How to identify when cherry tomatoes are ready to be picked?

The pinnacle of the summer vegetable garden is a completely ripe homegrown tomato. A ripe tomato, on the other hand, is vulnerable to splitting, shattering, and bugs. The good news is that there are two ways to harvest tomatoes; when the fruits are fully ripe or when they’re only partially ripe. Each technique has advantages and disadvantages. Continue reading to find out when to select tomatoes.


When to pick tomatoes: two strategies

The color of a tomato deepens as it ripens, the sugar content increases, and the fruits soften. Garden tomatoes are traditionally plucked when completely grown, however ripening may occur on the vine or on your kitchen counter. In fact, I’ve found that there are advantages to harvesting tomatoes before they’re fully ripe; fewer pest issues, less cracking and splitting, and reliable ripening. Below you’ll find information on harvesting both ripe and partially ripe tomatoes as well as tips on how to ripen the fruits indoors.

When to pick ripe tomatoes

A sun-warmed ripe tomato is a summer delicacy that gardeners look forward to for months. You may want to collect the fruits as they mature if you have a tiny garden. If you have a lot of tomato plants, harvesting the fruits while they’re partly ripe may be better. Craig LeHoullier, a tomato expert who introduced gardeners to Cherokee Purple tomatoes and the author of the best-selling book Epic Tomatoes says that tomatoes allowed to ripen fully on the vine have a short shelf life and need to be eaten or cooked as soon as possible. Hey there, tomato sandwich! Therefore, if you’re in the yard and wondering whether your tomatoes are totally ripe, here are five indications to see if the fruits have achieved peak maturity.

1) Days to Maturity

There are hundreds of tomato types to plant, each with a different maturity date. It is the time it takes from planting to harvesting. In the case of tomatoes, the days to maturity are usually measured from transplanting rather than sowing. Early maturing varieties can start to produce ripe fruits in as little as 55 days from transplanting, while late maturing varieties may need 85 or more days for the fruits to fully ripen. Because I’m in a short season climate I tend to plant mostly early and mid-season tomato varieties to ensure I have enough time to harvest a good crop of fruits before the weather turns cold. Go to the seed packaging or business website for the days to maturity information for a particular tomato variety. As the days to maturity for your particular tomato variety approach, the fruits should begin to mature.

2) Fruit color

Skin color is another indicator of tomato maturity. A completely ripe tomato’s skin should have darkened to the mature color shown on the seed pack or in the seed catalog. It’s very simple to identify when a red tomato is entirely ripe, but it may be more difficult to know when a purple, yellow, white, or striped type is totally ripe. It becomes simpler with practice, but if you’re unsure, check the other signals to see whether it’s ready to pluck.

3) Feel

Although color is the most obvious indicator of ripeness, feel is equally essential. Unripe tomatoes are solid to the touch, and overripe tomatoes are quite squishy. A ripe, ready-to-pick tomato should be firm yet have some give when lightly touched with a finger or squeezed.

4) Fragrance

I saw a candle named ‘vine ripened tomato’ at a gift shop a few years ago. (I’m not joking when I say this one is labeled ‘vine ripened tomato.’) It’s true that ripe tomatoes do have a lovely, tomatoey fragrance, but I’m not sure I want a candle that smells like tomatoes! If you believe your tomato is ripe, take a quick whiff since tomatoes grow more aromatic as they mature.

garden tomatoes A completely ripe and ready-to-pick tomato should come away from the plant with a moderate pull. That said, I prefer to harvest tomatoes using garden snips as pulling on the fruits can damage the plants or knock still-ripening fruits from the vines.

5) Ease of picking

The ease with which a tomato falls off the plant is a last indicator of maturity. I don’t recommend relying on this test as tugging tomato fruits from the plants can damage both the tomato and the plant, as well as other fruits still ripening. I like to check for ripeness using days to maturity, color, and feel, and if the fruit is ready to be taken, I’ll cut it off the plant using garden snips or hand pruners. Yet, if you carefully lift the tomato to check whether it readily comes off the stem, this is an indication of ripeness. If it doesn’t split from the plant with a mild pull, don’t push it; it’s not ready to pluck yet.

How weather can impact when to pick tomatoes

Have you ever returned to your tomato patch after a downpour to discover that many of the cherry tomatoes have cracked and the large-fruited ones have split? Heavy rain, particularly after a period of dry weather, is a primary cause of cracked and split fruits. Unripe fruit may sometimes be impacted, although it is usually ripe or almost-ripe fruits that are harmed. Fruits that have been cracked or split degrade rapidly and may attract insect pests as well as bigger predators. For this reason it’s important to harvest ripe or almost ripe tomatoes before a heavy rain or a deep watering.

Another way weather might influence when to harvest tomatoes is near the conclusion of the growing season, when the days are becoming shorter and colder. Cold temperatures may cause ripening to be delayed, and frost can harm both the plants and the fruits. I keep an eye on the forecast and if the first frost or a steep temperature dip threatens, I harvest all unripe tomatoes. We use fully green tomatoes to create chow chow or fried green tomatoes since they don’t ripen nicely. Partly ripe tomatoes are arranged in baskets or boxes in a single layer and transported inside to completely mature.

Harvesting unripe tomatoes

There are various reasons why tomatoes should be harvested before they are completely ripe. According to Craig LeHoullier, allowing tomatoes to fully mature on the vine may result in a handful of problems. “First, allowing fruits to fully ripen on the plants can result in a greater likelihood of cracking,” he says. “Since the tomato is fully grown, size-wise, any uptake of water from rain or watering can cause a split as the skin cells can’t divide to accommodate the swelling of the flesh.”

Pests are another concern. “Ripe fruits smell terrific and are significantly more appealing to creatures than unripe fruits,” Craig explains. Deer, rabbits, groundhogs, chipmunks, and squirrels are all potential tomato thieves. Slugs have even been seen nibbling on ripe tomatoes in my garden! So, when does Craig pick his own tomatoes? “I select the tomatoes when half to three-quarters of the fruit has turned color but the shoulder is still green,” he explains. “I find there is less cracking and less critter damage potential.” And once picked, the fruits just need a day or two on the kitchen counter (or another location out of direct sunshine) to continue ripening. “The taste and texture of early picked fruits cannot be separated from those that have matured on the vine,” Craig explains.

When to pick unripe tomatoes

We know we want to eat our tomatoes when they’re fully ripe, but as Craig says you don’t have to wait until the fruits are ripe to harvest. You may either ripen tomatoes on the vine or off the vine. A tomato goes through six phases of maturation:

  1. Green – During the green stage, the fruit is totally green, with no mature color showing. If picked at this stage the flavor and color of the green fruits won’t fully develop.
  2. Breaker – At this phase, the fruit’s green tint ‘breaks’ and starts to hint at the mature color. Up to 10% of the fruit in the breaker stage may be pink, red, yellow, or other colors. At this point, a tomato may be harvested and anticipated to completely mature indoors.
  3. Turning stage – Between 10 and 30% of the fruit has colored during the turning stage.
  4. Pink – Between 30 to 60% of the fruit has colored up.
  5. Light red – The light red stage is getting close to fully ripe with 60 to 90% of the color developed. I collect large-fruited heritage tomatoes at this point.
  6. Red or fully ripe – If you want a completely ripe tomato, wait until more than 90% of the fruit has turned red (or yellow, orange, etc.).

Why is it vital to understand the phases of ripeness? If you’re picking tomatoes immature with the intention of allowing them to ripen indoors you can harvest anytime they reach the breaker stage without sacrificing flavor or nutrition.

How to ripen tomatoes indoors

If you pick tomatoes while they are immature – anytime after the breaker stage – bring them indoors and store them in a sunny position away from direct sunlight. A sunny windowsill is not recommended since direct sunlight may toughen the skin. I use a corner of my kitchen counter, or if they’re in the breaking or turning stage, I’ll store them in a box or basket in an out-of-the-way location. Spread the tomatoes evenly and examine them twice a week, eliminating any that have ripened or show indications of rot. Tomatoes do not need high temperatures to ripen. Room temperature or slightly colder is good, but avoid putting the fruits in the refrigerator since they will not develop properly and may get mealy.

You may also put them in a paper bag and roll the top tight. When the tomatoes develop, they emit ethylene gas, which causes the unripe tomatoes to become red. Putting a banana to the bag generates ethylene gas and helps hasten fruit ripening, but I find it tastes like bananas! As a result, I avoid the banana scam.

When to pick heirloom tomatoes

I wait all spring and summer to enjoy fully ripe Brandywine Pink or Black Krim tomatoes from my garden. I grow a wide variety of heirloom tomatoes and have found that it’s best to harvest large-fruited heirlooms when they are slightly underripe. If you wait until they’re completely colored, they’re likely to be overripe and split or rot. Instead, pluck them when they’re half to three-quarters ripe and finish them inside.

When to pick cherry tomatoes

Cherry and other small-fruited tomatoes are garden delights, and plants like Sungold and Rapunzel are so prolific that it may be difficult to keep up with the bounty. Throughout the summer, I check on my plants every day and collect all of the ripe or very ripe fruits. Cherry tomatoes are grown in trusses, which may have hundreds of fruits per truss. They will not mature all at once, so don’t wait for the whole truss to turn color before harvesting cherry tomatoes. A completely ripe truss may seem spectacular in an Instagram image, but by the time the bottom fruits ripen, the top ones have most likely split. Alternatively, pick cherry, grape, and currant tomatoes after the individual fruits have matured.

How often to pick tomatoes

To lessen the likelihood of cracked or split fruits, inspect plants on a regular basis and remove those that are ripe. Whenever the first fruits start to mature, I check on my cherry tomato plants every day. I monitor the plants of large-fruited, saladette, and plum tomatoes every few days.

How to pick tomatoes

Several times (too many!) I’ve gone up to the garden to select a tomato only to discover that there are a slew of completely ripe fruits waiting to be picked. I used my shirt as a makeshift basket to bring as many as I could back to the kitchen, not wanting them to fall victim to bugs or split on the vine. Of course, this resulted in some of the fruits being squished or bruised by mistake. I now maintain a wire harvest basket in the garden to minimize unwanted harm. When there’s a surplus of fresh tomatoes to harvest, this weather-proof basket comes in useful and allows me to get them inside the house damage-free. If I have a lot of fruits to travel, I’ll also take my Maine garden hod, which has lots of room for tomatoes.

While picking tomatoes, whether ripe or unripe, do not tug or yank them from the vine. This may harm the plant or cause immature fruits to fall off. Instead, use garden snips or shears to remove the fruits off the vine.

Related Questions

  • When should you pick cherry tomatoes off the vine?

    When the tomato reaches a stage where it is about 12 green and 12 pink (referred to as the ‘breaker stage,’ it can be harvested and ripened off the vine without losing flavor, quality, or nutrition.

  • What does a ripe cherry tomato look like?

    The Ripening Process for Cherry Tomato Plants
    Depending on the tomato type, some cherry tomatoes can mature to an orange or yellow tint. However, most common cherry tomatoes will have a deep red color when they are ready for harvest.

  • Will my green cherry tomatoes ripen if I pick them?

    If you see a hint of red on your green tomatoes, selecting them separately and bringing them indoors may be the best way to get them to mature. Like many fruits, tomatoes continue to ripen once they’ve been picked. Ethylene is a gas that fruits, especially tomatoes, emit to encourage ripening.

  • Do tomatoes ripen better on the vine or off?

    The general answer is that tomatoes ripen faster on the vine – IF they have the optimal climate and growing conditions. But, there are instances when we wish they would do it even quicker.

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