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When and How to Pick Tomatoes: Right Time and Way to Harvest

Picking ripe tomatoes from plants seems very easy but that is the tricky part of the tomato harvesting process. Harvesting tomatoes at the right time following the right method give you the quality and flavorful fruits than your neighbor gardeners who just pick their tomatoes roughly.

When to Pick Tomatoes- 6 Tips to Choose the Right Time

Changing the fruit color is the primary sign to know your tomatoes are ripening. But there are some other indicators to decide when to pick tomatoes. You may find more than 10,000 tomato varieties out there and they got different colors. Most of the tomatoes are red but you may find purple, black, pink, yellow, white, and other colors.

So, there are several things to consider before picking tomatoes from plants as follows.

1: Tomato Color Stages

According to a study on Optimum procedures for ripening tomatoes found that the tomatoes can be picked up by its color. This color indication will confirm you when your tomatoes are ready to pick and get the best flavorful tomatoes.

When to pick tomatoes- Ripening Stages

At the primary stage tomato plants start flowering and shortly they turned into immature fruits. Then the fruits start growing larger. After a few weeks later they reach their final size and appear “immature green” color.

Then the tomatoes start ripening and the deep green color gradually turned into light green color. It happens because the green fruits ultimately lose their chlorophyll during the ripening process and the carotenoids and lycopene help to develop the final color of the tomatoes.

After reaching the matured green stage the blossom end shows a light green color. Then, due to color variations, different colors may appear at the blossom end of tomatoes like yellow to pink or other colors.

This blossom end color indicates the ultimate fruit color of those particular tomato varieties. This color-changing at the blossom end from light green to other colors that are called the “Breaker Stage”.

Once the tomatoes reach the breaker stage, they finish ripening up off the vine. In addition, the tomatoes get the full flavor or very close to it at this stage. 

If you start to pick up your tomatoes from the breaker stage and keep them indoors at room temperature for a few weeks they will ripen naturally.

So, as a home gardener, I recommend you pick up your tomatoes once they reach the breaker stage.  Because this will maintain the standard of the taste and flavor of the tomatoes. Moreover, this will protect your tomatoes from fruit cracking, sunscald and blossom end rot. In addition, it will also help to ripen faster the other immature fruits on the vine.


2: Check the Firmness and Weight of Tomatoes

Once your tomatoes get the ripening color then gently squeeze those tomatoes to check the firmness. If you feel they are slightly firm that’s perfect. If you get, they are too hard then give them a few more days to ripe properly on the vine.  

On the other hand, if you find them too soft that means they are over-ripe. So, pick them up and use them for suitable dishes instantly.

Once the tomatoes ripen perfectly, they become heavier than unripe tomatoes. A fully ripe tomato gets denser and when you drop them onto water, they will sink on it. This is the final test to confirm your tomatoes are ready to pick or not.

3: Know the Tomato Varieties

At first, identify your tomato varieties whether growing from seeds or seedlings. If you buy seeds from the gardening store just see the seed packets to know the details of that particular tomato variety.

On the other side, if you collect seeds from your friends or neighbors or get seedling from your local nursery then you must need to confirm the following things of the tomatoes before harvesting.

A: Growth Type

Tomatoes can be divided into determinate and indeterminate varieties based on their growth type. However, you may also find semi-determinate tomatoes beyond those varieties of tomatoes.

Determinate tomatoes are bushier in types that grow for a certain length. After that, they produce fruits in the cluster and ripen all at once.

The whole harvesting process completes within two weeks once start ripening fruits. So, you can harvest the whole plants at a time. This type of tomatoes mainly uses for canning or making sauces.

Indeterminate tomatoes are vine types that continue growing and producing flowers and fruits until the first frost come. These types of tomatoes need support to grow and produce fruits.

Besides regular pruning also helps produce good quality fruits and ripen them faster. Here you have to check and pick the fruits daily.

Semi-determinate tomatoes grow for a certain length but continue blooming and producing fruits until the frost appears. In that case, you need to make a schedule for picking tomatoes regularly.

B: Color

Most of the tomato varieties turn red color during the harvesting time. But you may also find some other colors like orange, green-yellow, purple, pink, or multi-color fruits at the final stage of harvesting tomatoes.

So, you might know the final color of your tomatoes to understand they are ripening.

C: Days of Maturity

The maturity date is another important factor to know when to pick tomatoes. When you buy seeds or seedling from a gardening store or nursery then seed packets or plant tags will give you this basic information.

Besides, when you get seeds or seedling from your friends or neighbors ask them to know this information.

5: Picking Tomatoes Earlier to Avoid Fruit Problems

If your tomatoes show any symptom of fruit cracking or blossom end rot problem, this is the high time to pick them up earlier at the matured green stages.

Picking tomatoes earlier helps you to prevent blossom end rot and fruit cracking. Both of the problems caused by environmental effects like temperature fluctuation, nutrient deficiency, heavy rainfall, irregular watering, poor soil condition, uneven moisture level, hot and dry weather condition, and so many factors.

It’s true that harvesting tomatoes earlier at the matured green stage will give you less flavorful fruits than vine-ripe tomatoes. But it will also help you to avoid some problems and confirm a safe harvest.

5: Pull Up the Entire Tomato Plants Earlier with Fruits Due to Environmental Effects

Some of your tomatoes may unripe on plant stem when the first frost will come. In that case, you can pull up the whole tomato plants by its roots before the frost fall. After that, hang up the plant’s upside down with a room temperature (68°-77° F) in your basement or garage.

However, your tomatoes also ripen in temperature between 55° to 65° F. But it takes a longer time to ripen around two to three weeks or more.

Moreover, you should always keep in mind that tomatoes stop ripening when the temperature goes down below 50° F or reaches above 86° F.

Therefore, as well, if you grow tomatoes in a short growing season like desert areas you may also facing over-heat problems during summer which can withstand the tomato ripen process. In that situation, you may also pull up the tomato plants by its roots and keep them indoors at room temperature if they are close to the mature green level.

6: Check the Smell and Taste

Check the smell of the tomatoes is another indicator that the fruits ripen properly. A ripen tomato releases sweet and earthy odor. On the other side, unripe tomatoes have a tart scent or no smell at all.


How to Pick Tomatoes- Right Way of Picking Tomatoes

Picking tomatoes from plant stem is not rocket science. There are two simple ways that you can pick tomatoes from your plants.

1: Hand Picking:

Hold the tomato plant stem with one hand then gently grasp the ripe tomato with another hand. Then twist to depart it from the fruit holding stalk. Besides, you can also turn off the fruit stalk just above the calyx.

2: Cut Off Tomato Fruit Stalks Using Scissors or Pruners

Some tomato varieties have a thicker stalk and hard enough to turn off from its stem. In that case, you can use garden pruners or scissors to cut off the fruit stems.


Where and How to Store Tomatoes after Picking Up

Some gardeners keep their tomatoes in a sunny windowsill to ripen quickly after picking up. That is a great mistake and your tomatoes will spoil before you eat them. Never keep them in direct sunlight.

Tomato leaves need direct sunlight to generate energy for producing fruits. Nevertheless, the fruits just need warmness to become ripen not the light.

Keep your tomatoes in the dry warm cabinet, cardboard box or shaded countertops within a temperature between 55° -65° F. At first place a paper towel and keep the tomatoes on it to absorb the moisture if there are any rotting tomatoes. Remove the rotting tomatoes quickly once you get them.

If you try to ripen your tomatoes in a room temperature below 55° F, they will take a longer time to ripen and the tomatoes will taste mealy and less flavorful.

The breaker tomatoes ripen better and get the best flavorful fruits when the room temperature remains between 60° -65° F.

If you want to faster the ripening process wrap up individual tomatoes with newspaper and check them regularly. It may also reduce the chances of fruit rotting.

Besides, you can also keep your tomatoes in a brown paper bag with a banana or a slice of apple to faster the ripening process.


Why Store Brought Tomatoes Are Picked Up Earlier?

Due to huge demand and long way of shipping the commercially grown or store brought tomatoes harvest at the mature green stages. So that they can withstand early ripening during the transport. And so, they are less tasty and flavorful than homegrown tomatoes.

The matured green tomatoes naturally emit ethylene gas which turns the green tomatoes into red, yellow or other ultimate colors of the particular tomato varieties. This gas also helps to develop fruit cells and softening the inside of the tomatoes.

Sometimes the store brought tomatoes may ripen artificially applying ethylene hormone and a little amount of beta carotene.

Therefore, the store brought tomatoes are less flavorful than homegrown tomatoes.


Special Harvesting Tips for Cherry, Roma and Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato harvesting time may also vary on some special factors like their growth type, the purpose of uses, size, color, temperature and other factors.

When to Pick Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry tomatoes are the most popular tomato varieties to the home gardeners. They take a couple of months to ripe depending on the growing condition and some other factors. Once they start ripening you can pick them regularly during the harvesting time.

Some gardeners pick cherry tomatoes when they are in a semi-green stage and ripen them by exposing ethylene gas. But it won’t give the perfect flavor and sweetness as you expected when planting them.

In some cases, cherry tomatoes may start cracking if they left on the vine for too long after ripening.

However, you can pick them at any stage after the first blush. Then keep them in room temperature between 55°-65° F on the counter and they will continue to ripen naturally.

On the other hand, for getting vine ripe tomatoes to let your tomatoes ripe until they are fairly red and feel pliable for red varieties. You can check their pliability by lightly pinch them placing between two fingers.  Do the same thing for yellow, orange and other colors of cherry tomatoes.

So, to get the best sweetness from cherry tomatoes let them ripe on the vine until they are bursting with sweetness. Pick them when they appear their ultimate colors and seems perfectly ripe during harvest.

When to Pick Roma Tomatoes

Roma tomatoes grow for canning, making sauces or freezing them for later uses. They are determinate or bushier in type, contain fewer seeds and meatier than other varieties. For their special uses, you need a large scale of fruits at a time. 

Roma tomatoes are determinate so the plants grow for a certain length and produce and ripe fruits roughly the same time. It takes around 70 to 90 days to harvest them after transplanting outdoors.

If the temperature goes above 86° F or down below 55° F this is the best time to pick them if the fruits start coloring.

After picking keep them in room temperature between 68°-77° F and they will continue to ripen. Never use the fruits before they evenly color or get enough firmness.

Usually tomatoes ripe from inside to outside. So once a Roma tomato appears to ripen from the blossom end to the top evenly, it might be ripened inside. Color is the best ripening indicator for Roma tomatoes.

So, pick them when they are ripening evenly.

If you want to make fresh salsa, salad or pasta sauce then pick them when they are bright red and firm. For canning tomatoes for future use let them ripen a little dark red and softer.

When to Pick Heirloom Tomatoes

Harvesting heirloom tomatoes a little bit different than other tomatoes. You can’t always pick them based on their colors. Moreover, checking them by squeeze may rot them faster. So, you may do the following to pick heirloom tomatoes.

  • Heirloom tomatoes ripen inside before they reach their ultimate color. So, pick them before they look ripen completely.
  • Usually, heirloom varieties have a thicker stalk and may difficult for you to snip off the fruits by hand. Besides, it may also harm the plant stem. So, you can use scissors or pruners to pick heirloom tomatoes.
  • Sniff out the tomatoes gently lift on vines and if you find they smell earthy and slightly sweet, then they are ready to harvest.

What Time of Day is Best to Pick Tomatoes?

Morning is the best time for harvesting tomatoes. Pick your tomatoes before 9 A. M. when the sun clearly rises on the eastern horizon and the morning dew has already dried out.

Avoid picking tomatoes during hot hours of the day between 9 A. M. to 5 P. M. because it will turn your tomatoes limp or mushy very fast. As well as avoid picking them in the evening too.

During the nighttime tomatoes fill up again the moisture they lost in the daytime and make sugar from the starches they gathered throughout the day.

So, tomatoes that picked in the morning usually are sweeter and juicer than the tomatoes picked at other parts of the day.

Besides tomatoes keep longer in refrigerated storage if they harvested in the morning.


Quick Tips of Harvesting Tomatoes

  • Pick your tomatoes quickly after heavy rainfall to avoid fruit cracking if they are at the mature stage and already start ripening.
  • When a tomato looks ripen outside it might be ripened inside because they start ripening from inside out.
  • Harvest tomatoes when the daytime temperature reaches above 86º F and constant on that level for a long time.
  • No light required for ripening tomatoes, only warmness.
  • Remove damaged fruits from fresh fruits. If may lead to rot fresh tomatoes when storing them indoors.
  • In desert areas, you will get a short growing season. So pick your tomatoes before the extreme summer heat comes.
  • As well as pick your tomatoes before the first frost fall of the winter.
  • Vine ripe tomatoes attract birds and other natural critters. So, pick them before they are fully ripe on the vine.

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Sources and Citations:

John Michael
John Michael is a self-help writer and a hobby gardener. He has a bachelor's degree in Library Science. Michael’s passion in writing is to inspire the beginner gardeners to not just “hang in there” or “make it through” but to thrive. He does this through blogging at ofags.com. He began writing in 2017.

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