Sounds like an easy question, doesn’t it? And there’s also an easy answer. But you may want to consider a few side-issues before you put the simple answer into practice!
For the record, here’s the straightforward answer. The best time to pick tomatoes is when they have ripened on the vine. The colour is rich, the sugars are fully concentrated, the flavour is full-bodied. Should you wait for this magic moment? As with so many things gardening-related, there are several other questions to take into account.
Ripe Tomatoes are Tempting: and it’s Not Just You Who Thinks So
A ripe tomato looks great, but you aren’t the only one to notice. When it comes to eating tomatoes, you aren’t the only one who is interested. Birds, and a long list of other creatures who might be within reach of your garden, also like the look of a ripe tomato. Will they beat you to it? Depending on the biodiversity in your surroundings, your chances of being the one to savour those fruits may be limited!
The Weather May Not Be Your Friend
Harsh sunlight, too much rain, and dry conditions followed by ample water availability, can all cause problems. Chief among these is splitting of the ripening fruit: and that’s a water issue. First, there’s too little, then there’s plenty. Bang goes your fruit!
When there’s harsh sunlight, it can actually scald your tomatoes. That doesn’t mean that you should grow tomatoes in shade, but it does mean that you should consider picking them before they are fully ripe.
The Vine Stops Feeding the Fruit at Breaking Stage
The main reason why most people think that vine ripened is best, is that they think the vine is still feeding the fruit. But once it starts to colour up, tomato vines don’t do much for the fruit, and that’s why picking tomatoes earlier than fully ripe doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sacrificing flavour and freshness.
Increase Your Harvest
Frustrating a plant’s primary ambition: that of making seeds, can lead to it “trying again.” Although the vine isn’t doing much for your fruit once ripening begins, you can bet that the plant knows it’s there. Ripe fruit equals mature seeds, and your plant is satisfied. But since this means that it ends its life-cycle earlier, you may want to consider frustrating its ambitions by picking the fruit earlier.
Pick Early to Lose Weight
It’s not your weight you’re worried about. It’s the plant’s. Heavy trusses of fruit can damage the plant, and picking fruit means rapid weight loss that can save the younger fruits that are still developing. As we’ve already noted, you won’t lose much in terms of colour or flavour if you pick a little before full maturity. With waiting for the vine-ripe fruit endangering its successors, picking early makes sense for those seeking to maximise their plants’ productivity.
So, What’s the Best Time to Pick?
Believe it or not, the best time to pick your tomatoes is before they’re ready to eat. They shouldn’t be green, but they should be showing a blush of colour. What colour that is depends on the variety. There are tomatoes that are still green in colour when ripe, for example, and in this case you’ll have to get a feel for the right moment to harvest by looking at size.
In general, though, you’ll be looking for signs of colour. Thn, you’ll pick, ripen off the vine, and enjoy!
How to Ripen Tomatoes
Your grandma may have told you that sunny window sills are best for ripening fruits, but if you’re talking tomatoes, she isn’t right. Tomatoes are best ripened out of direct sun in a place with good air circulation.
I like to put mine in a veggie tray because it has a mesh bottom that lets air in from below. Alternatively, turn them daily to let them enjoy some fresh air on every side. Some people will go to the lengths of making ripening racks, but unless you’re going for the big time, this isn’t strictly necessary.
Let’s Get This Straight
Vine ripening is awesome, if you can do it without endangering the rest of your crop and aren’t too worried about maximum productivity, go ahead! However, if you want to increase your chances of getting lots of ripe and flavoursome tomatoes, picking earlier improves your odds.
If you do decide to vine-ripen your tomatoes, keep an eye on them and be sure to pick and discard any overripe or damaged fruits. Rotten tomatoes can transfer diseases to healthy ones, so you don’t want them around!
Easy enough? It’s just like gardening in general! There’s more than one way to do things, and it’s worth working out what works best for you!