Last Updated on May 6, 2023 by Griselda M.
Knowing when to pick cherry tomatoes makes the difference between a gentle explosion of tomato flavor in your mouth, and going squint for thirty seconds and possibly giving yourself diarrhea. Cherry tomatoes are delicious tomatoes, and many tricks allow us to extend our cherry tomato season way beyond the end of autumn!
Knowing when to harvest the entire plant is part of knowing when to pick cherry tomatoes so that you can extend your harvest until well into the darkest days of winter. Read on to find out the tricks I have learned over the years with these little bubbles of tomato joy.
Cherry tomatoes are small rambling tomatoes that take over your garden and can produce huge harvests of delicious little fruit. Tomatoes have two general growth patterns: determinate tomatoes grow to a specific size, flower, produce fruit, and generally die, and indeterminate tomatoes grow a bit fruit a bit, sprawl a bit, fruit a bit, and take over your world. Cherry tomatoes are generally indeterminate tomatoes and can be grown in the ground or big grow bags.
In my garden, they are a weed – I never plant them on purpose – they just come up and turn sections of my garden into tomato jungle. I have three types of cherry tomatoes that go wild – red ones, yellow ones, and yellow pear ones. The yellow pear ones get wiped out by fungi and viruses quite quickly, so normally, the red and yellow ones make it right through till winter. Knowing when to pick cherry tomatoes is a case of judgment. Let’s have a look at what determines when to pick them.
How Long for Cherry Tomatoes to Ripen – Tips for the Impatient
Cherry tomatoes take about 50-60 days from germination to their first fruits. This will vary depending on the local climate and conditions such as shade in your area. My parents live a mile away from me and get cherry tomatoes three weeks earlier than I do, as their garden is much warmer and less shaded than mine. (My Mom is also probably a better gardener too but let’s not go into that!)
I find that the rate at which they ripen is also determined by the temperature. In peak summer it seems to be about three weeks from flower to harvest, while as it warms or cools either side of peak summer, you can work on about a month from flower to harvest.
What is a Pedicel and Sepal on a Tomato?
The short answer is the irritating green thing attached to the tomato is the Pedicel and Sepal. If you want the tomato to last, you need to harvest it with this, and if you do not, then leave the Pedicel and Sepal behind.
How to Harvest Cherry Tomatoes
In terms of knowing when to pick cherry tomatoes, you need to decide what you plan to do with them! Cherry tomatoes are small, and they can get ripe very fast – a very ripe cherry tomato will split at the point of attachment to the plant if you pull it from the plant. This split tomato will begin to go rotten within about 6 hours of picking. Hence we have several strategies depending on our planned use of the tomatoes.
Picking for processing
Knowing when to pick cherry tomatoes, and what to do with them, when your cherry tomato season goes completely crazy is important. You can end up with so many tomatoes that if you do not pick them up every day, they start to rot on the vines and create clouds of fruit flies and mess.
When this happens, you end up picking mainly for processing. In this case, you pick them so as not to bring the pedicel and sepal back, because it is a lot of work to process this further. Just pull the fruit off and throw them in your bucket. You will be boiling them soon, so it does not matter. A cherry tomato is a very small thing – when you process them, you need to minimize the time you spend on each tomato otherwise you will waste your life away fiddling with quarter teaspoons of fruit.
Picking for eating right away
I find a general rule when picking very ripe cherry tomatoes is that the super ripe, red, juicy, soft, amazing, succulent, incredible ones should be eaten right away – do not hesitate – just pluck that fruit and eat it. These are nature’s treasures – moments that you will just think “Wow!!” It may sound like I am making this up, or exaggerating hopelessly, but trust me – you will understand when you eat that first super ripe (not rotten) tomato.
You can feel a “Ready to eat” tomato. It is very soft, and when you hold it up to the sun it is nearly sea through. The sunlight shines into the flesh. A little bit past this point is rotten – the taste test helps you learn the difference. It is quite distinct.
A note on picking and eating right away: This can and will lead to an upset stomach if you eat too many.
Picking for ripening
If you plan to not use the tomatoes immediately, I would recommend taking some scissors and cutting the fruits off when they are orange, and not yet red. For yellow varieties, this is light yellow with smudges of green. You can cut the tomato so the pedicel and sepal and stalk from the vine and keep these attached. In some cases, you can cut an entire bunch of tomatoes in this way, depending on the way they fruit on your plant.
You can then take these inside and place them on a windowsill to finish ripening and use them when they are ripe for putting in salads, cooking, or including in a burger, etc.
Tips for Harvesting Cherry Tomatoes
A very useful piece of equipment to have is a shopping basket such as this. Inside this basket, you can place three smaller containers. The first container is for fruit that is not entirely ripe. The second is for perfect fruit that is perfectly ripe – and undamaged. The last basket is for over-ripe fruit, damaged by the picking process, and that you did not eat.
Tie a pair of small orchid clippers like this to the handle of your basket. If you do not tie them to the handle, you will spend more time looking for the clippers than picking fruit. These are perfect for snipping tomatoes quickly and the spring load mechanism helps make the snip snip snip process faster. If you take scissors, you are fine for a few fruits, but when it comes to harvesting buckets you will end up bruising your fingers.
Can you pick cherry tomatoes when they are green?
In terms of knowing when to pick cherry tomatoes – Yes – you can pick them green! Pick the entire bunch and ripen them as a bunch. If you place them in a sunny, but not too hot spot, they will ripen over days or even weeks. Depending on the genetics of the tomato they may ripen sequentially, or all at once.
How to Extend Cherry Tomato Harvest Time
When I was a kid, we lived in a very arid region, where the first frosts of the season would arrive like clockwork in fall and kill pretty much everything. My Mom learned a trick from the old wives in the area – you pull the entire cherry tomato plant out of the ground, keeping soil on the roots. Wrap the roots in burlap sacking, and then leave a funnel in the top of this sacking (a plastic bottle cut in half will do). Wrap the bag lightly with cling wrap. Take the plant and hang it upside down indoors in a semi-shaded area.
Once a week you can give the plant a cup of water, to keep the roots wet, and it will move all of the energy from the plant into the tomato fruits on the plant. Using this method, you can often extend your tomato harvest a few months into winter. I have had winter solstice fresh tomatoes using this method!
Quick Summary- When to Pick Cherry Tomatoes
Typically ready to harvest within around 50 to 65 days after planting, the cherry tomato is one of the fastest to fruit of the tomato varieties. Picking tomatoes is about knowing they’re ready when their color changes from green to orange (ripen indoors) or dark red (eat right away or process right away). When you plant to process tomatoes harvest at peak of ripeness. You can also harvest green tomatoes and ripen these slowly after the season ends to extend your supply into the dark horrible winter.
I hope this has helped you to understand how to know when to pick cherry tomatoes.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.