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Do you need to ripen summer crops before the frosts?
Maybe it’s mid to late summer and you’re beginning to wonder if your summer crops will change color and ripen. Maybe a frost is coming and you need to harvest them but they’re green.
Nothing is worse than having a gorgeous set of summer crops like squash, pumpkins, peppers, tomatoes or eggplant that are starting to look like they might not mature in time.
Taste is also far superior when your summer crops get the chance to ripen on the vine.
Some crops like peppers change color from green to orange, red, yellow or even purple when they are at peak maturity, however, they can also be eaten at the green stage so your crops can still be harvested. Others like tomatoes can be ripened inside your house picked at the light green stage if needed as a last minute option if a fall frost is threatening. Crops like pumpkins, melons, squash, and eggplant need to be ripened on the vine and in general.
Learn how to ripen summer crops on the vine or indoors
How to get Summer Crops to Color and Ripen on the Vine
Although it’s still time dependent, there are few things you can do for your summer crops so they try to mature their ‘fruits’ and stop growing or trying to produce more crops. The goal here is to prevent further growth or stress out the plant so that it ‘reproduces’ itself in time, which means that the fruits are mature enough that the seeds inside could germinate. This results in the fruits tasting and looking the best and ripening on the vine.
- Reduce watering– heat stressing the plants will signal them to mature their fruits faster.
- Trim off the tops– of crops like indeterminate tomatoes, peppers, or vining squash so that they stop growing upwards or outwards and focus their energy on the existing fruit. Find the fruit that’s the largest on the plant or vine and trim off the rest of the plant.
- Give them a boost– make compost, manure or fertilizer tea, or buy organic tomato fertilizer (affiliate link) to make sure your crops have enough nutrients to ripen faster.
- Pinch off flowers- If you see any flowers on your plants keep removing them so they aren’t focusing their energy on growing new fruits, just ripening old ones.
- If you notice disease or pests on your plants remove those parts so the infection doesn’t spread. Heat stressed out plants will reproduce but often diseases and bad bugs will be too stressful and result in an inferior crop.
- Remove small fruit- although you could hope they ripen in time, depending on how much time is left in the summer it’s better to remove the small fruit and let the plant focus on ripening the existing ones.
- Create heat with tunnels- If you have crops that are shorter like melons or peppers you can put a low tunnel over top of them to add extra heat and help them change color.
- Remove plants that just won’t make it– From my experience crops like eggplant and melons have been the hardest to mature in time and for some reason are often stunted. If this is the case or if you notice that any of your plants really won’t have enough time to mature before the first fall frost you can choose to pull up the plants and sow something new. Depending on how many days you have before fall, there are many crops that you can sow that can handle frosts unlike the summer ones, so you’re not wasting garden space.
- Use frost protection– In general, your summer crops cannot handle frosts at all and will die and you won’t be able to harvest the fruits. However, if you’re ambitious enough you could use frost protection fabric (which is either a lightweight or heavy row cover) in hopes that your summer crops ripen on the vine.
- Pay attention to your pumpkins and squash so you know when it’s the right time to harvest and cure them.
- Watch the forecast- towards the end of summer and early fall keep an eye out for any frost warnings. If one threatens you have the choice between harvesting your summer crops and hoping they ripen inside or just taking a chance that they’ll still ripen on the vine. Once the nights and days get cool however the chance of them ripening will slow down.
Do you have other tips to ripen summer crops?
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.