth loving crops can stall at lower temperatures, spluttering to a halt before they’ve crossed the finishing line. Tomatoes, for example, need a minimum temperature of 10°C (50°F) to fully develop. If temperatures remain below this for much of the day, chances are the fruits will simply fail to ripen.
Another complication is wind, which here in the British Isles becomes increasingly present as the growing season draws to a conclusion. This matters, because many fruits, including peppers and tomatoes, emit ethylene to promote ripening. This odourless, tasteless gas is the vital catalyst that turns under-ripe green fruit to red, yellow and many a colour in between. If it’s too windy, much of the gas simply blows away, slamming the brakes on the ripening process.
Here, then, are a few ideas to speed up ripening of some common fruiting plants.
Ripening Green Tomatoes on the Plant
Towards the end of the season the race is on to bring home the final fruits before cool weather closes the window of opportunity. The easiest way to coax those final fruits to ripen is to make life more stressful for your plants. This may seem like bizarre advice, but by making a plant work harder it will concentrate more of its efforts on fruit production and ripening.
Reducing the amount of water you give plants is the best way to ‘stress out’ plants. This is easy to do if you are gardening in a drier climate or under cover, but in wetter conditions one option is to sever some of the roots to slow the flow of water to the plant. To do this, plunge a spade into the ground about 25cm (10in) away from the central stem. Repeat, cutting out a semicircle around the plant. Alternatively, assuming your back’s up to it and you’re feeling strong, you could yank at the central stem to tear some (but not all!) of the roots – just enough to reduce the volume of moisture reaching the plant and to create artificially dry conditions.
Once consistently cooler weather arrives it’s time to bring all of the fruits indoors, whether they’re ready or not. There are some reliable methods to ripen green tomatoes at the end of the season.
How to Ripen Peppers
Peppers – both sweet/bell and chilli – can be exceptionally prodigious once they get into their stride. Like many flowering plants, the most effective way to speed up ripening is to simply remove ripe fruits as they appear. Some plants produce many tens of fruits over the growing season, so keeping on top of fruit removal may prove to be a daily task.
By removing ready-to-eat fruits, you’ll divert all of the plant’s energies into those that remain. Fellow blogger Barbara Pleasant recommends gathering the first fruits of the season before they are mature, at the ‘breaker’ stage when they show the very first hint of colour. The peppers can then colour up indoors, in the warmth, leaving the remainder to develop further. If the variety you’re growing is heavy cropping, you could continue picking early on in order to maintain a balance between ready-to-eat peppers and those that are lined up and earmarked for consumption over the coming days. Just keep picking and the others will surely follow!
How to Ripen Squashes and Pumpkins
Winter squashes and pumpkins naturally colour up as they mature towards the end of the growing season. Ripening will always be more effective when the fruits are left on the plant. You can hasten ripening by removing the leaves from immediately around the fruits to minimise the amount of shade cast so that the fruits can remain sun-kissed and work on their tan.
You will need to protect plants should a frost threatens while there is still some of the growing season left to run. Temporarily secure plastic sheeting over the sprawling plants. Secure it at the sides with rocks or bricks. Remove the cover during the day or leave it in place if it is forecast to remain cold.
Squashes need to be cured before storing, a simple process that will keep your ripe fruits in good condition throughout the winter.
Ripening Tree Fruits Indoors
Most tree fruits will naturally ripen up on the tree. However, it’s worth noting a couple of simple techniques for softening up the sometimes rock-hard offerings sold at the grocery store. Simply pop the fruit(s) into a paper bag then loosely close it at the top. The bag will trap any ethylene gas produced by the fruit, encouraging it to ripen to perfection. You can even add an apple or banana (two generous ethylene producers) to the bag to speed ripening still further.
Rice also traps ethylene, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by many Indian households who sink the fruits into containers of rice. Delicate fruits such as peaches or nectarines need very careful handing to avoid bruising. Simply lay these soft-skinned beauties, stem-side down and not touching, between two layers of breathable linen. Within a few days their unmistakable fragrance will serve as your cue to tuck in and enjoy!
Naturally these suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m very keen to hear how you speed ripening along at the end of the season. What tricks do you use? Please share them in the comments section below.