When and How to Pick Tomatoes

How to Pick Tomatoes

Don’t know when is the best time to pick your tomatoes? We’ve got a list of things to look out for to know the ideal stage of ripeness to harvest the tastiest and juiciest yields! 

As a bonus, we’ve also answered a few commonly asked questions to boost your chances of harvesting the best tomatoes you’ve ever had.

When To Pick Tomatoes

When To Pick Tomatoes
Image: Gusta Garden

Not sure when to pick your tomatoes? We’ve listed a couple of tell-tale signs that your fruits are ready to be harvested.

You’ll be able to tell by the fruits’ color, texture, smell, how easily they come off the vine, and their days to maturity as indicated in their packaging. 

Here’s a more in-depth explanation of each!

1. Colors are deepened, matching the packaging’s reference

Colors are deepened, matching the packaging’s reference
Image: Healthline

Tomatoes that are ripe develop a deepened color that should look similar or identical to the fruits on the packaging. 

Like other crops, tomatoes also have varying levels of ripeness. These are:

  • The Mature Green Stage is when tomatoes are fully-grown but are still green, indicating that they’re about to become ripe within the next few days. 
  • Next is the Breaker Stage which, just like it sounds, is when the fruit starts to show signs of ripening, particularly at the blossom end. This is especially true for heirloom tomato varieties. 
  • Afterwards, the Turning Stage starts, which is when 10 to 30% of the fruit begins to change color.
  • When about 30 to 60% of the fruit has changed color, it’s in the Pink Stage. At this point, what once was a firm fruit should begin to soften.
  • At the Light Red Stage, your fruits should be 60 to 90% red.
  • The Red Stage, as it suggests, is when your fruits are 90% or more. By this time, your fruits should be ready to be picked.

If you have red tomatoes, it’s easier to tell when they’ve changed color compared to purple, yellow, or striped varieties. Don’t worry, though, as you’ll get better with experience. 

2. Fruits come off the vine easily

Fruits come off the vine easily
Image: The Grocer

Another cue that’ll help you judge if your tomato fruits are ready to be harvested is whether or not they come off the vine easily.

In fact, it should be as easy as cupping the fruit in your palm and twisting it gently. The fruit should pop right off without much difficulty.

If the fruit isn’t coming off with a light tug and you need to exert quite a bit of effort, then that simply means that your tomatoes aren’t ready yet.

3. Fruits are slightly soft, but not squishy

Fruits are slightly soft, but not squishy
Image: Canadian Food Focus

Another indicator is the fruit’s texture. A ripe tomato should be soft and supple with a little bit of give when you give it a light and careful squeeze.

Meanwhile, unripe tomatoes are usually firm and hard. They feel similar to an apple and don’t give (like, at all) when squeezed.

Unripe tomatoes are usually firm and hard while ripe tomatoes are soft and supple, but not squishy. Overly ripe tomatoes, on the other hand, are very soft.

4. Fruits are shiny and glossy

Fruits are shiny and glossy
Image: NDTV Food

Tomatoes that are ready to be harvested should be shiny and glossy. If your tomatoes have a slightly dull color and a powdery skin quality, then they’re not yet ready.

Inspect your fruits regularly to check whether they’re entirely glossy. Otherwise, you may pick them too early.

5. Fruits should smell fragrant

Fruits should smell fragrant
Image: Southern Living

Another sign to look out for is the smell of your tomatoes. Depending on who you ask, its fruits are known to smell sweet, woodsy, basil-y, or even ketchup-y.

While its aroma won’t be significantly strong, you should be able to smell a sweet yet tangy scent indicating that they’re ready to pop off their stem.

6. Refer to days to maturity

Refer to days to maturity
Image: New Scientist

Another way to tell if your tomatoes are ready is to count the days to maturity. Keep in mind that the days to maturity will vary depending on the tomato variety that you’ve grown, though this can easily be seen on your seed packet or looked up online.

Identifying how many days since you’ve transplanted your tomato and your variety’s days to maturity will give you an idea of how long it’ll take before your fruits begin to ripen. 

How To Harvest Tomatoes

How To Harvest Tomatoes
Image: FMCG Business
DifficultyVery Easy ●○○○○
Materials NeededGarden pruners

Harvesting tomatoes is pretty easy when they’re ripe because they pop right off the stem. Thus, you won’t have to exert a lot of effort when harvesting them by hand. 

If you’d rather use garden pruners and cut from the stem, that works too. What’s important is that you don’t pull the fruit or the vine as this could harm the plant. 

What To Do:
1. Select the tomato that you’ll be picking.
Based on the aforementioned signs that your fruit is ripe, choose the tomato that you’ll be harvesting.
2. Cup the tomato in the palm of your hand.
With one hand, sit the fruit gently on your palm.
3. Grasp the vine firmly with your other hand.
By holding the vine, you’re giving it support and reducing the likelihood of tugging too hard, which can cause damage to the plant.
4. Carefully twist the fruit without squeezing too hard.
Twist the fruit gently until it pops off from the vine. Alternatively, you can use your garden pruners to cut off the fruit from the vine.
5. Inspect your other tomatoes for ripeness.

How To Ripen Tomatoes After Harvesting Too Early

How To Ripen Tomatoes After Harvesting Too Early
Image: The Guardian

If you’ve harvested your fruits too early, there’s no need to worry as tomatoes can still ripen even after having been separated from the vine. 

Here are several options that you can do to hasten the ripening process!

Wrap each tomato in newspaper and store at room temperature

Wrap each tomato in newspaper and store at room temperature
Image: Kentucky Pest News
DifficultyVery Easy ●○○○○
Materials Needed• Newspaper
• Cardboard box

One of the easiest ways to quicken the ripening process of tomato fruits is by wrapping each in newspaper then storing them in a dimly lit room.

This will trap ethylene gas, a naturally occurring compound in tomatoes that will help it ripen quicker.

Ensure temperatures are around 65F to 70F or 18C to 21C only for perfectly ripe tomatoes in 2 weeks.

What To Do
1. Wrap each tomato fruit in a newspaper.
2. Put the wrapped fruits into a cardboard box.
3. Store the box in a dimly lit area at room temperature.
4. Check on your fruits daily to inspect how well the ripening process is going.

Put the  fruits in a closed paper bag and store in a dimly lit area.

Put the  fruits in a closed paper bag and store in a dimly lit area.
Image: The Times of India
DifficultyVery Easy ●○○○○
Materials NeededPaper bag

Similar to the first option, this method also involves storing tomatoes in a closed environment, but this time in a paper bag. At its own pace, the ethylene gas will help promote ripening.

Be sure to store your tomatoes at room temperature, ideally between 65F to 70F or 18C to 21C. After 14 days, you should be able to see perfectly ripe fruits.

What To Do:
1. Put your tomatoes inside a paper bag.
2. Store the box in a dimly lit area at room temperature.
3. Check on your fruits daily to inspect how well the ripening process is going.

Leave the fruits on the kitchen counter.

Leave the fruits on the kitchen counter
Image: Reading Eagle
DifficultyVery Easy ●○○○○
Materials NeededKitchen counter / table

The lazy gardener’s way is simply to let nature take its course. This means just leaving your fruits as they are on your kitchen counter at room temperature and waiting for it to ripen naturally.

What To Do:
1. Sit your tomatoes on your kitchen counter or table.
2. Leave them alone to naturally ripen at room temperature.
3. Check on your fruits daily to inspect how well the ripening process is going.

FAQs

How do I store freshly harvested tomatoes?


The best way to keep freshly harvested tomatoes is to leave them in a well-ventilated area at room temperature. This way, they’ll be able to retain their flavor for the next 4 to 7 days.
If possible, don’t store your tomatoes in the refrigerator because cold temperatures will affect the texture and taste quality. The tomatoes will develop a mealy texture and a dull, watery taste.

Is it safe to eat unripe tomatoes?


It’s safe to eat unripe tomatoes. The only major difference is that green or unripe tomatoes are a lot more acidic than their ripe counterparts, which means it could cause stomach or acidity problems when consumed. 

How often should I harvest tomatoes?


Pick any tomatoes that have turned ripe, even if it’s just one or two. Leaving a tomato on the stem even after it has ripened can cause it to crack or split. 
As the first few fruits begin to ripen, check on your tomato plant daily to inspect whether there are any fruits ready to be picked. 

Can I eat tomatoes that have cracked or split?


While not the tastiest-looking, tomatoes that have cracked or split are still perfectly usable and edible. 
To prevent this in future crops, keep your soil moist constantly by adding a thick layer of mulch. Stress from drought is the primary culprit from cracked or split tomatoes, so water regularly. 

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