Last Updated on May 7, 2021 by Cristina
Ever wondered when are tomatoes ready to pick or you just started picking yours without the slightest idea of when you should harvest them?
When a tomato reaches full size, and the fruit becomes pale green, it begins its ripening process. This process is regulated by an internal gas called ethylene.
When it’s harvest time, there should be a kind of celebration of eating tomatoes because it’s a much-loved fruit. There are plenty of ways to prepare tomatoes and enjoy them – from dried to roasted or stewed. If you are lucky to grow your own, you will have a great opportunity to enjoy your produce.
Before we enjoy them, let’s learn the best time to harvest these juicy fruits. If we wait for a time when the fruit is uniformly red might be a little late to pick the tomatoes.
When Are Tomatoes Ready To Pick
Fully grown green tomatoes emit a gas known as Ethylene gas. Inside a mature green tomato, two growth hormones change causing the production of the gas. This gas ages the cells of fruit resulting in softening and loss of the green color turning into a red shade.
The ethylene increases the yellow and red colors (carotenoids) in return decreasing the green color (chlorophyll).
Because of this magical process, tomatoes are the only vegetables and fruit that can be picked before they are completely ripe and manage to ripen in the right way.
The right time to pick ready tomatoes is when the fruit is mature green with a blush of color and allowed to ripen off the vine. This prevents the tomatoes from splitting or bruising and allows you control over the ripening process.
Harvest time for tomatoes occurs at the end of their growing season usually late summer once the tomatoes are at the mature green stage. Tomatoes that you buy at the grocery stores have been picked at this stage so they can ripen during transport. These tomatoes have lower flavors than those left on the vine a bit longer.
There is a fine line when harvesting tomatoes at the mature green stage. Be sure to notice the first blush of colors as an indicator of when to pick your tomatoes to ensure they preserve their good flavor.
It is possible to harvest your tomato fruit when it is ripe. Ripe fruit will always sink in water if you test it. Vine-ripened tomatoes may be sweeter than the early harvested ones. Some tomatoes are too heavy to ripen on the vine. For these types, the best way to harvest them is to pick them early during the mature green stage and allow the ethylene gas to continue the ripening process.
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How To Harvest The Tomato Fruit
It is pretty basic to harvest the tomato fruit.
- Start from the bottom of the tomato plant where the plants begin to ripen
- Lightly squeeze the fruits to test the firmness
- If you notice the first bloom of red appearing on the skin, harvest the fruit
- Grasp the fruit firmly but gently and pull from the plant. Hold the stem with one hand and the fruit with the other breaking the stalk just above the calyx that protects the bud.
- Once you have harvested the tomatoes, store them indoors to continue their ripening process. Green tomatoes will ripen faster if wrapped in newspapers to contain the ethylene gas and hasten the process.
- Store your harvested tomatoes at 55 to 70 degrees F or cooler if you wish to slow the ripening process down. Be sure to check routinely for ripeness! These tomatoes will last 3 to 5 weeks stored this way.
- Tomatoes develop their full flavor, nutrition, and color when they are fully ripe but this doesn’t have to occur on the plant.
- When the tomato reaches ½ green and ½ pink -the breaker stage harvest and ripens them off the vine.
Although it is tempting to leave the fruit on the plant in order to enjoy the ripe vine tomato, there are risks attached to that. Most gardeners have experienced that moment when they waited a day longer and regretted doing so.
A sudden shower can cause the perfect tomato to split or crack. The roots can take up a bit more water than needed by the fruit. The internal pressure of the expanding fruit on the skin is just too much and splitting is the result.
Or a squirrel, bird or raccoon, or any other creature might steal the tomato before you harvest!
Caroline is a gardener who loves to get down to the nitty–gritty of gardening. She proudly proclaims herself as a ‘dirt worshipper‘ and can often be found deep in the garden, covered in soil and singing to her plants. As a self–proclaimed ‘plant whisperer‘, Caroline believes that plants need love and attention just like any other living thing, and she loves to give them both. When she‘s not tending to her garden, you can often find her researching the latest gardening trends, or teaching others how to make their gardens thrive