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It’s Tomato Harvest Time: How to Pick for Peak Ripeness

tomato harvest in hands ted lare design & build

Most of your tomatoes are probably starting to ripen now. Knowing when to harvest tomatoes for the best flavor is not quite as simple as you might hope. The color of the tomato is one indicator that they’re ripe, but it’s not the only thing you should consider. 

How to Know When to Pick Your Tomatoes

When you should pick your tomatoes depends on what you want to use them for. If you’re going to eat them fresh, you’ll want to pick them at peak ripeness for the most intense flavor. There are a few things to look for to determine ultimate ripeness:

  • Rich uniform color over the whole fruit.
  • Glossy skin that feels a bit silky.
  • Not too firm, but not too soft. It should give a little with a gentle squeeze.
  • They should have a slightly sweet earthy scent if you smell them.
  • Fairly heavy, relative to the size. 

A tomato with all of these factors will be perfect for enjoying in sandwiches, salads, bruschetta, or just straight off the vine as snacks in the garden. 

picking tomatoes for harvest ted lare design & build

If you want to harvest your tomatoes to preserve them, you’ll need to pick many at once, which means you may need to pick some before they hit peak ripeness. Ideally, it would be nice to have all your tomatoes at peak ripeness on the same day, so you could preserve them. Unfortunately, that only happens with bush or determinate tomatoes. 

It’s totally fine to pick tomatoes a little early. If you can pick them the day before you plan to preserve them and leave them all together somewhere warm and dark, some of them will ripen a little bit more before you process them. Tomatoes picked slightly early will still have plenty of flavor. 

If you’re canning tomatoes, it’s best to have many ready simultaneously, so you can process a lot at the same time. If you have indeterminate tomatoes, though, it’s easier to freeze them since you can process a few at a time as they ripen. 

End of Season Tomato Harvest

At the end of the summer, you’ll likely have plenty of tomatoes left on your vines that aren’t ripe yet. The bonus of tomatoes is that they’ll still ripen, even if you have to pick them when they’re green. There are two different ways to harvest tomatoes at the end of the season.

You can simply pick all your tomatoes, whether they’re ripe or not, and store them somewhere dark indoors. They don’t need light to ripen, so you can just keep them in the house until they ripen. If you have just a few, put them in a single layer in the bottom of a paper bag and close it. If you have lots of tomatoes, lay them out in a single layer on several sheets of newspaper. Make sure to check them every day to use or preserve ones that have reached full ripeness or remove any that may have started to mold.

canning tomatoes ted lare design & build

The other way to harvest tomatoes in the fall is by pulling up the entire plant. Many people say that tomatoes ripen with better flavor if they reach full ripeness on the vine, even if the plant has been pulled out of the soil. Generally, people pull the plant up by its roots, then turn it upside down and hang it up until the fruits ripen. If you’ve got a way to suspend your tomato plants from the ceiling of your garage, this is definitely worth a try at the end of the season. 

Don’t forget about those fresh herbs you’ll need if you’re planning to make soups or sauces with your tomatoes. If your basil supply is running low, stop by the garden center and pick up a couple of new plants to get you through the preserving rush.


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