when to harvest tomatoes

When to Harvest Tomatoes and Tell if They Are Ready

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Homegrown tomatoes complement and complete your garden with shiny red bulbs and a fantastic taste to boot. Still, when they are fully ripe, you may have to contend with invading pests, splitting, and cracking.

Therefore, learning when to harvest tomatoes is essential to ensure they are always delicious. The two timings described below will help you get started if you want to find out more.

Two Methods of Harvesting Tomatoes

1. Harvesting Ripe Tomatoes

a). How Long Does the Variety Take To Mature

Some tomato varieties take longer to mature than others, and it can vary from 55 to 85 days after transplanting them to the garden.

Consequently, you need to know the best time to seed tomato plants, provide them with all the necessary nutrients and note the number of days to wait until they are ripe.

After all, it would help if you harvested them before the climate becomes too cold or too hot. So, the maturing duration of the variety should guide you on the best time for harvesting tomatoes.

b). Check the Color

Image Source: Pxhere.com

When most of us picture a tomato, we see it as a red, shiny fruit ready to complement a salad. Hence, looking out for the specific color and glossy shine helps determine the right time to harvest them.

Unfortunately, the numerous varieties available mean that the hue differs from one to another. Developing your green thumb with seasons of experience can help you make better decisions on the proper timing.

c). Do Not Let Them Get Mushy!

As a rule, ripe tomatoes feel firm when pressed, yet, your fingers can still sink into them without much force. You can do pressure tests daily to determine the best time to harvest homegrown tomatoes if you are around the days to maturity. Nevertheless, if you mess up your clothes by pressing too hard, we have excellent tips for removing the tomato stains.

d). Can You Smell the Sweet Tomatoe-y Scent on the Fruits?

If you have ever prepared salad with ripe tomato, you will notice the sweet scent they produce when at this stage. A neat trick to figure out if they are ready for harvesting is bringing one of the fruits close to your nose and gently sniffing it. If you can pick up the scent, your ripe tomatoes are ready.

e). Does a Gentle Tug Get Them off the Vine?

Ripening tomatoes are still firmly attached to the plant, but fully ripened ones can slip off when gently tugged. If the factors above are satisfied and the fruits seem to fall off the vine when picked, they are ready for your plate. However, avoid pulling them hard as this could cause other fruits to fall off or hurt the plant.

2. Harvesting Unripe Tomatoes

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If you have numerous tomato plants, avoid harvesting ripe fruits, as storing tomatoes gives you a short window of consuming them. Instead, you can nip the problem in the bud when you pick unripe tomatoes and allow them to ripen indoors.

Are the Plants Healthy?

First, ensure the plants are healthy, so look out for white spots and their effects and whether you can see black spots and if it is a troubling sign. Lastly, if they turn yellow, figure out how to get them back to full health.

Are the Fruits Ready?

Furthermore, you can pick your tomatoes if they have reached their maximum size and the rainy season has begun. After all, too much water can lead the fruits to crack. Still, you can eat cracked tomatoes, but wouldn't that ruin your meal presentation?

Curiously, you can add tomato leaves to your recipe since they are not poisonous when taken in moderate amounts. However, you will need to ensure you are not 'pruning' the plant prematurely or going for unfit ones.

Typically, an unripe tomato ready for picking will have passed the breaker stage, where at least more than half of the fruit is changing from the initial green color. Here, you can let the fruits ripen off the vine and expect them to retain their flavor when they are fully ready.

Factors Affecting the Harvest Time for Tomato Plants

a). Variety

Heirloom Tomatoes

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For heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes, always allow them to ripen before you pick them. Look out for color changes on most of its surface if you want to eat them raw. Alternatively, you can allow them to ripen if you aim to cook them or store them for later.

Cherry Tomatoes

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You can harvest cherry tomatoes when they attain their mature color, whether yellow or red. In addition, ensure the fruits are firm and not too soft as their flavor could be disappointing afterward. So, cherry tomato plants should not be left until the fruits are fully ripe, regardless of the variety.

b). Weather

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If the weather has been dry, but heavy rains fell the previous day, you should harvest the ripening tomatoes before they start cracking from the sudden abundance of water. Still, only apply this caution if the fruits have reached their maximum size and have passed the breaker stage.

c). Harvest Early in the Day

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Regardless of the tomato varieties, it is best to harvest the fruits early in the morning, whether ripe or unripe. The plants undergo numerous phases as the sun crosses the sky. Thus, aim for dawn when it is still low in the sky.

Frequently Asked Questions on When to Harvest Tomatoes

1. At what stage of the ripening process should I harvest tomatoes?

Like many flowering floras, the products of a tomato plant start as fully green with no hint of a supplementary color or maturing. If you pick tomatoes at this stage, do not expect them to develop fully indoors. In the next phase, the breaker stage, the green tomatoes show signs of maturing, with some sections having yellow, pink or red coloring, and the fruits will fully ripen indoors if picked.

The turning stage has about a third of the tomato fruits showing the maturing colors. The pink stage follows, where about half of the green tomatoes look pink. Next, the light red stage is when nearly the entire surface of the vine-ripened tomatoes looks reddish and ready to pick.

Lastly, the fully ripe stage is when the fruit is ready for consumption and is most mature. Aside from when the fruits are at the first stage, you can feasibly pick tomatoes and allow them to ripen indoors. You will not lose the flavor you crave or the nutrients the fruits are famous for at this phase of the ripening process.

2. Is it better to harvest fully ripe tomatoes or half-ripe ones?

Picking a green tomato instead of a fully ripe one lets you store the fruit for longer while they remain fresh. In addition, pests typically invade your garden when tomatoes start ripening or when they reach maturity. Also, the fruits can develop sunspots and cracks depending on the weather. Plus, you have more recipe options like preparing delicious fried green tomatoes while getting health perks when they are still unripe.

Featured Image Source: Pxhere.com

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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