When to Pick Tomatoes For the Best Flavour and Colour

When to Pick Tomatoes For the Best Flavour and Colour

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!

16 thoughts on “When to Pick Tomatoes For the Best Flavour and Colour

  1. Andrea
    . says:

    I grew TinyToms last summer, and was mysteriously losing fruit. One afternoon in the yard, who should turn up, but a rat. He climbed up the vine, selected his tomatoes, and back down again.Off he went. Five minutes later, back for more and up a different vine. He really enjoyed them.

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      We had a rat in our tomato plantation this year and it was a real pain. We ended up catching it and disposed of it humanely. If I wasn’t collecting the seed I would probably not have minded too much. I’m sure the Rat is quite pleased with itself eating such yummy ripe tomatoes.

  2. Andrea
    . says:

    i pick my tomatoes when they start to blush, mainly because I love the taste of a just-ripening tomato. But since the dreaded fruit fly has established itself in my garden, I’m even more prone to picking the tomatoes early. (However, it’s the lemons that get ruined the most.)

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Thanks for your comment. We are just starting to get Fruit Fly here in Melbourne. I haven’t seen them in my garden yet but am sure it won’t be long. I also prefer the taste of a just ripe tomato over a really ripe tomato accept for Cherry Tomatoes which I love to eat when they are super ripe.

  3. Andrea
    . says:

    Totally agree. Ripening off vine ensures i actually get a crop – crows and possums my main cheeky visitors. Plus flavour not sacrificed. Cheerz

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Thanks for the comment. I net mine so it stops the possums and birds. Otherwise the only tomatoes that would survive if I left them would be the green ones.

      Hope you enjoyed your harvest

  4. Andrea
    . says:

    I live in Laura, S.A. All the reports around here said this was a poor Tomato season, small fruit, small numbers & blossom end brown hard patches, particularly on the long variety. Leave them to vine ripen, pick & cut off that brown patch then enjoy the delicious mouth full ! From about 20 plants, we only managed about 1Kg total crop !
    Some grown in morning sun, afternoon shade of a shed. The others grown in near full day sun except covered 6 ft. up with white shade cloth, as we have had too many days at 35 deg. heat ! Rain water every few days as required when the top inch or so of the soil dry’s out !!

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Hi

      Thanks for your comment and sorry to hear you had a poor season. I can concur that the tomato season in Melbourne has been very average. Too much heat and humidity are not good for tomatoes. Mine got very stressed in planter bags on black weedmat. I ended up putting some white plastic down over the top to reflect the heat as well as a 30% shade cloth. Damage was already done and whilst I have gone around with an electric tooth brush and got some more fruit set the fruit won’t be nearly as good as the early fruit would have. Oh well, that’s gardening.

  5. Andrea
    . says:

    Thank you for that info about removing tomatoes before they are fully ripe.
    I lost a lot of fruit this year on one vine and the others the fruit was so small.

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      Thanks for your comment. It has been a very poor tomato season in Melbourne. We had way too much humidity and heat in January. When it’s really humid the pollen sticks together and does not fertilise the flower properly. Tomatoes also don’t set fruit when its really hot. I have gone out with the electric toothbrush the last few weeks and this has helped set more fruit for a later harvest.

  6. Andrea
    . says:

    This year it was very rainy so the tomatoes did not have good time.They rotted very early.So I was forced to pick them early.Those that stayed.Now starting to improve but still picking early because of the fruit fly

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      We had too much heat in January and the humidity impacted fruit set. Like you it has improved a bit later in the season. No fruit flies yet, they are now in Melbourne and we have had some friends with them in their gardens. We might all need to net in Melbourne from now on.

  7. Andrea
    . says:

    I grew Tiny Tom tomatoes this year and although we had plenty of green tomatoes they never ripened on the vine because a rat visited every night to feast on them. I was wondering, is it worth growing dwarf tomatoes in a greenhouse to keep them safe or does this create too much humidity (limiting pollination and encouraging powdery mildew on leaves)? Any suggestions on how to overcome losing fruit to rats and possums?

    • Andrea
      Dan R. says:

      HI

      I have found that unless you have a large greenhouse then the amount of heat in there during summer is just too hot for the plants and you will find they don’t produce well because they are heat stressed. I grew our dwarf tomatoes in planter bags this year. We had a couple of rat traps out and we caught a couple of rats which we disposed of humanely. I think if you net the plants this will also discourage the rats but it does take work and doesn’t look as nice. If you have a large enough green house then I think the tomatoes will be fine as long as you let enough airflow through.

      Dan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.