When To Pick Tomatoes
by Susan Grey on August 26, 2019
When should I pick my tomatoes? Tomatoes should be picked at the end of the season, once they are at the end of their growth, and beginning to change color.
Once mature, tomatoes release ethylene gas, the gas is produced by hormones which change the color and soften the fruit, this indicates that the tomato is ripe and ready to be picked.
How long it takes for tomatoes to mature will depend on the variety and physiological factors.
They can also be picked after they have fully ripened and turned red on the vine. However, this is not recommended for some tomato varieties as it can lead to rot and delayed maturity of other fruits on the vine.
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Signs Your Tomatoes Are Ready to Pick
Feel and Texture
Tomatoes that are still growing have a firm feel, but once they mature, they become slightly tender. This tenderness is an indication that the tomato has started to ripen from the inside out.
The tomatoes will also lose the trichomes which are the fuzzy hairs covering both the leaves and fruit of tomato plants. Trichomes serve a significant defensive role by secreting essential oils which deter pests due to the unique scent, taste, and even the texture of the trichomes itself. As the tomato fruit matures it usually loses this fuzzy hair and develops a shiny skin.
As the tomato matures, the skin turns from a dull matte green surface to glossy and shiny. This is followed by the formation of brighter shades of color such as deep red, golden yellow, and pinkish hue depending on the variety.
The color may start in patches, especially on the sides that are exposed to direct sunlight. In about a week the color usually becomes relatively uniform.
Smell and Taste
Tomato plants are evolutionarily adapted to attract animals to consume the ripe fruits and disperse the seeds elsewhere for continuity of life. This adaptation is in the form of sweet, tangy, sugary taste. The smell turns into a strong, sweet, earthy odor.
One of the best ways to tell if they are ready for harvesting is by tasting one. If the interior has already turned pinkish-red and developed a deep flavor then it's time to pick them.
Once the tomato fruit has matured and the nutrient uptake slows down, the stalk to which it's attached to tends to wither away. For this reason, if your tomatoes are resisting coming off the vine then its an indication that the fruits are not ready for picking.
If your mature tomatoes are falling on their own from the vines, then it's an indication that it's time to harvest the rest from the plant. Some heirlooms, especially the large ones, will require a knife to cut off the stock instead of pulling and twisting the tomato which can injure the skin.
Tomatoes have a robust growth cycle. If the plant gets watered regularly, and at least 9 hours of sunshine per day, then it will grow as expected. This is important as every variety has a specific time frame from planting to first flowers to maturity.
When buying tomato seeds, you should, therefore, take note of the maturity dates. With that in mind, you can then predict right about when to expect your tomatoes to be ready for picking.
Should Tomatoes Ripen On Or Off The Vine?
Determinate or Indeterminate?
Determinate Varieties - These only have a single batch of fruits per plant. They can mature on the vine and are harvested together. The tomatoes usually mature within a week of each other. This varieties vines immediately begin to die off as soon as the fruits mature.
Indeterminate Varieties - These continue to fruit throughout the season. It's encouraged to pick mature fruits as soon as they begin to ripen to allow the plant to continue growing.
Tomatoes require at least 9 hours of sunshine and regular water supply to flourish. Excessive heat will leave the tomatoes sun scald while cold temperatures will prevent the tomatoes from ripening.
If you are expecting heavy rainfall, then you should pick them and have them ripen off the vine to avoid splitting. Interested in learning more about why tomatoes split? Check out our article (here).
Bird and Bugs
When tomatoes are left to ripen on the vine chances are that a few will overripe or split thus attracting birds and ants that feed on them.
Pros and Cons
On The Vine
Gives the fruits enough time to develop a natural flavor.
It's much easier when dealing with determinate varieties whose fruits ripen around the same time.
Allows the fruit to fully mature and take in as much water and nutrients as it requires until its picked.
Exposes the ripe fruits to ants and small animals such as birds leading to fruit destruction.
The fruits are more likely to crack and split while ripening due to exposure to varying weather conditions.
Leaving mature fruits on the vines takes up nutrients that could have otherwise gone towards other still maturing fruits, thus slowing down the process.
The fruits may get sunscald or even not ripen up depending on the temperature outside.
Off The Vine
Reduces the chances of the fruits developing cracks or splitting due to exposure to harsh weather conditions.
Picking the fruits as soon as they mature allows other fruits on the vine to get the much-needed nutrients to attain maturity.
Reduces wastage of ripe fruits which might otherwise have been damaged by birds on the vines.
Allows you to control just how fast or slow you want the tomatoes to ripen.
The fruits might not develop a natural flavor compared to those that ripen on vines.
It can get tedious to pick the tomatoes as they mature and then having to ripen them indoors.
Tips for Picking Tomatoes
Pick Once Ripe and Mature
When mature tomatoes are left on the vines for too long, the chances are that they will either develop cracks or split. It is recommended to harvest mature tomatoes as soon as they are ripe, to avoid waste.
Picking tomatoes as soon as they mature encourages the faster maturity of other fruits on the vine as the nutrients are diverted to these maturing fruits. Tomatoes that are left on the vine after maturity are also more likely to go bad.
Remove Split and Cracked Tomatoes
Split tomatoes are likely to mold and rot much faster in storage than the rest of the healthy fruits. Once the healthy tomatoes come into contact with the moisture released by the split tomato, the entire batch of stored tomatoes might rot.
Sort By Ripeness
As some fruit may mature faster than others, it's common to end up with a mixed degree of ripeness. This becomes problematic during storage as already ripe tomatoes may overripe and rot during storage.
Store the mature green tomatoes together. The ripe ones should be consumed first, this ensures that you always have a constant supply of ripe tomatoes.
Remove Damaged Fruit
While picking, you should remove any damaged fruits. These include fruits infested by tomato fruitworm, blossom end rot, and other pest infected fruits.
The damaged fruits should be disposed of. This also gets rid of the rotten tomato smell.
Tomato Types And When They Are Mature
Different tomato varieties have different characteristics, such as flavor, color, and texture when ripe. This makes it hard to identify mature tomatoes until they begin to ripen.
Bush goliath is a compact plant that produces large fruit with a sweet flavor.
Color: Bright red
Size: 6 to 8 oz
Smell: Sweet earthy odor
Maturity Period: 68 days
Black Cherry Tomato
Black cherry tomatoes were initially bred in Florida By Vince Sapp. This indeterminate variety produces dark fruits that are perfectly round.
Color: Deep red skin with a dark hue
Size: 1-3 oz
Smell: Intense aroma of ripened cherries
Maturity Period: 64 days
This heirloom produces delicious sweet fruits. The indeterminate vines bear soft and juicy tomatoes that are also crack resistant.
Color: Glossy red
Size: 1-2 oz
Smell: Sweet earthy odor
Maturity Period: 60 days
Creole tomatoes were bred initially in Louisiana where the crop flourishes over the summer.
Color: Radiant red skin with a yellowish blotch
Size: 8-12 oz
Smell: Sweet, tropical aroma
Maturity Period: 72 days
Color: Dark red skin with a purple hue
Size: 10-12 oz
Smell: Sweet, smoky flavor
Maturity Period: 80 to 90 days
Tips for Storing Tomatoes
Heat Required To Ripen
The ripening process in tomatoes is controlled by ethylene gas. This triggers enzymes responsible for the breakdown of chlorophyll hence the change in pigment. These enzymes have optimal temperatures within which they can operate within.
If the temperature exceeds 85 degrees F (29 degrees C), the enzymes become denatured, thus stopping the ripening process. On the lower end, if the temperatures fall under 50 degrees F (10 degrees C), the tomato ceases to ripen and becomes soft with a permanent green color.
No Light Required
Tomatoes will ripen without any light. It's recommended to store the tomatoes in a dark cupboard as exposure to sunlight and extreme heat can denature the fruit leading to uneven ripening.
Having a wide flat container such as a cardboard box will be ideal for storing your tomatoes indoors. The container should have an absorbent surface or layered with a porous material such as paper towels. The absorbent surface will absorb the moisture from any rotting tomatoes. As a result, the good tomatoes will remain untouched. (Please note it is recommended to remove rotting tomatoes as soon as you notice).
Remove Damaged Fruit
Tomatoes are quite fragile and will get bruised during picking if too much force is applied. The bruised surface often gets infected by mold and fungi leading to rotting. If such blemished fruits are stored with good ones, then your risk the possibility of the entire batch ending up rotten in a couple of days.
Add A Banana
If you want your mature green tomatoes to ripen faster while stored, you should add a banana. Ripe bananas produce ethylene gas, which we learned earlier is responsible for regulating the ripening process.
The increased concentration of ethylene gas speeds up the ripening process. This also ensures even ripening across the entire batch.
Ripe tomatoes can be stored in a refrigerator for up to one week before the loss of flavor and texture becomes noticeable. Unripe tomatoes should not be stored in a fridge as this effectively halts the ripening process, and you instead end up with mushy green tomatoes.
Tomatoes can be frozen for up to 3 months while still retaining the unique color and flavor they add to dishes. They can either be frozen peeled or unpeeled.
To freeze your tomatoes:
1. First, wash them and then place them on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight.
2. Transfer the frozen fruits into a freezer bag.
3. The container should be sealed tightly and keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.
4. If unpeeled, simply running warm water on them defrosts the skin allowing you to peel it before cooking the tomatoes.
What is the best time of day to pick tomatoes?
Tomatoes should be picked in the morning hours, just after the morning due has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. This ensures that the tomatoes you pick remain fresh with the right amount of moisture in them.
Picking tomatoes on a hot day can turn them mushy and limp very quickly, which is not ideal for storage.
Which month are tomatoes ready to pick?
This is dependent on the month you planted the tomatoes. Each type has its own maturity date. Add this number to the date you planted your tomatoes and find out when the tomatoes will be ready. Due to similar growth patterns, most tomatoes are usually ready to pick from mid to late summer. In North America, tomatoes are generally ready to pick from July to August.
When to pick cherry tomatoes?
When the skin starts to turn glossy red, it indicates that the fruits are mature. While you can leave them on the vine to ripen, doing so for too long could lead to splitting. Cherries will ripen indoors just as well as they would have on the vine.
When should you harvest heirloom tomatoes?
Heirloom tomatoes should be harvested before they completely turn color. This is because heirlooms ripen from the inside out and it takes longer for their skin to completely change color. If you wait until they completely change their color, then you will be risking exposing them to cracking and splitting.
When to pick beefsteak tomatoes?
Beefsteak takes around 65 to 90 days before the fruits fully mature depending on the specific strain and climate. Harvest your beefsteak tomatoes when they are at their peak color, which is a medium red. This makes it easy to pluck these large tomatoes from the vine.
When should you pick green tomatoes?
Green tomatoes should be picked after they have fully matured; otherwise, they might not ripen at all. You can pick green tomatoes after 65 days, which is the average maturity age of most tomatoes.
When to pick patio tomatoes?
Patio tomatoes usually mature about 65 to 70 days after planting. This dwarf variety has a fairly consistent growth time as long as its requirements such as regular watering and 9 hours of sunlight per day are met. The plant is also determinate so you can harvest the entire crop in a single day.
When to pick Roma tomatoes?
Roma tomatoes require 75 to 80 days to mature making them one of the late-maturing varieties. You should harvest the tomatoes when they attain the deep red color. They are most loved for their thick-walled meaty interior, deep color, and few seeds making them perfect for pastes.
When to pick grape tomatoes?
Grape tomatoes should be harvested as soon as they start turning pink. It takes about 70 days for this variety to mature and another ten days for the fruits to turn bright red.
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