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Does topping a tomato plant really help the fruit ripen faster?

 
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Our tomato plants seem to succumb to blight in September. So, I usually only plant cherry tomatoes that ripen sooner, but even those seem to be late--the little pear tomatoes still haven't ripened, and the sungold and tiny cherry tomatoes are only ripening a 2 a day per plant. I also accidentally planted a huge orange strawberry tomato, which supposedly takes a long time to ripen...and I don't have a long time!

I've heard that cutting the tops of the plants will help them ripen the existing tomatoes faster. Should I do that now? Does anyone have personal reports of this actually helping?
 
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are you wanting them to grow faster/ bigger because of short growing season?
or just ripen for use?
as ripening can be done off the plant.

as for topping , its my understanding this causes a short bushy plant when its in vegetation state.
 
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I've heard that summer pruning a tree in fruit encourages it to put all its strength into the fruit, instead of waterspouts and green growth. That does seem to have worked for me to at least some extent. Whether the same approach would work for tomatoes, I'm less sure. Here we're generally told to remove all the flowers at the start of Sept, but I've done that and it just puts out more flowers in a week or so.

I've also heard that trimming back the greenery will let the "sun will get to the fruit to ripen it", but I've seem others say that it makes no difference. The ripening is a plant reaction to time and heat in my opinion, not sunshine beyond the sun giving the plant strength, and that's the job of the leaves.

Have you got a place to hang the whole plant upside down for the fruit to ripen? That's worked for me, but I don't currently have a spot to do so. It can be pretty messy, and ideally it should get hung where you will naturally check on it every day or two.

Clearly it would be interesting to try a variety of approaches to see what works in a specific ecosystem, but not this day!
 
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Growing up in Alberta, I seldom saw a ripe tomato. We picked them green and ripened them indoors.

I was out picking tomatos with mY visiting 90+ year old grandma today - this is probaby the first summer in her life she hasnt grown tomatos. She swears by picking tomatos as soon as they begin to turn from green, to encourage the plant to ripen the rest.

I have read-but not tried yet- that topping tomatos only really works for indeterminate varieties. I do usually start to pinch off flowers in September,to encourage my tomatos to send more energy into the remaining fruit.
 
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Jay Angler wrote:I've also heard that trimming back the greenery will let the "sun will get to the fruit to ripen it", but I've seem others say that it makes no difference.



Huh. All gardening is local. Here, the fruit needs a bit of shade, or they get sunburnt.
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Our tomato plants seem to succumb to blight in September. So, I usually only plant cherry tomatoes that ripen sooner, but even those seem to be late--the little pear tomatoes still haven't ripened, and the sungold and tiny cherry tomatoes are only ripening a 2 a day per plant. I also accidentally planted a huge orange strawberry tomato, which supposedly takes a long time to ripen...and I don't have a long time!

I've heard that cutting the tops of the plants will help them ripen the existing tomatoes faster. Should I do that now? Does anyone have personal reports of this actually helping?




Ripening of tomatoes is temperature driven.  So, if you want them to ripen on the plant (tastier than indoor ripening), suggest choosing or making a micro-climate in your garden that provides maximum warmth e.g. beside a sun-facing brick wall, hessian sheeting to protect from wind/early frost, etc. Variety is also a major factor, most you won't be able to ripen simply because the climate is unsatisfactory.

Tomatoes are either determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vine like). The former set fruit and then pretty much all ripen together (more or less), the latter continues to fruit throughout the season. So, it's personal choice on how you prefer to go e.g. all ripe, or some green for other uses like pickles, etc.

Regardless of variety, I always remove the lower leaves to reduce fungal diseases. On indeterminate varieties I choose one or two main leaders and remove all others, and, remove the laterals that systematically grow at the trunk/branch joint.

Chopping the top off 'bush' varieties may work because of the way they set fruit and ripen. On indeterminate, I don't know - but it will surely reduce production.

You could also consider choosing varieties that exhibit strong growth/early ripening genetics - keep the seeds like John L does.


 
Nicole Alderman
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Jay Angler wrote:
Have you got a place to hang the whole plant upside down for the fruit to ripen? That's worked for me, but I don't currently have a spot to do so. It can be pretty messy, and ideally it should get hung where you will naturally check on it every day or two.



My house is  pretty small, and these plants are pretty big! I might be able to find a spot for them...but when do I bring them in? I'm relatively new to tomatoes, and it's never frost that kills my plants--it's blight. And, every year, the blight comes at a different time, and I just don't have enough experience to be able to tell the signs. And, once it has blight, everything dies--I don't think bringing it inside would help.

So, really, I just want to get some tomatoes before blight. If I pick them while they're green, they will still ripen?

Tomatoes are either determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vine like). The former set fruit and then pretty much all ripen together (more or less), the latter continues to fruit throughout the season. So, it's personal choice on how you prefer to go e.g. all ripe, or some green for other uses like pickles, etc.

Regardless of variety, I always remove the lower leaves to reduce fungal diseases. On indeterminate varieties I choose one or two main leaders and remove all others, and, remove the laterals that systematically grow at the trunk/branch joint.



This is good to know! I didn't really have a chance to prune these, and they're very much indeterminate varieties, I think. They're very viney and sprawling.

I don't know if there's much I can do for happy microclimates, as I'm northfacing and sheltered by tress on both the east and west sides, so the decreasing sunlight is happening pretty quickly after the solstice, taking with it the heat. And, we've had a mild summer (thankfully! I don't need any more forest fires)!

It sounds like pruning off the tops and newer branches won't hurt, and might just help the exsisting tomatoes ripen faster. I think I'll try it on my largest two and see what happens!
 
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A tomato naturally detaches itself from the plant at about the time the first "blush" of colour comes, so you can pick it from there on in with no change in flavour. I top my indeterminates and I take all the suckers off the bush types that have not already set fruit about now. We are around 10 weeks out from frost but nights will drop under 10C in about 5 weeks.

Blight yes, mine have blight right now. I made a rookie error and have my greenhouses next to the potato patch this year. Potatoes here always get blight and I got a good crop of early blight on them and a small amount of late only a small amount as the early had already killed the non resistant plants! Now I can see late blight on the tomatoes. If you spot blight take off the affected leaves and remove them it will slow it down. keeping the plants open and not crowded helps slow/reduce blight as well about the most susceptible plant will be an indeterminate left to sprawl!


I tried a little experiment with some San Marzano tomatoes this year. the interwebz told me they were indeterminate so I pruned most of them to one stem. but they never grew like a cordon more like a bush so I left them alone after the initial pruning, I went back about a week ago and pulled out all the side shoots with no fruit and all new flowers etc. the ones I had pruned had set between 2 and 4 trusses of 6-8 fruit which are all a decent size just waiting on colour. The ones I had not pruned had set NOTHING they have masses of flowers but no fruit yet so I pulled them out it's too late for that here. SO my take away was that pruning early meant I got fruit, not pruning ment 0 fruit (with san Marzano, I also have Victorian Dwarf and one called Sibirskiy Stambovyi) both bush tomatoes and neither pruned that are harvesting now)
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I don't know if there's much I can do for happy microclimates, as I'm northfacing and sheltered by tress on both the east and west sides, so the decreasing sunlight is happening pretty quickly after the solstice, taking with it the heat. And, we've had a mild summer (thankfully! I don't need any more forest fires)!



How about planting some of the tomatoes into pots so they can be moved to follow the sun and into heat sinks at night?

We do it with tender plants to protect them from our summer heat.
 
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You can definitely prune tomato plants rigorously. I've attached a photo which isn't my plant, but this is how far you can go. You do need to leave some leafs in the top, otherwise the juice stream will get interrupted.
You don't need to prune this rigorously mid-season, but when it gets towards the end of the season, and definitely when it gets wetter, I would recommend chopping this much foliage off.
Blight can manifest itself on leafs which are wet for at least 8 hours, so keep your tomato plants airy towards the end of the season; don't allow thick, moisture retaining foliage anymore!

I believe it was a good choice to go for cherry tomatoes; the smaller the fruit, the earlier it ripens, yes. My season is also short, and at the height of summer the temperature here averages some 16°C (61°F). That's not warm enough for an ordinary tomato, meaning that in an ordinary summer I wouldn't get a single tomato to ripen. The cherry tomatoes are a tad too small for my taste, but I'm growing a few golf ball sized tomatoes this year and getting some harvest: Quedlinburger frühe Liebe and Alaska. Both are short season specialists and determinate. I would recommend determinate varieties in short growing seasons, because there's little point in infinite growth in a short season, and you'll just be pruning forever to keep them in check. By the way, determinate is sometimes called self-topping.
It looks like my Alaska has faster ripening fruit compared to Quedlinburger frühe Liebe, but I like the taste of Quedlinburger Early Love, as it's sometimes called, better. There will be more early varieties, I believe there are 1000's of tomato varieties altogether, but if you're on the edge of where tomatoes can still be grown you'll just need to look for earliness, cold resistance and disease resistance first.

What I'm not sure about is whether a cold weather tomato is about the same thing as a very early tomato. Fact is that a very early tomato that is said to produce in about 2 months' time will still take about 4 months in my climate. Growth is always slow here. Real frost might only come as late as November, but tomatoes will turn brown from cold well before that, if disease hasn't struck them.

If people have recommendations to make about varieties that they have experienced to do well in those coolish, maritime summers that people like Nicole and myself live in, then I would encourage them to post!    
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Jay Angler
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Nicole Alderman wrote:

If I pick them while they're green, they will still ripen?

I've been told, that if at least one fruit has ripened on a plant, you can pick all the rest and let them ripen indoors. That said, I have found that if you wait until the plants have gotten too much overnight chill and damp (the end of August in my location) they tend to go rotten instead of ripening.

Also - for people growing small tomatoes - I use the old cardboard-like egg cartons and put a single fruit in each "egg" spot as an easy way to keep the fruit a little separate so if one goes moldy, they don't all go. The cartons stack well and I try to sort the fruit a little while filling the cartons so that the ones likely to ripen first are in the upper cartons, and the ones that may never ripen are in the bottom ones. That way I only have to check the top cartons really regularly, but I still recommend eye-balling the lot at least every fortnight to catch mold as it starts. I have actually had home-grown tomatoes as a special Christmas dinner treat doing this!

Clearly from comments others have posted, getting my over-grown tomatoes under control is over-due!
 
bernetta putnam
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ethylene gas that tomatoes naturally release, which in turn ripens.
The fastest way to ripen a tomato is by adding a banana to that breathable container. Bananas release the most ethylene gas of any fruit, so adding one into the mix will boost the level of ethylene in the container and speed up the ripening process. If you don’t have a banana handy, an apple is a good second choice.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Today was a sad day for our tomatoes. My daughter had--operative word is "had"--a gloriously huge tomato plant. It was LOADED with fruit and was the largest tomato plant I've ever seen in person. It was taller than me and took up at least three feet in circumference. Every day, my little two year old daughter would ask if her tomatoes were ripe, as her brother's cherry tomatoes had been ripe for over two weeks. So, multiple times a day, I check her tomato  plant, looking for a lovely yellow pear tomato. Today I checked it, and found a BROWN one, and then spotted all the blight that had occurred basically overnight.

At first I thought I could just remove infected branches...only to discover it was infected at the base. I picked 4 quarts of the biggest tomatoes and washed them in soap with a drop of tea tree oil and dried them really well and put apples and bananas with them. I've been telling her it's not her fault and that even my mom gets blight on her tomatoes--some years are like that. She seems to be taking it okay, but it breaks my heart to hear her say over and over, "Why didn't my tomatoes ripen?" And, "I didn't do anything wrong. I took good care of my tomatoes. Grammie takes good care of her tomatoes and they die, too."  She tried to eat one of her unripe tomatoes and tried to like it, but just couldn't. She asks every few minutes if they are ripe yet.  I'm just so sad for her :'(.

So, yeah, this is why I want to get my tomatoes to ripen faster. Because I never know when late blight will suddenly hit, and it's not like being able to take inside the plant to ripen before a frost, because you can't tell when the blight will happen. I figured I was still safe for at least another week. It's only the middle of August!


Here's a picture of her garden before blight. The giant green blob behind the nasturtiums on the left was her tomato plant. The plant was big enough to fill a wheel barrow when I removed it!
20190810_133744.jpg
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Here's a picture of her garden before blight. The giant green blob behind the nasturtiums on the left was her tomato plant.
 
J Grouwstra
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That is some sad story! But you're not alone. 2017 was a bad year for blight in my region, then I also read the story of a mother having to destroy lots of tomato plants due to blight infestation, in August. She was moved to tears, she had been growing tomatoes for a few decades without any blight problem, so it came to her as quite a shock.

Your garden looks nice! But that tomato plant became impossible to control. That's the problem with so many tomato plants in a short season: they're gearing up for a grand display for around Christmas time, but there won't be any Christmas for them!
Bush types (the determinate ones) still come in different sizes; they don't all stay small. I can now see that my Alaska stays well below a metre, I don't need to top it, and the fruits are ripening. Quedlinburger frühe Liebe still grows fairly tall, and although I'm doing a lot of pruning there, the fruits are ripening much slower. Although those tomatoes are bigger as well.

Nicole, I hope you'll have a much better tomato season next year!  
 
Jay Angler
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Please give the poor girl a hug from me!

Have you tried growing Juliette's or Early Arctic Plenty in your ecosystem? I find where I am - damp, not much hot weather and *lots* of dew - that smaller fruit has better chances.

I was going to do a whole thread on my tomato bed build, but I was waiting to see the end results. I'll give you a preview here:
step-9-2019-June-23.jpg
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Now the bed is so full of tomato branches it's lifting the cover. I need to thin, but no time yet.
 
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Well, I tested the theory of cutting back tomato plants step one yesterday. I forgot to take an "after" picture, but my goal was to reduce the greenery that didn't have fruit to allow more airflow to stems with fruit. In the chaos of branches, I of course cut off some fruit - so sad. There's much less fruit than I'd hoped, but any is better than none.

In the mean time, I saw the interesting stuff growing underneath and on the stem of one tomato which I think is what I've heard referred to as a "slime mold"? I'm prepared to ignore it, but thought I'd post pictures to see if anyone has ideas, opinions, concerns?
step-10-2019-Aug-18-enthusiastic-growth.jpg
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Now if only I could get some ripe fruit!
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The plant looks healthy - is it cooperative?
It-s-on-the-soil-as-well-as-the-plant..jpg
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I'm hoping it's either friendly, or neutral. The plants all look happy.
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Our tomato plants seem to succumb to blight in September. So, I usually only plant cherry tomatoes that ripen sooner, but even those seem to be late--the little pear tomatoes still haven't ripened, and the sungold and tiny cherry tomatoes are only ripening a 2 a day per plant. I also accidentally planted a huge orange strawberry tomato, which supposedly takes a long time to ripen...and I don't have a long time!

I've heard that cutting the tops of the plants will help them ripen the existing tomatoes faster. Should I do that now? Does anyone have personal reports of this actually helping?



This sounds a lot like a misunderstanding of the mechanics of plants to me.
Trimming the growing tip of plants like tomatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon along with most of the melons stops the runner from extending further and so that runner will indeed put more nutrients into the growing fruit.
Tomatoes work similar in that cut the growing tip part but if it is an indeterminate species, then the topped branch will simply put off side shoots, defeating the purpose.

I am so sorry Nicole, (when they aren't ripe, tomatoes are best battered and fried as in fried green tomatoes, the cooking makes them sweeter and takes most if not all the bitterness out).
I have  bagged tomatoes in BPB's and even added a slice of apple to force tomatoes to ripen, (it works quite well, but do check them every day so nothing rots).

If you have a tomato plant, or any other fruiting plant that has "woody" stems, you can pinch the stem which will break the cambium layer, this will cause the plant to force almost all its energy into the fruits.

Redhawk
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Jay, that is  slime mold, nothing to worry about, if you want to remove it from the stalks, just wipe it off with a cloth or paper towel.

Redhawk
 
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I thought it might be a slime mold. I don't know much about them, so thank you for telling me that it isn't a big worry.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I've had slime molds cover the bottom foot of tomato plants, when the moisture dries up and the air temps get high, the mold dies back, the spores will sit dormant until the next time all the conditions are just right for a bloom.

Many slime molds are spread by our use of spent coffee grounds, the slime molds are just part of the microbiome of spent coffee grounds, you also get a bevy of good bacteria.

Redhawk
 
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I tent my tomatoes with 4 mil poly, which I use year after year, and which seems to help tomatoes ripen as well as holding off blight, which I think is more likely with our cool, damp nights as we approach autumn up here on East/central Vancouver Island.  Been working for me for years.
 
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This year I decided to not prune my tomatoes, as i have done before, because it gets so hot here in the summer, I thought the plants would do better with the shade of their own leaves. So far I got a few, 1 per day of large tomatoes from 3 plants, then the temp really heated up (over 100) and all production slowed down. I have heard that plants stop growing when the temp is over 90. I used to always pick off the suckers, but this creates spindly plants. Too much sun on the fruit will burn them. The leaves love sun, but the fruit seems to do better if it's shaded.

Also it gets down in the 50's at night so it takes a long time to ripen on the vine. I pick them when they are starting to color and let them ripen on the counter. I think a cover of some sort, as the tunnel in the pictures, would make them ripen much faster outdoors. They did much better in a small greenhouse I used to have in Petaluma (more coastal). I'm in inland Mendocino county now.

When I know a frost is threatening, (usually October) I bring all the tomatoes in and wrap each one in newspaper and keep them in a box where they slowly ripen. The newspaper or towel keeps them from contaminating each other if any start to mold. Sounds like a good idea to put a banana in with them, although it would need to be changed every few days.
~Lydia



 
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All I know is: I had to top and prune the tomato plants, otherwise the tomato-jungle in the greenhouse would become impenetrable!

This photo was made AFTER pruning, already one wheelbarrow load of green!
 
Jay Angler
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Inge Leonora-den Ouden wrote:

All I know is: I had to top and prune the tomato plants, otherwise the tomato-jungle in the greenhouse would become impenetrable!

Yes - that was basically my motivation - I wouldn't have been able to find the fruit in the jungle.

That said, since I was cutting healthy green stems and leaves, the silver lining was a lot of compostable material to add to a nearby compost heap. My heaps don't tend to get hot, but are more worm-attracting heaps. Nothing that grows is a waste if it will support other growth. Lovely greenhouse Inge!
 
Inge Leonora-den Ouden
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Jay Angler wrote:... Lovely greenhouse Inge!


Thank you, Jay. The greenhouse isn't mine, it's a garden I work on as a volunteer. And I learn from working there (f.e. everything grows much harder in a greenhouse, so you don't have to plant that much in it )
 
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