Top Tips on How to Know When Tomatoes Are Ready for Picking

Harvesting Tomatoes

There’s an Art In Knowing When To Pick Tomatoes From Your Tomato Plants.

Picking them at precisely the right time does significantly impact their flavor and nutritional value – and affects even the production level of your plants!

Of course, any tomato grower will tell you that the most critical question everyone asks is: When is the perfect time to pick a tomato? It is undoubtedly one of the most asked questions. But people never seem to ‘get it.’

So, in Answer to When to Pick Tomatoes:

The experts will tell you that when tomatoes start to turn color going from green to slightly pink, that’s the time that it stops taking nutrients from the plant, and it is known as being as ‘the breaking stage.’

When a tomato has arrived at this stage, it will continue to ripen off the vine without any issue. Actually – and for several reasons – it’s better to pick the tomato at this point.

The Reasons Cited Are:

Firstly, it keeps the tomato from becoming damaged by insects, animals, sun-spots, and even wind and summer storms, because a ripening tomato is, apparently, an open invitation to any of the above.

Secondly, plucking that tomato early also helps your tomato plant. Despite that tomato you plucked is not using nutrients from the plant, it can still slow down the production and ripening process for the other tomatoes remaining on the vine.

You May Ask How So?

I’m told that indeterminate tomato varieties that produce tomatoes all season will slow down new baby tomatoes’ production if too many mature tomatoes are present and ripening. This is known as ‘fruit load’ or ‘fruit overload’, and it can impact your overall harvest in quite a negative way.

Therefore, we now learn that plucking tomatoes at the right time has benefits for the tomato and the tomato plant.

Plus, keeping the plant picked also keeps the weight of the tomato vines manageable. That means that the branches can split or break, injuring the plant and keeping yields down.

That being said, the ideal time to pluck your tomatoes from your plant is when they have slightly or moderately turned in color. They will then ripen even better, and they will be perfect for canning or freezing.

Best Time of Day to Pick your Tomatoes?

In a perfect world, your tomatoes should be picked at 09h00 each morning – before the dew disappears!

At night, fruits transform starch into sugar and replenish essential moisture.

Therefore, picking them before the sun dries them is much more enjoyable and at its crispiest and sweetest!

How to Best Let Your Tomatoes Ripen

OK, now that you know the best time to pick a tomato, your next question will probably be:

Where do they Best Ripen?

This is the next question after When Are Your Tomatoes Ready for Picking?

Some people will be unhappy to hear that the windowsill is not one of the better choices.

Not On the Windowsill

Many people’s homes have windowsills that are crowded with a variety of fruits they want to ripen – and sometimes even the family cat chooses a cozy windowsill to sit and purr and to enjoy the warmth of the sun through the glass. However, it’s not the place for our tomatoes to ripen.

Too Much Sunlight Can Cause Problems

Once the tomatoes have begun the ripening process, they don’t need sunlight to ripen! Too much sunlight can blister and even injure the fruit. That’s what happens when over-ripe tomatoes split open on the vine.

Therefore, if you put those tomatoes on a sunny windowsill, the same thing could happen, and your tomatoes could unpleasantly split open.

Strange to relate, tomatoes ripen better when kept in a cool, shady place!

The Best Temperature

The best temperature for tomatoes to ripen is around 65 to 70 degrees, with lots of circulation.

Homemade Drying Racks

Some people deal with the situation by making (yes, homemade) a drying rack. Get some 2 x 4’s and some hardware cloth to store the freshly picked tomatoes inside.

Placing them on a cool and shady porch would be the second choice – as long as the temperature isn’t too high.

If all else fails, use a baking rack or large bread rack. That will work because it allows good air circulation to help the tomatoes ripen more evenly and more rapidly.

Don’t Put Your Tomatoes In The Refrigerator!

I have heard that people do this and was hard-pressed to comprehend how a refrigerator is involved in a tomato’s ripening process! So I asked, and the answer came back to me that one should never use a fridge in the ripening process of a tomato as it halts the process almost entirely.

Furthermore, it stops the ripening process, and the refrigerator causes tomatoes to lose their flavor and nutrients!

You Have Two Options:

When it comes to picking tomatoes, there are usually two options:

Option 1: You can either wait until the tomatoes are fully ripe

Option 2: You can pick your tomatoes just before they ripen

I’ve heard it rumored that you could get a better flavor if you waited before picking the tomatoes. Still, on the other hand, I’ve also heard that if you harvest your tomatoes just before they’re ripe, you’ll have more control over the process and reduce the risk of damage to them.

These options make all the difference to the final condition of the product, and therefore, before moving on, I think it best to discuss these two options.

Option 1: Wait Until Your Tomatoes Are Ripe

There are strong arguments for letting tomatoes fully ripen before picking them to make for better-tasting fruit.

A scientific reason for this, remarks that if you pick a tomato before it is fully ripe, you cut off its oxygen supply from the main plant.

Continues to Ripen after Picking

It goes on to advise us that almost ripe fruit will continue to ripen after being picked. However, sugars that develop in the tomato don’t have the oxygen they need, which means that without a supply of oxygen, the sugar quickly turns into decay-promoting compounds – such as sugar alcohols and ketones.

Alas, the decaying sugars can negatively affect the taste of the tomato when it finishes ripening. Just for that reason alone, many gardeners prefer to wait to pick their tomatoes until they are fully ripe.

Option 2: Pick Your Tomatoes Before They Ripen Completely

The other option is to pick the tomatoes just before they are fully ripe. It is said that doing this tricks the fruit into thinking that it needs to produce more. It is also said that it protects them from the birds.

How to Protect Them

Birds enjoy fully ripe tomatoes and might get to them before you pick them. As a safety net, pardon the pun, but you can cover them with lady’s clean stockings or nylons to protect them, but many gardeners prefer to harvest that bit earlier before they are ripe.

If you find cracks in the tomatoes’ skin, it is probably before the fruit has been exposed to mold or bacteria. This will cause the fruit to rot quickly.

The Right Temperatures for Ripening

So, picking the tomatoes before they are fully ripe gives the gardener greater control over the ripening process. Any temperature over 86 degrees Fahrenheit interferes with the tomatoes ripening process. When it’s too hot outside, you cannot turn a green tomato into a red one.

Consequently, if you’re living in an area where the temperatures are regularly 90 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, your best plan is to pick the tomatoes. At the same time, they are still green and let them ripen indoors on wire nets, as discussed earlier.

How To Recognize a Ripe Tomato

Most people assume that a red tomato is a ripe tomato – but that is only correct if the home gardener is growing red tomatoes!

Nowadays, gardeners grow tomatoes of different colors – some yellow, some pink, so you need to know the intended color before making decisions on ripeness.

Give it a Gentle Squeeze

Usually, when a tomato is evenly colored all over, it is ready to go. Touch the tomatoes to be sure. A ripe tomato will neither be firm nor squishy to the touch. Give the tomatoes a gentle squeeze in question and, if it gives just a little to the pressure, then it should be good to go.

How Do You Know The Tomatoes Will Ripen Indoors?

Here’s the secret! Tomatoes produce ethylene gas – which they need to ripen. Once the tomato has reached its full size, it contains enough ethylene gas to continue ripening even when removed from the vine.

Ethylene gas reduces the amount of chlorophyll in the fruit to make that green color fade. However, the gas increases the carotenoid pigments in tomatoes that help them turn red, yellow, or orange.

Helping to Ripen Your Unripe Tomatoes

Once you’ve picked an unripe tomato, you do have control over how soon it finishes ripening. Storing it in a warm place, like your kitchen counter, helps it ripen quickly. Put it in a paper bag, and it will ripen faster.

They say that tomatoes stored in a more relaxed area at 55 degrees Fahrenheit will finish ripening in 28 days, whereas tomatoes stored at 70 degrees Fahrenheit will mature in about 14 days.

Pick the Tomatoes Carefully

When picking your tomatoes, use a gentle hand and great care. Sometimes the fruit won’t easily come off the vine, and when that happens, it’s best to cut it away from the vine with some garden shears. If you damage your tomatoes when picking them, you put all your hard work to waste.

So, take great care, and you’ll have yourself a healthy crop of tomatoes, making it all worthwhile.

Patricia Godwin


Patricia Godwin

Patricia has many years of experience as a content writer on various subjects, but her first love is gardening. She’s never met a plant she didn’t like and, consequently, she writes about every type of plant you can think of. Once an avid gardener with a herb garden, a succulent rockery, and a rose garden – to mention a few. Nowadays, she’s constantly on the move searching for interesting plants to bring to your attention; and explain to you all the details you need to grow, care and maintain these plants.

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