Tomatoes are such an easy plant to grow, and taste so much better when they are picked fresh from your garden rather than buying them from the store.
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They grow all throughout the summer, and if you have a greenhouse, can even have them growing most of the year. So how do you know when to pick tomatoes?
The simple answer is when they’re ripe and you’re ready to eat them! Or when it’s about to frost outside.
Related: How To Harvest Spinach, 5 Benefits of Marigolds
When The Tomatoes Are Ripe
This may seem like the simplest answer for when to pick tomatoes is when they’re ripe. With most tomatoes, wait until they are the bright red color you’d expect to see from store-bought varieties. This is the best bet for when the tomatoes are ripe.
(In the image above, the bottom 2 tomatoes are probably ripe)
Depending on the size of the tomato you’re growing, you can also see if they easily fall off with the slightest touch. This is a good way to tell with tomatoes like cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes have a small stem, and if you can just barely touch that and the tomato falls off, it’s most likely ripe!
Some smaller tomatoes might start falling off naturally, and this is a good sign that some other tomatoes might be ripe too.
Choose the juiciest, reddest fruit from the plant and leave the rest to continue ripening!
Larger tomatoes, just wait until they are red and pull them off the plant! These might be easier to take off where the stem meets the plant, and they are likely to just fall into your hand with a small twist of the tomato. Or get out your pruning shears and cut them off at the stem.
When You’re Ready To Eat Them
The second best way to know when to pick tomatoes is when you’re ready to eat them. This is one of the best things about growing your own tomatoes, is that you can choose how many to pick at a time.
Pop just one off for a quick treat, or take a bunch off at once to make tomato soup or a salad topping!
Even when ripe, tomatoes can stay on the plant for a few more days, so you don’t have to pick them all at once. This is especially important because tomatoes lose their flavor when stored in the fridge, and will only last a few days on the counter.
Instead, they will last much longer on the plant! Although if you are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of ripe tomatoes, see if someone wants any or make a sauce out of them!
If There’s An Expected Overnight Frost
The final time for when to pick tomatoes is if the temperature is expected to majorly drop overnight. Tomato plants aren’t very hardy when it comes to cold weather, so the plant will likely die if there’s a major frost at night.
(If it’s only barely freezing, you could probably cover the plant with a sheet to protect it overnight.)
So this is when you want to pick the last tomatoes from your plant. Wherever they are in the ripening process. Make a green tomato relish with the unripe ones, or grill them for a different flavor!
The best thing about tomatoes is they can be eaten whether ripe or unripe, so none have to go to waste.
Tomatoes Not Ripening?
If your tomatoes are stuck on the vine and not ripening, but rather rotting, there are 2 things to do. The first is to slow down on watering, as you might be overwatering. Growing fruit takes a lot of water, but once the fruit is grown it needs less (at least slightly) water.
The other way to fix this and get your tomatoes ripening is to cut off most of their leaves. Not all, but most of them. This forces the tomato plant to go from growing more and putting energy into growing the leaves and making new fruit, and puts the energy into ripening the fruit.
Because ripe fruit is the way plants reproduce (by releasing the seeds), this will cause the tomatoes to prepare their fruit and will start ripening the tomatoes. Then you’ll be able to pick and eat your tomatoes!