Helpful Tips for Harvesting Tomatoes

Follow these tips when it comes time to harvest your homegrown tomatoes.

| April 2015

Savor your best tomato harvest ever with Epic Tomatoes (Storey Publishing, 2015) by Craig LeHoullier, a tomato adviser for Seed Savers Exchange. Epic Tomatoes offers everything a tomato enthusiast needs to know about growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes. This excerpt, which provides some tips and hints for harvesting tomatoes, is from Chapter5, “Harvest Celebration.”

Buy this book from the Capper's Farmer store: Epic Tomatoes.

Helpful Tips to Harvesting Tomatoes

All of the hard work is now behind you (so you think, anyway!). The journey that began many months ago is beginning the lengthy (we hope) payoff period. Harvest time often begins utterly unexpectedly with a flash of color deep among the dense lower foliage of one of the tomato plants. One day, the tomatoes are hard and green, the dinner plates yet to be decorated with the anticipated harvest, the stomach rumbling with anticipation. And then, there it is: the first ripe tomato, just waiting for you to pick it, devour it, relish the flavor of summer, and become immersed in the nostalgia of so many tomatoes tasted throughout your gardening years.

Determining When to Pick Tomatoes

There are different schools of thought on when to pick a ripening, or ripe, tomato. The decision depends upon several factors: the variety, the weather (temperature as well as precipitation or irrigation), the presence of marauding critters, and the status of your edible ripe tomato supply and its intended uses. It also depends on your knowledge of the variety and expected color, whether the variety is true to type, and where you are in the season (early, mid, or late). Trial and error will certainly be involved, and experimenting with a tomato you are trying for the first time can be very informative.

Generally speaking, when tomatoes are ripe for eating, they’re also ripe for seed saving. Good, viable seeds can be saved from tomatoes that are a bit short of fully ripe (when they are blushing, but still showing some green), though germination could be a bit low. Seeds saved from overripe tomatoes will be fine.

When a Tomato Is at Its Peak Flavor

Of course, the flavor of a particular tomato will be at its peak when it’s perfectly ripe. Each variety, at peak ripeness, will also possess a characteristic texture. As a rule, less-ripe tomatoes have less sugar and could exhibit a more acidic, tart taste. The texture is likely to be firmer, perhaps even with a definite hardness or crunchiness. Tomatoes that ripen a bit beyond the peak state will become sweeter and less tart, which could result in unpleasant blandness. The texture in this case may become mushy or soft.

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