As harvest time gets closer and excitement starts building up, one of the most common questions that gardeners ask is when is the best time to pick tomatoes from the vine? After months of care and waiting, you will naturally want to make the most out of your harvest and bring the best colors and flavors to the table. Picking tomatoes at just the right time ensures that your efforts are rewarded with the yummiest, freshest reward.
What Is The Best Time To Pick Tomatoes From The Vine?
While tomatoes reach the peak of their flavor, color and texture when fully ripe (more than 90% of the fruit surface is red) it is common for gardeners to pick tomatoes from the plant before this stage and ripen them off the vine. There are typically two sides to the debate: those that pick tomatoes when fully ripe on the vine and those that pick them before they ripen fully. Both sides have solid reasons to back their practice. We’ll highlight both techniques so you can pick the best tomatoes, whether ripe or unripe.
Option 1: Picking Tomatoes When Fully Ripe
Many gardeners are of the opinion that letting tomatoes ripen completely on the vine results in the best flavors. However, since fully ripe tomatoes have a short shelf life, they will need to be cooked or eaten right away to enjoy the best taste. Recognizing a fully ripe tomato is the key to picking it at just the right time.
The Best Time To Pick Ripe Tomatoes
There are thousands of tomato varieties to grow, each with their own days to maturity. Read the seed packet or plant tag to know the number of days that the plant takes to mature and look for ripe tomatoes every few days once the days to harvest approach.
A tomato qualifies as ripe partly by its feel and partly by its color. Let’s discuss each one:
To pick a ripe tomato, you’ll have to wait until it is evenly red all over. While most tomatoes are red when ripe, there are also varieties in different colors, including pink, purple, yellow, white, striped and green. While it’s harder to identify ripeness for other colors, consult the seed packet to know the final color of the variety and wait until the fruit has the final color spread evenly throughout its surface.
The second important indication of ripeness is the fruit’s feel. An unripe tomato is firm, while a soft tomato means it’s past its prime harvest time. The best time to pick ripe tomatoes is when they are in full color and are still firm to touch, yet slightly tender if you give them a little squeeze. These slightly tender tomatoes are perfect for eating right off the vine!
Some gardeners can also spot ripe tomatoes with their earthy fragrance. Unripe tomatoes don’t give off any smell. When they are ripe and ready to be picked, they give off a sweet, earthy fragrance originating from the stem end.
Option 2: Picking Tomatoes Before They Are Fully Ripe
There are several reasons why many gardeners choose to pick tomatoes before they turn fully ripe on the vine. Allowing tomatoes to ripen completely on the vine makes them susceptible to pests, diseases, cracking, splitting and bird damage. Furthermore temperatures above 90°F can make the fruits prone to sunscald and other problems. If temperatures are likely to soar high in summers, it’s probably best to pick the tomatoes before they develop full color and let them ripen on the kitchen counter.
Towards the end of the season, if cold weather or frost threatens the crop, the best option, again, is to pick them unripe and allow them to develop full color indoors.
Tomatoes grown commercially are often harvested unripe so they can ripen in transit and are fresh with their optimal flavor and color when they arrive at the grocery store.
The Best Time To Pick Unripe Tomatoes
The best time to pick unripe tomatoes is when it’s about 50% green and 50% pink. This stage is called the pink stage when between 30% to 60% of the fruit has colored.
Though the prime time to harvest unripe tomatoes is the pink stage, you can pick it anytime past the breaker stage. The breaker stage is when the fruit just begins to change color. During this stage, about 10% of the fruit turns pink, red or any other color, depending on the variety. You can pick it anytime after this stage.
How To Ripen Tomatoes Off The Vine
Once you’ve picked unripe tomatoes in any stage of ripening after the breaker stage, they are ready to ripen indoors. Place them at a bright location at room temperature, out of direct sunlight. Line them up in a single layer in a box or basket without touching each other. Your kitchen counter is generally a good place to ripen them since you can keep a check on them and remove them as they ripen. Check the tomatoes every few days and remove the ones that have ripened. Also keep an eye for any rotting. Remove and discard the tomatoes that show any sign of rotting.
That was all you need to know about the best time to pick tomatoes from the vine. You can wait until they turn bright red before you pick them to enjoy right off the vine, or harvest them just a bit sooner if there’s a risk that they might succumb to diseases, pests or harsh climate if left any longer on the vine.