Believe it or not, there is a bit of an art to knowing when to pick tomatoes from your tomato plants. And it really does have a big impact on the flavor and nutritional value of your tomatoes, and even the production level of your plants!
For many, plucking a deep-red ripe tomato straight from the vine is the ideal harvest.
But as it turns out, letting that tomato fully ripen on the vine isn’t the best idea. Not at least for the flavor and nutrient value of the tomato, or for the continuing production of your tomato plants.
When To Pick Tomatoes
Once a tomato begins to turn from green to slightly pink, it stops taking nutrients from the plant. It is what is known as the breaking stage.
Once a tomato reaches this stage, it will continue to ripen off the vine without any issue. And actually, it is better to pick the tomato at this point for several reasons.
First and foremost, it keeps the tomato from becoming damaged from insects, animals, sun-spots, and even wind or summer storms. A ripening tomato is an open invitation to all of the above.
But plucking that tomato early also helps your tomato plant. Although the tomato is not using nutrients from the plant, it can slow the production and ripening process for additional tomatoes.
How so? Indeterminate tomato varieties that produce tomatoes all season will slow down production of new blossoms if too many tomatoes are present and ripening. It is known as “fruit load” or “fruit overload”, and it can impact your overall harvest.
But in addition, keeping plants picked also keeps the weight of tomato vines manageable. And that means branches can’t split or break which can also injure the plant, and keep yields down.
With all of that said, the ideal time to pluck your tomatoes from your plant is when they have slightly or moderately turned in color. And yes, as you will see below, they will ripen even better and will be perfect for canning or freezing. (See : How To Preserve Tomatoes Without Canning)
How To Best Let Tomatoes Ripen
So now that we know the best time to pick tomatoes, the real question is where do they best ripen. Here again, the answer may surprise you.
For starters, it is not on a sunny windowsill or the refrigerator!
Once the tomato has begun the ripening process, it does not need sunlight to ripen. In fact, too much sun can blister and even injure the fruit. That is exactly what happens when over-ripe tomatoes split open on the vine.
Putting those tomatoes on a sunny windowsill can cause the same issue.
As it turns out, tomatoes ripen best when stored in a cool, shady location. The ideal temperature for ripening is actually around 65 to 70 degrees, with plenty of circulation.
In our house, we use a homemade drying rack made from a few 2 x 4’s and hardware cloth to store the just picked tomatoes inside. A cool, shady porch would be the second best option as long as outside temps are not too high. See : How To Build A Homemade Drying Rack
In lieu of a harvest rack, a baking rack or bread rack works well too. Allowing the air to get all around the tomato helps it ripen both faster and more evenly.
Why Not The Refrigerator?
There is one place that should never be used for ripening tomatoes – and that is the refrigerator. Unfortunately, when refrigerated, the process of ripening is halted almost entirely.
Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator not only stops the ripening process, but also causes tomatoes to lose flavor and nutrients too.
With that said, if you are like us and enjoy the taste of a chilled tomato, there is nothing wrong with putting the tomato in the refrigerator a few hours before eating fresh or putting in a salad!
Here is to knowing the right time to pick your tomatoes to enjoy them at their best. Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary.
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