Whqt makes a tomato ripen?

gardenerme(z9/21 inland socal)June 3, 2009

I understand the short day long day concept, but what exactly is it that makes a tomato ripen? I have lots of green tomatoes: grape, heatmaster, big boy, early girl, etc. but all are solidly green.

Is it the day length, heat, warm nites, what makes them ripen suddenly, when they have remained green for so long?

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Well, I'm no expert, but the fruits probably when ripen the seeds are mature enough to be dispersed. I think it's kind of an evolutionary adaptation that when seeds are mature, the fruits sugar content increases, which is something animals look for. Thus, the ripening of the fruit at the same time as the seeds are mature increase the chances that the seeds will be dispersed by animals as they eat the fruits.

So, what you want to know is how do the seeds mature. That's something that requires energy, which the plant gets with photosynthesis to synthesize molecules with high energetic bonds like ATP. That requires light, water and CO2. It also need all sorts of food like micro and macro nutrients, I'm also not sure but there might be some amino acids which the plant can't synthesizes. And of course water. With all that, the plant will be able to ripen your tomatoes.

You probably shouldn't worry too much about it tho. If they got where they're now, your tomatoes will ripen just fine.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 11:17AM
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I am no scientist, barely an effective gardner, but it is my understanding that a gaseous hormone called "ethylene" causes fruit to ripen. That is why one should harvest tomatoes at first blush because the fruit will ripen as quickly and with the same taste as one left on the vine.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 12:01PM
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Karen Pease

Correct about ethylene, although it's not clear that leaving it on the vine longer doesn't help taste. Ethylene is a plant hormone that the tissues in the fruit respond to.

If you want to ripen something fairly fast indoors, put it in a paper bag with an apple or two. They release ethylene.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 1:08PM
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carolyn137(z4/5 NY)

Ethylene gas is one of the first products to be made in the almost ripe tomato and it's followed by a sequence of molecular events that turn on different genes that facilitatie ripening on the vine.

Doing a Google search on what turns on ethylene gas and the following events in the unripe fruits leads to so many links that can be confusing b'c most of them are concerned with specific enzymes, their DNA sequences, etc.

Ripening tomatoes in a paper bag with a cut apple or whatever is about the same as buying store tomatoes in the winter b'c they too are ripened by being put in huge chambers and gassed with ethylene.

That's why you get those anemic pinkish tomatoes that are rock hard and indicates that color is not the final process in tomato ripening. Far from it when you consider that about 400 different organic compounds have been detected by mass spectroscopy that are involved in tomato taste and mass gassed tomatoes don't even a chance of producing some of those compounds.


    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 2:42PM
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Karen Pease

I agree -- picking green yields an inferior tomato.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 3:55PM
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I'd always heard that a soft caress of a maidens hand would make a tomato blush.


    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 6:11PM
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ripening occurs due to genetics and several hormones (not just ethylene).

of the hormones:
ripening in tomato starts when absisic acid (ABA - which plays a role in preventing seeds from germinating in the fruit) and giberellic acid start to decrease and auxins and ethylene begin to increase. These four hormones are what what start the ripening process. The hormones are regulated through genes and biochemical responses which switch on and off and feedback off each other (upregulate or downregulate).

Tomatoes are what are known as climacteric fruits. Climacteric fruits ripen on OR off the plant if matured when picked (past the breaker stage).

Tomato fruits picked passed the breaker stage and ripened properly will develop the same flavor potential as on the vine.

Genetics also control if something is hard and cardboard like. Some some varieties tend to be harder and that has been one of the focus of commercial breeding. However even varieties without such genetics which have fruit force ripened with ethylene, ripen reverse of the way they should and they stay "hard" on the inside (usually they look more pink or white in the center).

Fruit naturally ripen from the inside out. Fruit put in light or with added ethylene ripe predominately on the outside (peel and pericarp) and the interior parts stay "hard" as they have not fully ripened.

So if one picks a fruit when its already turning color and holds it OUT of light and doesn't add ethylene it can reach the same potential as if it stayed on the vine.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 7:00PM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)

Anyone want to try a multi-site blind taste test with one vine-ripened and one kitchen ripened?

    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 10:22PM
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petzold6596(8b southern NM)

At least two research papers are on the web that collaborate the sameness of taste of vine ripped tomatoes and picked half blushed tomatoes. By picking them early it eliminates fruit cracking during heavy soil moisture conditions,

    Bookmark   June 4, 2009 at 11:24PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)

I'm facing a run of 110 degree weather and I have a couple dozen large green maters at the breaker stage but not quite blushing. That's assuming I understand the terms. I think blushing means the start of true color on the blossom end. I understand the breaker stage to be when the fruit goes from solid green to turning a little pale or that star pattern appears on the blossom end. Mine are all in this stage. Is this correct? And are those good to come indoors?

My experience with this high dry heat last year was that all my fruit cracked. I want to avoid that. I will also be avoiding sunscald and I could be wrong about this, but I think the heat messed up their flavor last year, and I would like to avoid that.

From reading Mulio above, I feel like I should pick them all and store them in a cool dark place. I'm thinking a cardboard box near an AC vent. Also is it best to pick the fruit early in the morning when it is only about 80 degrees outside? I think I read that somewhere too.


    Bookmark   June 26, 2009 at 5:29PM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

Is there any advantage to bringing them in with the stems intact like the "vine ripened" tomatoes in the stores? They don't come close to garden grown, but the are much better than the old cellophane wrapped package of gassed tomatoes I grew up with in the winter. You don't get much less flavor than that.


    Bookmark   June 26, 2009 at 8:02PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


No, wait a while longer until you see the first color on the tomato before bringing it inside, not when it's turned that pale green color prior to breaking color.

It isn't a fast process -- I have many tomatoes that are lightening from that rich green to the paler green as they're maturing, but they've been like that for a week or more. They're still "doing things" internally in preparation for full maturity that can't be accomplished if they're removed from the plant at this stage.



Once the fruit breaks color, there's no difference between removing them singly from the plant or harvesting them with the stems attached. Both will mature at the same rate.

If they haven't broken color, the ones attached to the stems won't be any better than if you'd picked them singly -- neither one will fully mature because they've been detached from their source of nutrition and chemical signals needed to complete the ripening process. Once they break color, they're good to ripen on the counter. That's the key, not whether they have stems.

Grocery stores use the "stem-on" appearance of gassed tomatoes to fool people. You have to pay for the stem weights, which contribute NOTHING to the ripeness of the tomato, and the tomatoes, too.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2009 at 8:24PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

If you leave the stems on there is a greater chance of fruit puncture and spot rotting, but if you take the stem off there is a chance of breaking the intergrity of the fruit at the scar site, which also means faster rotting. I leave the stems on because that is the way I cut them off of the plant and don't want to fight to get them off, and I place the fruits upside down for best results because the shoulders are harder/less ripe than the bottoms. I hate looking down at what looks like a perfectly good tomato and seeing that it has rotted on the bottom and gushed goo all over the box.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2009 at 8:27PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

If we can believe the PR -- admittedly, a big "if" -- some of the stem-on tomato varieties were actually selected for taste, not simply for firm fruit, thick skin, regular appearance, etc. Campari, for one.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2009 at 11:14PM
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I've been tomato growing for 19 years. If picked after the breaker stage and allowed to ripen indoors without the apple slice ethylene push they taste just as good as vine ripe IMO. Yes I have done taste comparisons. I can't pick exactly at the right hour (You'd have to to be PERFECTLY ripe) or even every day. I usually pick every three days and when I pick - I pick! Anything close gets picked, say three days close. Birds and rodents get very few that way. I must say, once and awhile I'll find a beautiful juicy deep red, gold or pink tomato and while still sun warm it is a nice treat...:)

    Bookmark   June 27, 2009 at 6:56AM
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I've started covering my tomatoes at night to avoid the 45-50
degree nights but days reach 70-75 degrees. Would they ripen as fast if I leave the cover on during the day, too?

    Bookmark   September 5, 2011 at 11:54PM
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