Harvesting tomatoes is easy and so rewarding. But you must do it at the right time to get the best flavor and texture. In this post you’ll learn exactly when and how to pick them at their peak.
Picking those first summer tomatoes from the garden is an exciting moment worth waiting for. After spending several weeks properly caring for them, it’s finally time to reap the rewards of your hard work.
But knowing exactly when tomatoes are ready to harvest is key for enjoying them at their peak of flavor and freshness.
In this detailed guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know in order to bring in your best and most delicious crop.
I’ll show you how to tell when tomatoes are ready to harvest, and how to safely remove them from the vine without causing damage or splitting.
When To Pick Tomatoes
With so many types out there, it’s hard to tell you exactly when to pick tomatoes. But most will be ready sometime between 60-100 days after germination.
The range for smaller varieties, like cherry or grape, is usually somewhere between 50-70 days, while larger ones and heirlooms can take 80 or more.
Some types, like Early Girl or bush hybrids, are bred to produce much sooner.
The best flavor will come from vine-ripened tomatoes, but they’re safe to harvest earlier than that too. It’s actually best to pick them a little green in some instances.
Excess water can cause splitting, and frost can ruin the fruits. So if rain or a cold snap is in the forecast, it’s better to pick them early.
How Do You Know When Tomatoes Are Ready To Pick?
Tomatoes are ready to pick when they’ve swollen to their full size and deepened in color. Check the packet or tag to find out the approximate size and color to look for.
They should also feel firm but tender when you gently squeeze them.
What Color Should A Tomato Be When You Pick It?
Tomatoes are at their best when they’ve deepened in color. That’s often a rich red, but some varieties are variegated, pink, yellow, or orange instead.
Heirlooms can especially be tricky. Many maintain yellow on the tops, and are prone to cracking if left too long. Check the firmness to help you decide when to pluck them.
Related Post: How To Make Sturdy DIY Tomato Cages
How To Harvest Tomatoes
Now that you know when to pick your tomatoes, let’s look at the best way to gather them safely so you have both a bountiful and beautiful harvest.
How To Pick Tomatoes Off The Vine
Some fruits may twist very easily from the vine, but I actually recommend using a sharp pair of snips to cut them off instead.
Twisting or pulling them off while harvesting can damage the top of the tomato, tear the plant stem, or dislodge surrounding fruits.
Instead, snip them as close to the branch as you can. That will remove any sharp, leftover stems that can damage neighboring fruits as they mature.
Once removed, place them gently into your basket, and always handle them with care, as they are very delicate.
Related Post: How To Prune Tomatoes For Maximum Production
How Often To Harvest Tomatoes
You should harvest tomatoes as often as they are ready. In fact, it’s a great way to encourage more flower and fruit formation.
Once the plants are heavy with fruit, you may need to pick them daily.
Many types will continue to produce until the very end of the season, which comes with the first frost for most of us.
But some varieties naturally only produce for a few weeks for one large crop.
How Many Times Can Tomatoes Be Harvested?
Most types of tomatoes can be harvested several times throughout the summer and fall months.
People in warmer climates can enjoy them longer, while those in cooler areas will have a shorter season.
Continue to check your plant daily until cold weather approaches. Then trim it to force all of the existing fruits to ripen for a final harvest.
Related Post: How To Make Sun Dried Cherry Tomatoes
How Long Do Tomato Plants Produce Fruit?
How long tomato plants produce fruit depends on the type you have. Indeterminates will yield a continual harvest until the cold sets in.
Bush or determinate varieties are more likely to produce everything at once. So you’ll be able to enjoy your crop over a few weeks, but then the plant will naturally decline after that.
Related Post: How To Tell Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes
How Many Tomatoes Do You Get Per Plant?
It’s very difficult to put a firm number on how many tomatoes you’ll get from one plant. The variety, weather, and their health are all factors.
Some types are naturally more prolific, and you won’t get as many from determinate plants as you will from the larger indeterminate vines.
When they receive full sun, consistent water, and fertilizer, they’ll produce more.
Those that are partially shaded, improperly watered, have a nutrient deficiency, or are exposed to temperature extremes will be less prolific.
Related Post: How To Grow Tomatoes In Pots
What To Do After Harvesting Tomatoes
Once picked, the best place to keep your fresh tomatoes is at room temperature on your kitchen counter.
You can put them in the fridge to extend their shelf life. But they do tend to lose texture and flavor the longer they are refrigerated.
Let them warm back to room temperature before eating if you keep them there.
Related Post: How To Can Cherry Tomatoes
Washing Garden Fresh Tomatoes
There’s no need to wash your tomatoes after harvesting. In fact, it’s better to wait until you’re ready to use them.
Even then, a quick rinse with tepid water should do. If they’re noticeably dirty, then rub them very gently to remove dirt and debris so you don’t cause bruising.
Related Post: How To Grow Tomatoes From Seed & When To Start
FAQs About Harvesting Tomatoes
Here I’ve answered some of the most commonly asked questions about harvesting tomatoes. If yours isn’t on the list, please add it to the comments section below.
Should I pick tomatoes before they are ripe?
You don’t have to pick tomatoes before they’re ripe, unless a frost or rain is in the forecast.
But you certainly can harvest them when the first colors begin to appear if you want or need to.
What happens if I pick my tomatoes too early?
If you pick your tomatoes too early, they won’t be very good to eat raw. They’ll be hard and crunchy, and also lack in flavor.
But they can still be used in recipes, or for pickling, canning and cooking.
Where do you cut tomatoes off the vine?
The best place to cut tomatoes off the vine is right below the spot where they’re attached to the main branch, so there are no sharp stems left to damage nearby fruit.
What month should tomatoes be ready to pick?
The exact month tomatoes should be ready to pick depends on where you live and the variety you have. Most are ready sometime from mid to late summer, and will continue to produce until the weather cools down in the fall.
Should I pick tomatoes or cut the vine?
The safest way to remove tomatoes from the vine is to cut them off instead of picking them. This prevents damage to the fruits and the stem.
Can I pick my tomatoes when they are green?
Yes, you can absolutely pick tomatoes when they’re green. It is common practice towards the end of the season when the frost will damage any remaining fruit.
Now that you know the ins and outs of harvesting tomatoes, you’ll be ready to start picking them as soon as they’re ready. Knowing the perfect stage and techniques will help you enjoy every bite of your summer crop.
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More About Harvesting
- When To Pick Cucumbers & How To Harvest Them
- When & How To Harvest Squash – Picking Winter Or Summer Squash
- When & How To Harvest Tomatillos
Share your tips for how and when to pick tomatoes in the comments section below.