Tomatoes are one of the most fulfilling (and trickiest) plants to grow. If you’re reading this, it means you’ve done all the planting, pruning, tending, warding off of disease, and more that’s required to produce fresh juicy tomatoes that are ready to eat.
However, the work isn’t done! Knowing when and how to harvest tomatoes is tricky and requires a little bit of knowledge.
Here’s our guide to harvesting tomatoes, including how to ripen tomatoes off the vine and storage tips.
When to Harvest Tomatoes
Knowing when to harvest tomatoes is the trickiest part of your harvesting journey. Ultimately, there are two ways to harvest tomatoes: letting them ripen on the vine and picking green to ripen indoors. While letting your tomatoes ripen on the vine achieves the most flavor, there are circumstances (like climate and variety) in which it is better to pick green.
Way #1: Letting Tomatoes Ripen on the Vine
Fruit that’s allowed to fully ripen on the vine has more flavor than fruit that is picked earlier and let ripen off the vine. This is why your garden harvests have so much more flavor than your grocery store buys. In a best-case scenario, you can let your tomatoes fully ripen on their plant and pick at the peak of ripeness.
A tomato plant is fully ripe when it’s come into its color entirely. Whether your tomatoes are red, yellow, or orange, wait until the color covers the entire tomato. The texture should be firm — if your tomato is soft, it is overripe and needs to be picked immediately.
Some varieties, like cherry tomatoes, have a tendency to crack if they stay on the vine (which leads to premature rotting). Pick these tomatoes as they come into their color and don’t wait for peak redness.
Way #2: Picking Green and Ripening Indoors
In some cases, it is better to pick your tomatoes at a full-sized green stage and let ripen indoors. If you live in an area that is consistently above 86°F or if the temperatures have consistently fallen below 60°F, tomatoes will no longer color on the vine. Pick these tomatoes at a “mature” green stage.
Tomatoes are a mature green when they are full-sized and just beginning to develop the blush of color. Tomatoes color first from their base, so keep an eye on the base of the tomato. When the base of the green tomato starts to turn another color, your green tomato can be picked and successfully ripened indoors.
How to Harvest Tomatoes
To start harvesting your tomatoes, grasp the fruit firmly but, gently with one hand and hold the stem with your other. Pull from the plant. Try to break the stalk just above the calyx, which are the small green leaves or “hat” right where the tomato connects to the stalk.
Alternatively, use scissors or hand pruners to cut the stalk just above the calyx.
How to Ripen Tomatoes Indoors
If you picked your tomatoes green, you need to ripen them indoors. Contrary to popular opinion, light is not needed to ripen tomatoes. Instead, humidity and temperature are critical.
The best way to ripen your tomatoes is to place them in a paper bag. Letting tomatoes ripen on a countertop will cause them to dry while ripening in a plastic bag creates mold. A paper bag traps heat inside and creates a mini greenhouse — prime conditions for your tomatoes to ripen.
Fruits emit ethylene gas as they ripen. This gas is both a byproduct of ripening and a stimulant for ripening. To help your tomatoes ripen faster, place another ripe fruit (like a banana or apple) inside the paper bag with your green tomatoes.
If, for some reason, the paper bag doesn’t suit your fancy, you can ripen on a sunny windowsill. Be sure to rotate your tomatoes daily so that one side doesn’t rot before the others.
How to Store Tomatoes
Wash and dry your tomatoes before you store. For up to a week, tomatoes store well on a windowsill or a countertop. Lower temperatures will help preserve the fruit, but a fridge often reduces flavor and causes mushiness.
If you have too many tomatoes to eat in a week, you have several options for storage.
How to Enjoy Your Tomato Harvest
The key to a successful tomato harvest is to enjoy your tomatoes in delicious recipes! Here are a few of our favorite tomato recipes.
- Roasted Tomato Salsa Recipe
- Bloody Mary Recipe
- Tomato Ricotta Bruschetta Recipe
- Tomato & Arugula Balsamic Pasta Recipe
- Tomato & Cucumber Salad with Feta Recipe
- Yellow Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart Recipe
If you have any questions about how to harvest or store your fresh tomato harvests, reach out to Gardenuity Grow Pros for help.
You can start growing and picking your own tomato garden today! Browse our Vegetable Garden Kits and you’ll have a successful tomato harvest in no time!