If you are trying to figure out when to harvest tomatoes from your garden then you have come to the right place. We will discuss the best time of year to harvest tomatoes, the best time of day to harvest tomatoes, and how to know when your tomatoes are ripe.
A fun fact: tomatoes are considered a vegetable by nutritionists but a fruit by the scientific community because they flower and contain seeds.
Harvesting tomatoes: When to pick tomatoes?
There are two main types of tomatoes: heirloom and hybrid. The difference between the two can be subtle but an heirloom tomato is a breed that has been growing without cross-breeding for 50 years or more.
While you don’t need to know the exact type of tomato you are growing, knowing your tomato breed makes it easier to figure out the signs of ripening for your specific plant.
Many at-home gardeners harvest when the tomato turns red. Harvesting when the fruit is already ripe can cause ripping. It can also leave you with over-ripened tomatoes.
Not to worry there is a better way!
It is common to harvest in late summer at the end of the growing season around September to early October. The month you harvest depends on where you live and the type of tomato plant you have. You want to make sure you are harvesting before the first frost while the weather is still warm.
How do you know if your tomatoes are ready to pick?
A tomato will start to ripen from the bottom first. The tomato will often show a small blush in color at the bottom furthest from the plant when ripening starts. This can be difficult to see when growing green tomatoes but will still be noticeable.
If you see a color blushing at the base of your tomato, it is ready to be harvested. If you are still unsure whether your green tomatoes are ready you can check for a small white shape that will start forming at the bottom of the tomato.
Do tomatoes ripen faster on or off the vine?
The ripening process happens when ethanol gas is released within the fruit. The gas releases when the tomato is fully formed and signals the aging process of the fruit.
A tomato will ripen at the same speed on and off the vine, as long as the tomato is mature and has reached its full-size potential.
There are ways to slow down the ripening process of your tomatoes.
Tomatoes are one of few fruits that can be picked before it is ripe and will continue to ripen off the vine.
Supermarket tomatoes are strategically picked before they are ripe to make sure they travel safely to the market and look perfect on the shelves. Don’t believe me? Look up the process of ripening tomatoes using ethylene gas (don’t worry, it’s an all-natural process!).
Cooling the tomato in a fridge is the best way to slow down the ripening process and can elongate the life of your freshly harvested tomatoes.
Is there a best time of day to pick tomatoes?
It may sound crazy, but there is a perfect time of day to harvest tomatoes. Pluck your tomatoes from the vine in the early morning when the tomatoes are still dewy. Many garden enthusiasts and farmers state 9 a.m. as the most ideal time.
9 a.m. is perfect because the sun has not had time to warm and dry out the tomatoes. This means there is potentially less ripping when harvesting tomatoes that may be over-ripened.
How to Harvest Tomato Fruit
Tomatoes are so soft that it is easy to bruise, tear, or squish them.
To harvest tomatoes with the least amount of loss:
- Grab the tomato vine above the fruit
- Grab the tomato lightly around the middle to top
- Gently pull from the vine making sure not to put any extra pressure on the tomato
- If the tomato is not pulling off easy give the tomato a simple twist off the vine
Check bottoms of tomatoes for signs of ripening
The bottom of the tomato furthest from the vine is the most important signal to know if your tomatoes are ready to be picked. Pay attention to the first sign of coloring. This means the tomato is starting the ripening process.
No matter what color tomato you are growing red, yellow, green, or brown they will all start to show some color change as they ripen. For green tomatoes, the color will often be more of a light yellow instead of red.
Watch the video below for more information about how to know when a tomato is ripe:
Gently squeeze tomatoes
The biggest issue with harvesting tomatoes is squeezing the delicate fruit too hard. Because tomatoes have such soft skin, ripe tomatoes will easily pop open with any pressure.
I advise harvesting tomatoes too early rather than too late. That way you will lose fewer tomatoes when picking them, and you can easily ripen the tomatoes when you want to eat them.
Can you pick tomatoes when they are still green?
A tomato tastes best when left on the vine to ripen. It is, however, easier to deal with large amounts of tomatoes if they are picked early. This also extends the shelf life of your tomatoes.
Another great reason to harvest early is that some tomato plants are not strong enough to hold a ripened fully grown tomato. Picking the tomato early saves the plant and saves the tomato from falling to the ground.
Tomatoes ripen faster when warm and slower when cold. Putting tomatoes in the fridge will extend their shelf life. If you are looking to speed up the ripening process of your garden picked tomatoes you can:
- Cover your tomatoes in newspaper
- Store them in a warm dry area
The ethylene gas will emit faster in a warm location and the bag will speed up the ripening process. You can also store your tomatoes in a paper bag if you don’t have a newspaper on hand. Be careful not to leave your tomatoes in the bag for too long, or you will lose them.
A tomato plant can grow quickly and produce lots of vegetables in a single season. If your plant is new in your garden, and you are unsure when your tomatoes will be ready then I highly suggest picking them too early rather than too late.
Once you know the basic size of the tomatoes your specific plant will produce it becomes much easier to know when to pick them. If it is your first year growing tomatoes, take the time to get to know your plant. It will make future harvests even more successful.
Final Thoughts about Harvesting Tomatoes
Tomatoes will continue to ripen after you pick them, so it’s best to pick them too early rather than too late. Not only will this extend the shelf life of your tomatoes, but it will result in a much better quality tomato.
Check the bottoms of the tomato for color changing- the first sign of ripening. Most tomatoes, even green ones, will start to change color on the bottom of the tomato first.
Be familiar with the size of the tomato at maturity for the plants that you have. You may want to look up sizes of heirloom or hybrid tomatoes like the ones that you’re growing. If you know someone that is growing tomatoes, it is helpful to look at some of theirs to see what a ripe tomato should look like. Picturing what’s in the grocery store isn’t always helpful.