Tomatillos, better known as Mexican husk tomatoes, are related to tomatoes, but the fruit is very different. Easy-to-grow in well-drained soil in a sunny location, they are great for making fresh salsa verde, delicious in salads and dips, and can be added to soups and stews to add an intriguing flavor.
The question is, if you decide to grow tomatillos, how will you know when to harvest the fruits? The good news is that it’s remarkably easy to know when tomatillos are ready to harvest. All you do is pick them when the fruit fills the papery husk that protects tomatillos while they grow.
How Do You Know When Your Tomatillos Are Ready to Harvest?
A good rule of thumb, depending on the variety you are growing, is that tomatillos will be ready to pick 65 to 85 days after sowing the seed. The fruits on a tomatillo plant won’t all ripen at once, rather, they will continue to ripen for a couple of months.
This will ensure that you have a constant source of ripe tomatillos throughout the season, from midsummer well into fall. The tomatillo plant is indeterminate and amazingly prolific, so it will continue flowering and fruiting until there is frost.
A super-easy, much more accurate way to find out if your tomatillos are ready to harvest is to gently squeeze each husk. That will tell you whether or not the tomatillo fills the husk.
The golden rule is that the fruit of the tomatillo must fill out into the husk. In a way, it’s a bit like a vegetarian womb that needs to be filled!
But, sometimes you will find that tomatillo plant husks are completely empty when you try to harvest them. This is because tomatillos are not self-fertile. Instead, you need multiple plants for pollination and for the fruit to set.
Color is a factor, but can it help you decide whether or not your tomatillos are ready to harvest? Unfortunately not. Instead, the key is in the husk.
What Color is the Ripe Fruits of Tomatillos?
The classic tomatillo fruit is bright green in color and not unlike a green tomato. But seed companies sell a wide choice of varieties that include yellow, orange, red, and purple tomatillos.
Coloration isn’t very helpful when determining whether your tomatillos are ready to harvest though. The color and texture of the papery husk are a more useful indicator.
How the Tomatillo Husk Tells You It’s Ripe & Ready
The texture of the tomatillo husk becomes increasingly thin and papery as the fruit ripens inside it. Also, the husk turns brown.
If you leave tomatillo plants to ripen after the husk turns brown, the husk usually splits open. Once the husk splits open, you must harvest the fruits otherwise they will start to rot.
Even if your tomatillo fruit doesn’t rot, when the flesh gets soft, they lose flavor. So put your faith in that papery husk!
What Happens If You Don’t Harvest Tomatillos?
As mentioned above, if you don’t harvest your ripe tomatillos they will eventually rot. Even if you leave them a bit too long, and they get soft, the flavor will deteriorate and become bland.
Ultimately, if you don’t bother to harvest the tomatillos you have grown, you’re simply going to miss out on the pleasure of the unusual citrus-like fruit.
What about the Fruit That Falls off The Plant?
Another question people new to growing tomatillos often ask relates to the fruit that falls off the plant before it is ripe. It’s quite common for this to happen.
Happily, tomatillos continue to ripen off the vine, just as green tomato fruit does. All you need to do is collect the fruit from the ground and store it in its husks until it ripens.
Even if there is still fruit on the vine, according to the Utah State University Extension, you can pull up the whole plant and store it upside down in an unheated storage area. It will last for a few months like this.
Another thing about tomatillos is that, like tomatoes, they do self-seed. So if you don’t harvest your entire tomatillos crop, there’s a good chance that they will simply continue to produce new tomatillo plants that will reward you with fruit.
It’s a bonus!
How to Harvest Tomatillos?
Having decided that the time is ripe to harvest your tomatillos, you’ll need to know what to do. Harvesting the ripe fruits from tomatillo and tomato plants is remarkably similar.
It’s also much the same as harvesting peppers and eggplants, which, like tomatoes, belong to the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Instead of simply pulling, it’s best to harvest tomatillos by cutting them off the plant.
Be sure to use a sharp knife or pruning shears, and leave a little bit of the stem on the end of each tomatillo. Leave the husk on the fruit until you are ready to eat or cook the fruit.
Twist Don’t Tug
Like tomatoes and peppers, you can twist tomatillos off the plant gently. But you really do need to be gentle.
If you tug and pull at a tomatillo plant there’s a good chance that you will damage the stem. And if there are more tomatillos still growing on that bit of stem, you might lose them all.
Don’t Harvest All Your Tomatillos at Once
Tomatillos on a single plant won’t all ripen at the same time. Rather, because tomatillos ripen progressively on the plant, you need to keep checking them, and then harvest when they are ready.
Depending on the number of plants you have, when you grow tomatillos, you can sometimes end up harvesting the fruit every day. But you don’t need to become fanatical. If you miss a couple of days, there’s little chance that the whole crop is going to rot!
According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension program, a healthy tomatillo plant can produce anything from 60 to 200 fruits in one growing season. This translates to an average yield of 2.5 lbs (1.1 kg) per plant, which is amazing.
So what do They do On Tomatillo Farms?
In commercial environments, the average yield of tomatillos is around 9 tons (8164.66 kg) per acre or 0.4 hectares. That’s a lot of fruit!
That’s why the procedures followed on farms that produce tomatillos commercially are different from those you will use in your garden. Instead of popping the ripe fruits into a paper bag, they stick the harvested tomatillos into 10-lb cartons that they leave in the field.
They then leave the storage cartons in the field for about two weeks, which gives the husks time to dry out thoroughly. Then they stack up the cartons and store them in sheds at 55-60°F (12-15°C) with an 85 to 90% humidity for about three weeks.
Thankfully, this isn’t something you will need to do!
Should You Wash Tomatillos after Harvesting?
When you remove the husk of ripe tomatillos, you will find that the fully ripe fruit is covered with a sticky film. It is essential to wash this off before you use your ripe tomatillos.
All you need to do is run cold water over your tomatillos once you have removed the husks. Wipe the ripe fruits gently, taking care not to damage the skin.
Both the husks and the sticky substance between them and the fruit help to protect the tomatillos from insects. The husks and stickiness will continue to protect the fruit after you have picked it.
So, if you aren’t going to eat all your tomatillos straight away, leave the husks on for now.
Can You Eat Tomatillos Immediately after Harvesting?
Like most fruit and veg, tomatillos are best when they have been freshly harvested. But if you have a good harvest, and you don’t want your already ripe tomatillos to rot, you can keep them in the fridge for two to three weeks.
Don’t remove the husks and just pop them into a paper bag and store them in the fridge. The ideal temperature is 55-60°F (12-15°C) with 85-90% humidity, which is the same environment that commercial growers aim for.
You can also store them in plastic zip-top bags and freeze them. Remove the husks first and make sure you remove all the air so that they don’t suffer from freezer burn. Also, be sure to wash the tomatillos thoroughly before you freeze them.
If you are going to grow tomatillos, it’s important to know when to harvest them. Pick them when they are too green or too soft, you’re not going to get the maximum benefit from the fruits of your labor!
Just as easy to grow as the common or garden tomatoes we’ve been growing all our lives, tomatillos thrive in a warm environment with the right soil. They’ll carry on seeding too.
But if you want to get the most out of your tomatillo crop, all you need to do is identify the right time to harvest the fruit. Our garden tips will help you do this.
Have fun and enjoy your salsa verde!