We’re in peak tomato season, with many plants reaching maturity now. After nurturing our babies throughout the growing season, many of us are getting ready for harvest. And while growing the plants and getting to this stage is the hard part, knowing when to pick tomatoes is also crucial if you want ultimate flavor and nutrition!
Picking your tomatoes straight off the vine minutes before adding them to your plate is the dream! But there is such a thing as leaving fruits on the plant for too long, with taste and texture usually paying the price.
Tomatoes harvested on the late side are often soft and have cracks or splits on their delicate flesh. These may not be ideal for a fresh salad, but they’re still good! I like to use perfectly imperfect tomatoes in homemade pasta sauces where their appearance or texture don’t matter.
The Color Test
Depending on the variety growing in the garden, many gardeners wait until their tomatoes have turned gorgeous shades of red, pink, orange, or yellow before harvesting. But you should always be one step ahead of the final expected color of your fruit.
The best time to harvest a tomato is when you see it shifting from green to slightly orange-pink. That’s about one-third or half of its expected color at full maturity. At this stage, the fruit is no longer taking nutrients from the plant and will ripen beautifully on its own.
Gently pull the tomatoes off the vines by hand or use a knife to cut them from the plant. Leaving a little bit of the stem will help keep the fruit fresher longer.
Bring the harvested tomatoes into the kitchen and let them ripen on the countertop. They will fully ripen to their expected color within a couple of days, but if you need things to go faster, try placing them over a ripening banana, which emits a gas that helps ripen things foods tomatoes and avocados.
Early Harvest Perks
Harvesting tomatoes early offers plenty of benefits, including less risk of losing them to pests and disease!
One of my good friends told me a really sad story about letting the most glorious tomato he’s ever grown sit on the vine too long, only to lose it to a hungry raccoon one night. The worst part? The raccoon didn’t even eat the whole thing! Instead, he took one bite and spat the rest onto the ground—the friggin’ nerve!
Overripe tomatoes will often fall from the vines onto the ground below, which will not only bruise the fruits but encourage pests and diseases.
Harvesting young tomatoes will also keep the plant’s stems from snapping under the weight of all the mature fruit. You’ll also help boost fruit production, as more energy will go into growing new tomatoes instead of being wasted on ripening.