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Why Aren't My Tomatoes Ripening?

Steve Reiners, Co-Team Leader, Cornell University
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

August 22, 2012

Why Aren't My Tomatoes Ripening?
With all of the hot weather we have experienced this summer, growers were expecting their tomatoes to ripen very quickly. Unfortunately, just the opposite is happening. Ripening seems very slow, almost like what we see in the autumn when temperatures are much cooler.

So what's happening? It takes six to eight weeks from the time of pollination until tomato fruit reach full maturity. The length of time depends on the variety grown and of course, the weather conditions. The       optimum temperature for ripening tomatoes is 70 to 75F. When temperatures exceed 85 to 90 F, the ripening process slows significantly or even stops. At these temperatures, lycopene and carotene, pigments responsible for giving the fruit their typical orange to red appearance cannot be produced. As a result, the fruit can stay in a mature green phase for quite some time.

Light conditions have very little to do with ripening. Tomatoes do not require light to ripen and in fact, fruit exposed to direct sunlight will heat to levels that inhibit pigment synthesis. Direct sun can also lead to sunscald of fruit. Do not remove leaves in an effort to ripen fruit. Also, soil fertility doesn't play much of a role. We do know that high levels of magnesium and low levels of potassium can lead to conditions like blotchy or uneven ripening or yellow shoulder disorder. But the slowness to ripen is not likely due to soil conditions and adding additional fertilizer will do nothing to quicken ripening.

If you absolutely cannot wait, some growers will remove fruit that are showing the first color changes.  These fruit, in the a mature green or later phase, could be stored at room temperature (70-75F) in the dark. A more enclosed environment would be best as ethylene gas, released from fruit as they ripen, will stimulate other fruit to ripen. If temperatures remain high outdoors, these picked fruit will ripen more quickly, perhaps by as much as five days. As far as flavor, the greener fruit should develop flavor and color similar to what you would get if field ripened. The key is picking them when they are showing the first signs of ripening (no earlier) and keeping them at room temperature. Do not refrigerate, as this will absolutely destroy their flavor.

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Lorsban is Banned: What Now?

Cabbage maggot (CM) feeds on brassica seedlings by tunneling into the stem of the plant just below the soil line. Their feeding can result in unsightly and unmarketable produce in the case of root brassicas like turnips, and in stunting, reduced stand, and reduced yield in head and stem brassicas like cabbage and broccoli. Lorsban and other formulations containing the active ingredient chlorpyrifos were the first line of defense for control of cabbage maggot in several brassica crops, because 1) at ~$10 per acre, it was affordable, and 2) it was easy to apply and avoided worker exposure as a directed spray at the base of the plant.

Unfortunately, Lorsban and all of its generic products for food and feed uses were banned in New York as of July 31, 2021, and in the United States as of February 28, 2022. In the absence of Lorsban and other chlorpyrifos-containing insecticides, NY brassica growers have 6 products belonging to 4 chemical classes available to manage cabbage maggot. This article, Lorsban is Banned: How to Control Cabbage Maggot in Brassicas Now?, written by Cornell Vegetable Program Specialist Christy Hoepting and Brian Nault of Cornell AgriTech, provides our "2022 Top Picks" to use instead of Lorsban plus results of Cornell research trial results related to application method, rate, and cabbage maggot control.


Propagating Strawberry Plants Through Runners

The production of strawberry plants is challenging due to the rigorous sanitation needs that must be met, especially in field propagation settings, but also in greenhouse settings. To add to that, growers in New York may find it more difficult to obtain their preferred strawberry varieties in the coming years, as fewer nurseries are propagating strawberries. The solution: strawberry plug plants propagated from runners in a controlled environment such as a greenhouse or high tunnel.

Plug production of rarer varieties that do well in New York State will fetch a higher price than dormant bare-root plants due to the higher cost of production and lower availability in the Northeast, especially if plants are available in August. Propagating Strawberry Plants Through Runners, written by Anya Osatuke of CCE Harvest NY and Brad Bergefurd of The Ohio State University, only discusses production and marketing potential of plug plants because successful field production of bare-root strawberries is very difficult to achieve without the use of highly restricted soil fumigants. 



Cornell Commercial Vegetable Guidelines Available

The 2022 Cornell Integrated Crop and Pest Management Guidelines for Commercial Vegetable Production are now available!

Written by Cornell University specialists, this publication is designed to offer producers, seed and chemical dealers, and crop consultants practical information on growing and managing vegetable crops in New York State. Topics include general culture, nutrient management, transplant production, postharvest handling, organic production, and managing common vegetable crop pest concerns. A preview of the Vegetable Guidelines can be seen online.

Cornell Crop and Pest Management Guidelines are available as a print copy ($43.50), online-only access ($43.50), or a package combining print and online access ($61.00). Shipping charges will be added to your order. Cornell Guidelines can be obtained through many local Cornell Cooperative Extension offices (call to confirm availability), or from The Cornell Store at Cornell University or call (844) 688-7620.


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