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Harvesting perfectly ripe tomatoes is a delicate and difficult feat that requires much attention to detail. Picked too early, and they’ll be hard and flavorless, picked too late, they will be overripe and mushy.
It’s all about picking them at the right time and in the right way (for you)… but, when is that?
When is the best time to harvest tomatoes? You can either pick tomatoes when they’re already fully ripe or you can harvest them at first blush (when they start to change from green to yellow, orange, red, pink, or purple) and allow them to ripen inside. Though ideally, many gardeners believe that harvesting tomatoes is best done when they are mature green, hinting on red at the bottom, and then allowed to ripen off the vine.
This article describes the steps for harvesting homegrown tomatoes that are left to ripe on the vine, so read on below!
About Harvesting Tomatoes
The harvesting of tomatoes usually occurs at the end of the plant’s growing season, which is typically late summer and early fall.
If you are growing your own tomato plants, harvesting each tomato individually, as it ripens gives you the best tasting fruits.
If you have too many and don’t want them to ripen all at once (and go to waste), you may also pick them while they’re still green, or yellow, and ripen them on the kitchen counter or window sill.
Steps to Harvesting Tomatoes
The following steps thoroughly explain all that needs to be done during the harvesting of tomatoes:
1. Research Your Tomato Species (Know What Color They Should Be)
Although most species of tomatoes turn bright red, some varieties of tomatoes turn orange, green, yellow, pink, or even purple when they’re ripe.
In order to know what color to expect, be sure to research what variety your tomatoes are before harvest season.
2. Check Daily for Ripe Tomatoes (Shininess, Weight, and Smell)
During harvest season, check your tomatoes if they’re ripe yet approximately every 1 to 2 days. Make sure they’re free of any dark spots or bruising, don’t have a tarty or no smell at all, and gently squeeze to test for firmness.
A perfectly ripe tomato ready for picking should be of the perfect color, smooth, shiny, have a slight firmness to its feel, and earthy-sweet smell. It is also noticeably denser than an unripe one.
3. Carefully Pull Tomatoes from the Plant (or Use Scissors or Snippers)
When doing the actual picking, do not pull the tomatoes from the plant by force.
Instead, carefully but firmly, grasp the tomato in one hand, the stem with the other, and pull the tomato from the plant breaking the stalk just above the flower-shaped leaf that’s found on top of the tomato. I
f it doesn’t snap off easily, use a sharp, clean pair of scissors or garden clippers to snip the vine, leaving just a little of the stem attached.
Can I pick my tomatoes when they are green?
Yes, but the tomatoes should be mature green or the first bloom of red should appear on the skin. Don’t pick them yet if your tomatoes are still whitish-green.
Once you’ve harvested the tomatoes, store them indoors where they are safe from the elements and pests while they continue to ripen.
Do tomatoes ripen faster on or off the vine?
A tomato will ripen at the same speed on and off the vine, as long as the tomato is mature and has reached its full-size potential.
The ripening rate depends largely on temperature and the amount of sunlight that it receives. If ripening of the vine, tomatoes do best in window sills that receive plenty of light.
Suggested Reading: How to Grow Tomatoes: Gardening Guide
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