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Tomatoes are a staple ingredient in many dishes around the world, and nothing beats the taste of a ripe, juicy tomato fresh off the vine. But how do you know when to pick tomatoes for the best flavour and nutrition?
In this post, we’ll explore the signs of ripe tomatoes, the right time to pick them, and the best way to store them, so you can enjoy the taste of summer all year round.
Tomatoes come in many different varieties, from large beefsteak to small cherry tomatoes. Each variety has its own unique ripening timeline, so it’s important to understand the characteristics of your specific variety. Check the seed packet or do a quick online search to determine the typical timeline for your variety.
It is also important to understand the tomato plant itself. Tomatoes grow on a vine, and the fruit develops from a small green bud that eventually turns into a ripe, juicy tomato. The plant requires a steady supply of water, sunlight, and nutrients to produce a healthy crop.
Knowing when to pick tomatoes is essential to get the best flavour and nutrition from them. Here are 4 signs that your tomatoes are ripe and ready to be picked.
When determining tomato ripeness, colour is the primary indicator. Ripe tomatoes will have a deep, uniform colour. For red tomatoes, this means a deep, bright red. For yellow and green varieties, look for a deepening of the colour to a rich, consistent hue.
Additionally, the tomato should be firm and shiny but not hard to the touch, feel heavy for its size and the stem should start to turn ‘brown’ and dry out.
Finally, weather conditions can also impact the ripening process of tomatoes. If temperatures are too hot or too cold, it may affect the quality of the fruit (18C-25C) is optimum.
The 4 Signs of Ripeness:
Colour: Most tomato varieties turn from green to red, yellow, or orange when they are ripe. Check the colour of your tomatoes to see if they are ready to be picked.
Firmness: Ripe tomatoes should feel firm but very slightly soft when you gently squeeze them. Overripe tomatoes will be too soft and may have bruises or soft spots.
Texture: Look for smooth, unblemished skin with a slight shine.
Smell: Ripe tomatoes should have a sweet, fruity smell that is stronger near the stem.
The best time to pick tomatoes is in the morning when the fruit is cool and the sugar content is at its highest and before the sun has fully heated up the plant.
The cool temperatures help preserve the flavour and nutrients in the fruit, and picking in the morning ensures that the tomato is still fresh when you eat it. It’s also important to harvest tomatoes regularly to encourage continued fruit production.
Once your tomatoes have ripened, it’s time to harvest them. Use a sharp pair of scissors or pruners to snip the stem, leaving a small piece of stem attached to the tomato. This helps prevent damage to the fruit and reduces the risk of disease.
If you plan to eat your tomatoes fresh, it’s best to pick them when they are fully ripe. This will ensure the best flavour and texture. You can also store ripe tomatoes at room temperature for a few days if you’re not quite ready to eat them yet.
Finally, if you have green tomatoes that you would like to ripen ‘off’ the vine, you can place them in a paper bag with an apple or banana. The ethylene gas produced by the apple or banana will help to ripen the tomatoes more quickly. However, keep in mind that tomatoes that are picked too early may not ripen properly, so it’s best to wait until they have started to mature on the vine.
When picking tomatoes, it’s important to use the right tools to avoid damaging the fruit. Here are some essential tools for picking tomatoes:
Garden scissors: Use garden scissors to cut the stem of the tomato without damaging the fruit or the plant.
Harvesting basket: Use a basket or bucket to collect your tomatoes while you’re picking them.
Gloves: Wear gloves to protect your hands from thorns, insect bites, and other hazards while you’re picking tomatoes.
Even with the best intentions, it’s easy to make mistakes when picking tomatoes. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:
As we’ve mentioned, picking tomatoes too early can result in hard, unripe fruit. While it may be tempting to pick them early to avoid pests or other issues, it’s important to wait until they are fully mature.
On the other hand, waiting too long to pick tomatoes can result in overripe or even spoiled fruit. Make sure to check your plants regularly and harvest ripe tomatoes as soon as possible.
Tomatoes are delicate fruits and can easily be damaged if mishandled. When picking tomatoes, make sure to be gentle and avoid squeezing or dropping them.
Once you’ve picked your tomatoes, it’s important to store them properly to maintain their flavour and nutrition. Here are some tips for storing tomatoes:
Don’t store them in the fridge: Tomatoes lose their flavor and texture when stored in the fridge. Instead, store them at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.
Don’t stack them: Stacking tomatoes can cause them to bruise and spoil faster. Instead, store them in a single layer in a basket or tray.
Use them within a week: Tomatoes are best eaten within a week of being picked. If you have too many, consider canning or freezing them to preserve their flavour and nutrition.
Take an opportunity to look through the common FAQs concerning – When to Pick Tomatoes
The time it takes for tomatoes to ripen on the vine varies depending on the variety of tomatoes and the growing conditions. On average, it takes 60-80 days from planting to harvesting.
It’s best to pick your tomatoes every 2-3 days to encourage continued fruit production.
No, it’s best to wait until tomatoes are fully mature before picking them.
Yes, you can pick tomatoes when they are still green and allow them to ripen indoors. Place them in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana to speed up the ripening process.
Cherry tomatoes should be bright red and slightly soft when they are picked. They should also come off the vine easily without too much force. Look for smooth skin with no blemishes or cracks.
It’s best not to store tomatoes with other fruits and vegetables, as they produce a gas called ‘ethylene’ that can cause tomatoes to spoil faster. Instead, store tomatoes at room temperature separately in a single layer.
Yes, you can still use tomatoes that have cracked or split, but they may not store as well as undamaged fruit.
Ripe tomatoes can be stored at room temperature for a few days, or in the refrigerator for up to a week.
No, tomatoes will not survive a frost and should be harvested before the first frost of the season.
Overripe tomatoes will be soft to the touch and may have cracks or wrinkles on the skin.
Tomatoes are a delicious and nutritious fruit that can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. Knowing when to pick tomatoes is important to get the best flavour and nutrition from them. Look for signs of ripeness like colour, firmness, texture, and smell, and pick them in the morning when they are cool and fresh.
Use the right tools like garden scissors and a harvesting basket, and store them properly at room temperature in a single layer.
By following these tips, you can enjoy the taste of summer all year round with perfectly ripe tomatoes.