When To Pick Tomatoes And How To Store Them

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The best thing about growing tomatoes is getting to harvest and enjoy your freshly grown fruit. It may seem obvious, but there is a bit of science to deciding when to pick tomatoes.

So let’s talk about the best time to harvest your tomatoes and what to do with them once they’re off the plant.

Tomatoes can take a long time to ripen, and you’ve likely been staring at your plants waiting for those green round fruits to turn red (or pink or orange).

 Stages Of Tomato Ripening

Deciding the perfect time to pick your tomatoes depends on what you want to do with them. As the fruit ripens it gets more color, softer and the sugars intensify.

Green – tomatoes start green in color while they grow to their full size. Green tomatoes are unripe, feel hard to the touch, and are not very good eating (unless fried).

Breaker – This is the term for the second stage of tomato ripening and it refers to the break out of yellow, pink, or red coloring beginning at the blossom end of the fruit. We also call this stage “first blush,” and although this tomato would be suitable for frying, it’s not quite ready for fresh eating.

Stages of ripening tomatoes

Turning – As the color begins to spread around more of the surface of the fruit, it’s called the turning stage. This stage is characterized by a 10-30% color change of the tomato. Still not ready to eat.

Pink – The tomato is continuing to turn from green to pink, and the color has spread to over 30% but less than 90% of the fruit. Still not ready to eat.

Light red – The tomato appears light pink with color change over 60-90% of the fruit. Possibly ready to eat if the flesh is soft.

Red – The tomato is 90% or more red, feels soft to the touch, and is ready to eat.*

*Side note: some tomatoes at this stage will still have green, yellow, or blue shoulders. This is variety dependent, and it’s still good for eating. Just cut off the shoulders and toss them in the compost pile.

Studies indicate that the stage of ripening when the tomato is picked affects the flavor and especially the sweetness of the ripe fruit. Those that are ripened on the plant for longer tend to have a better flavor than those ripened off the vine. (source)

When to pick tomatoes

Vine ripening your tomatoes will result in the sweetest fruit, but there are some reasons why you might want to pick the tomato before it’s completely red.

tomatoes ripening on the vine by youshouldgrow.com

For example, if you are having trouble with birds, squirrels, or other pests eating your tomatoes, then you might choose to pick the tomato before it’s completely ripe. Or if there’s a frost looming in your forecast and you’re worried they’ll be damaged by the weather.

I usually pick my tomatoes between the turning and light red stages. Specifically, I look for a pink to red color and softness at the blossom end.

But you can pick any tomato once it’s in or beyond the breaker stage.

What if your tomatoes aren’t red?

Not all tomatoes will turn red, some varieties are green when ripe, others are orange, yellow, or white. Some have stripes of red, orange, blue, or all three!

If you’re unsure about what color your tomato will be when it’s ripe, you can always use your hands to determine when it’s ready to pick.

As the tomato becomes ripe, it will get softer. So go ahead and reach into your tomato plants and give the bottom part of the tomato gentle pressure with your fingers.

When the flesh has some give, it’s okay to pick. It’s a good idea to feel several tomatoes so you can get an idea of how it changes from firm to soft.

The blossom end will begin to soften at some point during the Pink stage and get softer as the fruit continues to ripen. There will also always be some color change though it may be subtle.

Green when ripe tomatoes usually get a yellowish hue and blue tomatoes will get some red usually at the blossom end. It’s also very common for the shoulders to remain green, blue, or orange even after the fruit is fully ripe.

vine ripened tomatoes by youshouldgrow.com

Storing Vine Ripened Tomatoes

There are two things you should do and one thing you should never do when it comes to storing tomatoes.

First, you want to store the tomatoes upside down resting on their shoulders. The blossom end is softer and should be facing up. Storing them on the softer blossom end can result in bruising and speeding up deterioration.

Second, you should keep them at room temperature. Never store your tomatoes in the refrigerator. Temperatures below 50°F will change the texture and the color of the fruit, so they just don’t taste as good.

Lastly, don’t put your tomatoes in direct sunlight. Too much heat and light can damage the fruit and negatively affect its flavor.

How To Ripen Tomatoes Indoors

A tomato picked past the breaker stage will continue to ripen at room temperature. Cooler temps slow down the ripening to some degree, and warmer temps speed it up.

Some green tomatoes can be ripened off the vine, but it depends on how old the tomato was when it was picked. The closer it was to ripening naturally, the more likely it is to ripen off the vine.

Grocery stores use Ethylene gas to ripen green tomatoes, and you can mimic this at home with a simple brown paper bag and a banana.

Just put the green tomato and the banana in the bag, then fold the top together to close it. Store it at room temperature, and check it every day until it’s ready to eat.

When do you pick your tomatoes?

Share your experience in the comments!

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