Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Fall Tomato Hand-me-Downs


Hello Fellow Readers, While wrapping up the fall planting season, providing garden tweaks for a longstanding client, become friend, I had the delight of receiving veggie garden hand-me-downs. Ed of Bridgewater, NJ, tidied up his pots filled with green tomatoes; some plants were still in bloom.

I love tomato plants’ woodsy, earthy smell and adore the more compact varieties planted amongst perennials such as echinacea and salvia. As Ed was cutting them down, the smell heightened. The cuttings went to the compost pile, and Ed gave most of the green tomatoes to me. They’re almost heart-shaped with a teardrop point at the end.

“What kind of tomatoes are they?” I asked.

Tomato-nibbled-ripening-indoors“I’m not sure. A friend brought back seeds from Sicily. For the last ten years, I’ve harvested seeds and plant them the next year.” Ed added, “the funny thing is, each year, the fruit has gotten a bit bigger.”

Some are half-dollar sized, and others are still the original quarter-sized, about the size of cherry tomatoes. They’re best in cooking and sauces, Ed explained. During the summer overabundance, he tosses them into the freezer in bags “skin and all” and uses them all winter long. “I just take them out of the bag and toss them into whatever I’m making.” Nifty idea!

I told the story of my previous cherry tomato attempts in pots hindered by the resident chipmunks who took one bite out of each just before they ripened, leaving them littering the ground. I preempted the carnage by taking the ripening indoors.

How to Ripen Tomatoes Indoors:

Tomatoes can’t ripen unless they reach their full size, known as the mature green stage when they turn a lighter green, and a gel-like substance is inside. At this stage, two growth hormones change and cause the production of ethylene gas, which in turn ages the cells resulting in ripening. This time of year, you may as well bring them all in before the first heavy frost snags them.

Place green tomatoes out of direct sunlight, and in seven to ten days, they’ll reach peak ripeness. Or, if you wish them to ripen faster, put them in a brown paper bag which will contain the ethylene gas. Store tomatoes at fifty-five to seventy degrees (cooler if you wish to slow the ripening) and regularly check for ripeness.

Ed’s generous bounty is on a kitchen towel on the counter. A few have chomp marks that scared over. It’s polite of Ed’s chipmunks to at least leave them on the vine where they could heal and continue to grow. Those that ripen too fast to use will go in the freezer using Ed’s “skin and all” technique. Storing fresh tomatoes in the frig makes them mealy and ruins the flavor.

Perhaps those that won’t ripen could be made into fried green tomatoes. Although five hundred calories a serving (one large cornmeal, breadcrumb, and flour encased fried tomato) may be a deterrent versus fifty calories for a fresh one. Instead, I may gift them to our resident chipmunks — but far, far away from the garden :^).

Garden Dilemmas? (and your favorite Podcast App.)

Column updated 10/16/21

You’ll get a chuckle out of a previous column titled Avoid Tomato Carnage; Ripen Indoors!


When I had arrived, Dolce, Ed’s kindhearted lab, welcomed me. She was sitting under the Kousa Dogwood, and I had interrupted her snack of the berries dropped from the tree.

“It’s funny how she takes off the stems and spits out the seeds and only eats the ones from our tree, though there are many around the neighborhood she comes across on our walks.” Ed thought they were crabapples. Their berries are too large for many birds, which is why some naturalists don’t favor Kousa dogwoods. It’s the first I heard of dogs eating them. Humans do, too; they say they taste like a combo of pumpkin and mango. But, as Dolce discovered, the plentiful seeds might get in the way. To learn about a special Kousa Dogwood, check out the column titled Avis Campbell Gardens.


Garden Designed by Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting in cooperation with Three Season’s Garden Design.


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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