When beginner gardeners start to plot their vegetable gardens, they inevitably start with tomatoes. Easy to grow, these plants provide plenty of ripe goodness.
Read on to find out when to harvest tomatoes as well as find out what side of the tomato harvesting debate you fall on.
Harvesting tomatoes is a fun activity and even kids can get in on the action. You want to be mindful of timing when it comes to tomatoes.
When to harvest tomatoes? They generally are not ready until August or September. However, if there is an early cold snap, your entire crop can be destroyed. Once your tomatoes start growing, watch for signs of size and color. You can wait until your tomatoes are fully ripe to harvest them.
Alternatively, you can pick them half-ripe and they will then ripen on their own inside. For half-ripe tomatoes, make sure there is a pink hue to them. Too green and they won’t ripen at all. Grasp the tomato and make a clean cut with garden clippers.
A clean-cut can help promote growth so you can get more tomatoes from the plant. Ripen your tomatoes fully in a warm dark place. Then, move them to a cooler place to store.
It’s best not to place your tomatoes in the fridge as this could lead them to rot earlier. However, you only have a few days before you need to eat your tomatoes.
How do you know when your tomatoes are ready to harvest?
Throughout the summer your tomatoes will be dutifully growing. By August you should see a bunch of green or slightly pink tomatoes.
Depending on your climate and the variety of your tomatoes, they will be ready in August or September. If you live in a climate that has unpredictable fall weather, you want to really pay attention.
If there is a cold snap and the temperature falls under 45 degrees Farhenheit, your tomato plants won’t be able to survive. In this case, you want to harvest what you can before the cold snap and hope your tomatoes will ripen further inside.
Aside from color, ripe tomatoes should have a nice firmness to them. Test out this texture although be careful not to squeeze too hard on your tomatoes.
Too squishy and your tomatoes are past the ripe point. However, you can still try to use them in a sauce or stew.
Half ripe tomatoes
Technically, you can harvest tomatoes before they have that lovely red hue to them. This is because tomatoes stop receiving nutrients from the rest of the plant once they start turning pink.
Once there is a pink hue to your tomatoes, you can pick them and let them fully ripen in your kitchen. The reason for this method is plentiful.
To begin with, tomatoes can damage easily. The longer they are on the vine, the more susceptible they are to disease, rot, and sudden weather changes. It’s much better to leave them in a controlled environment like your kitchen.
If some tomatoes are ready to be harvested, you should pick them and allow the other green tomatoes to receive all the nutrients from the plant. Even though pink tomatoes don’t absorb any nutrients, they do take away from what the other tomatoes can receive.
Finally, those that have grown tomato plants before will be aware that all that fruit can get pretty heavy. Even with wire cages, tomato plants are at risk of toppling over, ruining any fruit still growing.
Picking some fruit early will allow your tomato plant a bit of rest, ensuring it isn’t too heavy to produce more tomatoes.
Just make sure your tomatoes are indeed half-ripe. Green tomatoes will not have enough nutrients in them to ripen on their own off the vine.
Fully ripe tomatoes
A juicy, red tomato is every gardener’s dream. So it makes sense to wait until your tomatoes are indeed red and juicy.
Tomatoes that are fully ripe and then eaten immediately after being picked will be more flavorful. They will have adequate time to develop their natural sugars.
To harvest tomatoes when they are fully ripe, first, be aware of what color they should be. While most tomatoes will be a red color, there are also yellow and orange ones.
Once the color has been achieved, you can pick them. Just note that some tomatoes maybe green when they are ready, such as heirloom varieties which will be a mixture of red and green around the stems.
For firmness, your tomatoes should not be rock hard. Instead, they should be firm with just a bit of softness. Too soft and it means your tomatoes are overripe and best used for cooking purposes or in a sauce.
What happens if you don’t harvest tomatoes?
One of the more versatile plants in your garden, if you don’t harvest your tomatoes, it might just lead to less effort the following year.
As your tomato plant grows, it will eventually start to decay. The tomatoes still on the vine will fall off, turning to mush.
But inside those rotten tomatoes are precious seeds. The nutrients from the tomatoes will help start the seeds out as they return to the soil. Don’t be surprised if the following year you find a few tomato plants that have grown on their own accord.
How to harvest tomatoes?
Once you’ve discovered which camp you fall into, half-ripe or fully ripe, it’s time to harvest those tomatoes. While expert gardeners use their hands, it may be easier to start with hand clippers instead.
Take a hold of the tomato with one hand and gently pull down on it. Not only will this separate the fruit from the rest of the plant but it will make the stem a bit tauter, resulting in a cleaner cut.
Take your scissors or clippers and snip just above the tomato. There should be a small stem on the fruit. Do not cut into the tomato as this will damage it and prevent it from being stored.
There is a chance that the cut stem will produce more fruit in the same growing season. For this reason, try to leave as much stem as possible.
Larger varieties of tomatoes will be easier to harvest than smaller ones like cherry tomatoes. If you are trying to harvest cherry tomatoes, you may want to wait until a bunch of them are ready and clip the whole bunch off.
If you feel like you are ready to pluck a tomato by hand, be sure to brace the tomato plant against your strength. You want a clear break in the stem. Otherwise, the stem will peel off, making it harder for the plant to heal the cut.
Should you wash tomatoes after harvesting?
Tomatoes should be washed before eating but not immediately after harvesting. The water could penetrate the skin of the tomatoes, leaving them more prone to rot.
Instead, dust off any excess dirt and leave them be. Then, when you are ready to eat your tomatoes, give them a good cleaning.
Just be careful with the skin as tomatoes bruise easily. You can want to give them a thorough cleaning that doesn’t break the skin.
Can you eat tomatoes immediately after harvesting?
For those that have harvested fully ripe tomatoes, yes, you can eat them immediately after harvesting. Simply give them a good rinse and you can slice into this ripeness for all sorts of purposes.
For those that have harvested half-ripe tomatoes, you will have to wait a bit, depending on where in the ripening process they are.
Place half-ripe tomatoes in a warm, dark place like a pantry. Placing tomatoes on a window sill will actually have your tomatoes create a tough skin which will affect their texture and taste.
Once fully ripened, you can then store your tomatoes in a cooler place. Aim to ripen tomatoes in temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and store them in an area between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t place your tomatoes in the fridge. This is too cold and will affect their taste. You only want to store tomato in the fridge if you have cut off part of it.
Interestingly, you can actually delay rotting by placing tomatoes down on their stems. This is the firmer area so it prevents bruising and also allows moisture to escape through the stem.
Overall, tomatoes only last a few days after they have been picked and ripened. If you have an excess of tomatoes and don’t have plans for cooking them, there are many ways to store them. Perhaps the best way is to can tomatoes, or create a sauce for future use.
Growing tomatoes is a fun endeavor, and even kids can get in on the action. You can either wait for tomatoes to be fully grown or if you’re worried about disease or weather, can pick them half-ripe and continue the ripening process in your kitchen.