Sometimes It’s Best To Harvest Tomatoes BEFORE They’re Ripe

tomatoes
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In the beginning stages of learning how to grow tomatoes, I was under the assumption that I should wait until they were bright red and fully ripe before I picked them from the vine. And I lost a lot of tomatoes that way. Experience has taught me that that actually isn’t always the best idea. As a matter of fact, I now very seldom allow my tomatoes to reach their full maturity outdoors.

Waiting until your tomatoes are the perfect shade of red before you pick them would be ideal. However, there are times when you need to pick them before they’re ripe.

Ripe tomato with insect damage

When tomatoes get ripe on the vine insects are more drawn to them and can do a lot of damage in a single day. It can be really frustrating to spot a gorgeous red tomato on your plant, only to find upon a closer examination that an entire side has been chewed all up by hungry bugs. I’ve found that it’s better to pick them before they peak in flavor, reducing the chances of insect damage.

split tomato

Another reason to pick before a tomato is ripe is to avoid splitting. If you’re having a particularly rainy week, and your tomatoes are pretty close to being ripe and/or are already starting to split a little, I would recommend that you go ahead and pick them before any more rain comes in. When tomatoes get too much rain in a short amount of time, they can’t hold all of the water they’ve absorbed and they begin splitting open. Once that skin has split, insects and mold creep in.

When To Harvest Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes can reach maturity before they fully turn the appropriate shade, so pick them when they look almost completely ripe, and when their flesh is between very firm and slightly soft.

Another reason you may need to pick unripe, and even green tomatoes is when you know you won’t be able to harvest them when they reach their peak. Maybe you’ll be away from home during their ripening, or maybe a frost is expected to hit your area. Yes, you can pick completely green tomatoes and leave them out on the counter and they’ll continue ripening over the course of a few weeks.

rotten tomato

Also, tomatoes will stop ripening when you have several really hot days in a row. Instead of continuing to ripen on the vine, they’ll begin to rot. So if the weather man is forecasting several days of scorching sun, this would be another good time to pick your tomatoes before they look 100% ready.

ripening tomatoes off the vine

The cool thing about picking tomatoes before they’re ripe is that they’ll continue to ripen indoors. Just lay them out in a single layer and leave them somewhere warm for a few days (never in the fridge). They’ll turn a beautiful blush in no time.

A few extra tips for best results:

  • Keep damaged tomatoes away from good ones while ripening, in case they start to rot before they fully ripen.
  • Cut the tomatoes from the plant instead of pulling them off. They store best with the stem attached.
  • Storing tomatoes in cooler temperatures (50-60*F) will slow their ripening and allow you to stretch the season.
  • If the tomato’s stem has been removed, some experts recommend that you store the tomato stem-side down to reduce the chances of it rotting.

What have you found to work best? Do you let your tomatoes fully ripen on the vine, or do you bring them indoors to finish ripening?


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Kendra
About Kendra 1104 Articles
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.

40 Comments

  1. At the end of the season, I pull the vines with the tomatoes still attached and hang them in my greenhouse (garage, basement, or kitchen) and let the remaining fruit ripen.

    • I know this has to do with nothing but the actual tomato, but the lesson of life I gained, it’s like a new revelation of life. Thank you.

  2. what to do with red tomatoes that have green gooey inside with quite dark seeds?
    can I blanch and or wash and freeze them ?
    I am hopeful that I can put them up for later use.

    Thank You Kindly

  3. As October is ending in Michigan, it is getting cold – low 40’s at night, possible frost. I have some monster beef steak tomatoes (10-15) still in the plant. Should I pick and ripen indoors, or wait???

  4. We live in the Rockies Mountains where are first frost can be first part of Oct. If I see a tomatoes just starting to ripen if I pick it will it help the others start changing colors?
    Thanks for the other tips.
    I also put green tomatoes try to keep on a vine into a paper bag and majority will ripen.

      • Where I live, the sun later in the day can be too hot for plastic. I use old sheets or frost blaket wrapped around some stakes.

      • Hi TC, Its mid sept. here in southern Ohio. My tomatoes are ripening slowly. I have 10 or so small ones about 1″ and smaller still trying to grow. Will picking these off help the others ones get bigger and ripen faster? the small ones won’t even get big enough to eat before the fall cold sets in. My plants are in containers on my deck!

        • You might try making a reflective shield using aluminum foil around the base of the plant to direct some of the sun’s heat onto the plant. That might make them ripen a little more quickly.

  5. Also (i know this isnt tomato related but…) if u hear of anyone in michigan looking for roosters let me know! I have 3 beautiful bardrocks to get rid of (4mos old) they were supposed to be hens!

  6. Planted our first and “organic” garden this year (80’x60′!) in Michigan. We have several types of tomatoes from grape to heirlooms! The cherry’s are the only ones that are turning red 🙁 could this be due to the fact that we’ve had a LOT of rain and much cooler temps than usual this summer? (We used our compost that we’ve been making for several years now and brew a compost “tea” to foliar) Everything else is doing great except our cukes which are producing but I believe now have disease…any suggestions?

  7. I never thought of picking them before and bringing them in. Only when they fall off before they are ready do I put them on the picnic table to ripen.

    Thanks for sharing this great idea.

  8. Very useful information! Picked some unripe today, and have no regrets now! Posted new pics of my tomatoes to my blog today.

  9. Great post! 🙂 We are set to have a lot of tomatoes (usually do each year) and we usually run into those problems you talked about. Thanks so much for the wisdom and now I’ll be picking some tomatoes early!

  10. I usually pick tomatoes when they are red but firm – what I think of as salad tomatoes, so they can be sliced easily. If I’m cooking with them, making a sauce, then they can be riper and softer and therefore sweeter too. The only time I pick green tomatoes is towards the end of the season when I am clearing the polytunnel and then I keep them on newspaper covered trays while they ripen. My grandson likes to eat the very small Gardeners’ Delight tomatoes like sweets.

    Sandra Chubb http://www.rainbowcottagesinfrance.com http://livingin22.blogspot.com

  11. Kendra- Just curious but when you pick the tomatoes before they are ripe, do they still have the full health benefits? And how about flavor? I have lost many tomatoes by leaving them on the plant just a little to long. I guess I was just always under the impression for them to be at their best they needed to stay on the vine until fully ripe. It would be great if I could pick them a little early!!

    • Jen,

      You know, I wondered the same thing. From experience, the taste isn’t really any different once the tomato has fully ripened. I wouldn’t be able to tell you a vine ripened tomato from a countertop ripened one. I couldn’t find much information about the nutrient value. From what I understand… and anyone is free to correct me on this… green tomatoes have some different nutrients from red ones, but they are both good for you. If you want to get more tomatoes from your plants, it’s definitely better to pick them a little early and let them ripen indoors 🙂

  12. I have found out that in order for the green tomatoes to turn red after you pick them there must already be a slight blush of color started ( just a tad )if they are solid green then most likely it will stay green and not turn red .

  13. Wonderful to know! This is my first year with tomatoes, and DH and I have been having the “To pick or not to pick” argument.

    One question- I’m in the south- days are regularly above 90, with stretches of 98+. Is there a set temperature that I should be on the lookout for? Like, if the temp will be 95 for 3 days, go ahead and pick them? And, if I’m picking them to avoid the heat rot, should I pick full-sized green ones too?

    • Theresa,

      I think the best thing you can do is keep a close eye on them when you have long stretches of really high temps. If you notice the tomatoes aren’t turning redder (or pinker/oranger, depending on the variety), but are staying about the same color even after 2-3 days, I’d pick them. They should gradually and quickly be turning darker in shade day by day. If the green ones aren’t turning more of a blushed color over a couple of days, you might need to pick them. Hope that helps a little!

  14. Last year I picked the rest of my cherry tomatoes right before Thanksgiving to avoid a hard frost. We ate the last ones right before Christmas. If you do let tomatoes ripen inside, be sure to check them often as they sit around ripening. One problem we had was some would start to rot before they got ripe. They mushed up on the bottom, split open and we ended up with fruit fly larvae crawling around. We had to check daily because those fruit flies will turn into a horde very quickly.

  15. Two more good reasons to pick before fully ripe: 1. birds and squirrels are attracted to them once they start turning color. 2. Eating them! Green tomato relish and, of course, fried green tomatoes, are must haves in our home.

  16. Thanks for the tips! I had the same experience as yours. If I leave my tomatoes too long the bugs get to them before me. I didn’t know the green ones will ripen indoors. My toddler sometimes gets her hands on a green one and I usually throw it in the compost. I’ll try to bring it inside next time.

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