Gardening Tips: When To Pick Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes are very easy, but picking them can be a little tricky. This is because you have to know when to pick tomatoes, the right time matters in so many ways. You probably think the best time to pick tomatoes is when they are red, but colors are not the main factor. In fact, red tomatoes can be quite a little late for picking. Today, we are going to discuss the best time to pick tomatoes and why it is important. So if you are new to gardening and growing tomatoes, you are at the right place.

1. When To Pick Tomatoes?

Generally, there are 2 convenient options that you can choose from when tomato harvesting season approaches. You can either pick your tomatoes right before the fruits are ripe or when the tomatoes are fully ripe. Either way is good, depending on how you want to do with your tomatoes after you pick them. Let’s see some brief details of these two options below.

1.1. Option 1: Before Ripe / Partially Ripe

The unique thing about tomatoes is that these fruits can be picked before they are completely ripened. So the harvest time for this option is when the fruit is in a mature green stage. This is at the end of their growing season, which is usually in the late summer. Then you can let it ripe off the vine, and it remains for at least a week or longer. Picking tomatoes before they ripe prevents them from bruising or splitting, and it is also a nice control over the ripening process. When you pick your tomatoes in this stage, they have a lesser flavor than the second option. However, you can keep them longer to use in various cuisines and dishes.

When picking tomatoes before they are ripe, you can see by the light blush on the fruits. This indicates the right time to harvest them just before they ripe without losing their taste. If you want your green tomatoes to ripen faster, wrap them in newspaper and leave them in a dry place. A few days later, your tomatoes will be ready for you to use in the kitchen. If you want them to ripen slower, store them in a place with temperatures between 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler the temperatures, the slower the ripening process is, so they may last from 3 to 5 weeks after harvesting. Picking tomatoes before they are fully ripe can reduce cracking and pest issues, and that is a big benefit.

When To Use This Option

  • When you want to keep your tomatoes longer because picking tomatoes early gives them a longer lifespan.
  • If you have a lot of tomato plants, it is advisable to harvest them when they are partially ripe. You are able to control their ripening process, and you can use them without having to rush.
  • To protect the fruits from animals, insects, sun spots, and possible summer or wind storms. Since tomatoes can continue to ripen in this stage, it is safer to harvest them a little earlier.
  • When you have to transport your harvests to another area, your tomatoes will ripen along the way. By the time they reach their destination, their quality will be just perfect for the consumers to cook or use.

1.2. Option 2: Fully Ripe

If you want the flavor of your tomatoes to be sweet and savory, harvest them when they are fully ripe. Picking tomatoes when they are fully ripe is quite easy and simple, and the color is obvious. You should pick these fruits once you see the first bloom of red color on their skin. Make sure that they are ready by lightly squeezing them to check their firmness before picking them. Then grasp the tomato and gently pull it as you hold its stem with another hand. Remember that the softer the fruit, the more mature it is.

Another way to know that the tomatoes are fully ripe is that they slip from the plant easily. You won’t have to tug or yank them, and you should never do that because it can damage the plant. So if the tomatoes do not come off when you lightly pull them, don’t force them to come. In case you trust that they are good to harvest, you may also use pruners to clip them off. It is easy and fast, and it saves a lot of your time if there is plenty of fruits to harvest.

When To Use This Option

  • When you want to enjoy the freshness and sweetness of the tomatoes at their best. While the tomatoes in option one are delicious, they are not as savory as the fully ripe tomatoes. So if you want to dine with perfect tomatoes, you may leave some to fully ripe before picking them.
  • You can harvest them when they are fully ripe if your home gardens do not have any risks from animals or pests. Cracking tomatoes can attract insects that can damage the fruits, especially in outdoor gardens. If you have a proper cover or shelter for your tomatoes, then that shouldn’t be the issue.
  • If you don’t have too many tomatoes to keep, harvesting them when they are fully ripe is good. This also allows the fruits to go through a full natural ripening process and develop the proper amount of sugars. Home gardeners out there prefer to pick the tomatoes when they are fully ripe because of the size. Sometimes fully ripe tomatoes grow slightly larger when you leave them to be ripe naturally.

Tips: You can tell that a tomato is ripe when it sinks in the water.

2. How To Harvest Tomatoes

Now that you know when to pick tomatoes, it is time to learn how to harvest them. While picking tomatoes is an easy job, different types of tomatoes require different methods. We are only going to focus on the most common tomatoes below, so let’s take a look.

2.1. Beefsteak Tomatoes

This type of tomato will be ready for you to harvest in 80 to 85 days after seeding. When picking a beefsteak tomato, you want it to be red and ripe. Gently twist the fruit while pulling it slowly, and it will come off the vine easily. In case there are pests or split tomatoes, you may need to pick your beefsteak tomatoes when they are green. Splitting is a very common problem when growing larger tomatoes so you won’t have to worry about that. Check out some details here for beefsteak tomatoes.

2.2. Brandywine Tomatoes

As for Brandywine tomatoes, you should harvest them when their colors turn red or rosy pink. This should be around 90 days after planting, and the changing of the color will tell you right away. You have to be extra careful when harvesting them by picking these tomatoes the right way. When harvesting a Brandywine tomato, you have to cut the fruit off the stem; not the whole stem.

2.3. Celebrity Tomatoes

Your celebrity tomatoes will be ready for you to harvest after about 60 to 65 days after planting. The key to harvesting this type is to pick them regularly as soon as they become all red. This is to avoid overloading the plants because celebrity tomatoes grow all year long. As soon as you remove the ripe fruits from the vine, the plants will begin to produce new ones. When picking them, you should break the stem at the joint or by cutting it with sharp shears.

2.4. Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes will ripe around 65 to 70 days after planting as the color develops. The trick is that sometimes they still look green even after they are already ripe. So when the time comes, you may try picking a few to test. If your cherry tomatoes come off easily, then they are ready for you to harvest.

3. Do’s & Don’ts On How To Store Tomatoes

After picking your tomatoes, you should also know how to store them properly. I include what you should and should not do, and they are useful tips for beginners out there. Just a few simple tips, feel free to check them out.

  • Do not refrigerate partially ripe tomatoes because the fruits will not ripen well, or even worst, become mealy. This is because refrigeration simply halts the ripening process almost entirely and causes the fruits to lose their flavor and nutrients. Your harvest will go to waste, and that is one of the rookie mistakes that you should avoid.
  • Keep the tomatoes in a bright area that is away from direct sunlight to prevent blistering or injuring the fruits. One of the best places to store these fruits is at the corner of the kitchen counter. It is easy to find and reach, and you can always check their ripening process. The temperature of the storage area should be average, but slightly cool is also acceptable.
  • Store the tomatoes in a basket or box, avoid stacking too many of them on top of each other. This can cause the fruits at the bottom part of the container to bruise or crack due to the weight. So you will need a few baskets or boxes if there are a lot of tomatoes because circulation is also important. Make sure to check them every few days to see if they are healthy without rotting or splitting.
  • If you harvest tomatoes every season, it is advisable to have a drying rack or shelve to store them. Installing a rack is very easy, and it makes storing tomatoes so much more convenient. This also means your fruits will ripen evenly and fast, which is exactly what you need.

Final Notes

Growing tomatoes is a fun gardening activity, and the high yield makes things even better. I only included the basic yet important tips that you should know about growing and harvesting tomatoes today. We are going to talk more about other homegrown produce later, make a request if you’d like. Also, feel free to ask questions about growing tomatoes and I will be there to help.