When do you pick your tomatoes?

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I've always let my tomatoes ripen on the vine if at all possible. This year the mystery beast that's eating my 'maters has forced me to bring mine inside when they start showing color. Someone posted this article over at Tomatoville, and now I don't feel so bad about having to counter ripen mine.


Released: July 18, 2005

At First Blush, Harvest Tomatoes

MANHATTAN, Kan. – When they reach a certain age, tomatoes – Americans’ favorite garden vegetable, which is really a fruit – start acting like teenagers. All they do is hang around. They’re in the throes of suddenly active hormones – which in the tomatoes’ case, produce gas! They’re still attached to their vine, but become totally closed off from its day-to-day operations.

Vegetables guru Chuck Marr says this “adolescent” stage is when tomatoes need to leave the vine. The fruit on plants now growing in home gardens and patio pots is beginning to reach that age.

“Until frost is in the forecast, I recommend always harvesting tomatoes when they show the first blush of red color,” explained Marr, who is the horticulture program leader at Kansas State University Research and Extension. “Tomatoes will ripen off the vine, as well as on.

“Off the vine, however, they’ll have lower odds for cracking or bruising. They won’t touch the ground and rot. Plus, you’ll have some control over the ripening process.”

If stored in a cool 55- to 60-degree basement, for example, tomatoes ripen very slowly, he said. If warmed to 85 degrees, they ripen quickly.

When garden temperatures soar above 95 degrees, indoor-ripened tomatoes also produce better color. Hot weather stops the fruits’ red pigment formation. The result is an odd orange-red.

The ability to ripen indoors or out is unusual in the vegetable world, Marr said. The process is as complex, yet effortless as a teenager’s growth spurt:

* The tomato (fruit) reaches full size while still green.

* It starts to develop a jelly-like material around the seeds and a pale white-green color that has distinct white streaks radiating from the fruit’s blossom end.

* The tomato is now fully formed – “mature green.”

“Tomatoes harvested before they reach the mature green stage won’t ripen to have the flavor or quality of one left on the vine a little longer. That’s why tomatoes you buy in winter can have less flavor. They’ve been picked at a green stage so they can be transported to distant markets. Some experts estimate that more than half of off-season tomatoes may be picked earlier than the mature-green stage,” the horticulturist said.

* Inside mature green tomatoes on the vine, two growth-regulating hormones change dramatically, causing the fruit to start producing ethylene gas. The gas makes the fruit cells age – soften, begin to lose their green and develop red, and produce more ethylene .. and so on.

* At the same time, a layer of cells starts to form across a joint in the stem, about one-half inch above the fruit. These cells will seal off the tomato so no additional materials can move into or from the plant.

“By the time the tomato has its first blush of red color, the layer of cells – called an abcision zone – is complete, and you can pick the tomato with no loss of flavor or quality,” Marr said. “If left on the vine after that, all the tomato will do is hang there, disconnected, going through the rest of the ripening process.”

Despite the important developments that come after tomatoes reach mature green, slightly younger tomatoes can still ripen off the vine, too, the horticulturist said.

“Commercial producers make that happen with ethylene gas. But home gardeners can get much the same effect after a late fall harvest if they simply store the younger tomatoes near those that already are mature green and producing ethylene,” Marr said.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Kathleen Ward
K-State Research& Extension News
Additional Information:
Chuck Marr is at 785-532-1441
nice reading...but I don;t care what anyone says...the best taste is ripe off the vine for me...:)
Vine ripe is best but if you're not going to get any then picking them when they show pink is better than store bought.
This year I have been picking mine before they fully ripe. We have had so much rain that they will rot or the snails will get them if they stay on the vines to long. I can't tell the difference in the taste by picking them before they fully ripen. I have canned 6 quarts of stewed tomatoes and made 14 quarts of juice so far. I'm only doing a few at a time because I don't care to stay in the kitchen canning all day anymore.
I was picking mine when they started to turn as the racoon was eating them if I let then ripen on the vine. it has been so hot that ours is over till I replant.
If it's going to rain a lot in the next couple of days, I pick all my tomaotes that are starting to turn. To me they keep longer and won't rot as fast.
I try to let them ripen almost completely on the vine but this year the birds had different ideas. I had to pick a lot early and even then the birds had beat me to the punch most of the time.

Great article and good to know that picking them once they are blushing won't have a negative affect.
There are so many berries around for the birds to munch on that I think the tomatoes must not interest them. I don't think I have ever lost tomatoes to varmints.
I usually pick mine as they start to blush , other wise the critters get them. They are also waiting and watching for a ripe fruit;) I also pick green and fry!!!! one of my all time favs!
I let mine ripen on the plant, but I don't have any critters that beat me to them. Fiona has been letting the chickens run loose though and they sure do like my broccoli.
This is the first year I've had real problems with critter eating the tomatoes, but I'm tossing about 3 out of every 5 I harvest if I leave them on the vine. I come out and find half the tomato gone.
I get em when they are vine ripe. Just before we take a hard freeze I pick everything and let them ripen in the shed

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