Harvesting tomatoes: When and how

ripe tomatoe
ripe tomatoe © CJ / Pixabay

When can you harvest tomatoes? How do you pick them gently? And above all, what to do with unripe fruit? Here is some information on how to harvest tomatoes.

Tomatoes are not for nothing the most popular vegetable from own cultivation – whether from the vegetable garden, from the balcony or the terrace. The freshly harvested fruits from the garden promise juicy and aromatic taste. A web of various factors determines the optimal time for harvesting tomatoes. More intuition is needed here than a rigid look at the calendar. Here is when and how to harvest tomatoes in the best possible way.

When are tomatoes ripe for harvesting?

Tomatoes do not have to blush when they are ready to harvest from the end of August / beginning of September, because the range of varieties is large, especially in the home garden. And depending on the variety, a ripe tomato can be red, yellow, orange or even purple in color. It can also have stripes when harvested, like the zebra tomato, or have only a red belly like the oxheart tomato, but be much lighter in color around the stem. It becomes difficult with the green tomatoes.

If the color indicates unripeness, then they contain the poison solanine, which is also found in green parts of tomatoes. If you want to be on the safe side, it is best to cut out the green parts. However, if the tomato is naturally green, it is safe to eat. Still, for peace of mind: One unripe tomato can contain 30 milligrams of solanine. Stomach and intestinal complaints as well as vomiting can occur if one ingests one milligram per kilo of body weight. Incidentally, cooking also insignificantly reduces the solanine content, because the substance is heat-resistant and does not dissolve in fat.

Generally more useful than assessing the color is the pressure test on the tomato. To do this, carefully hold the tomato in your hand and see if it yields. Unripe tomatoes are in any case hard as a rock.

This is how you can tell when they are ready for harvest:

  • red tomatoes are completely colored through, with no green spots at all
  • yellow, green, orange or dark fruits yield a little under pressure
  • the predetermined breaking point on the fruit stalk bends without excessive force

What is the best way to harvest tomatoes?

Clearly, in the garden you always pluck only those tomatoes that have reached the necessary degree of ripeness, depending on the variety. The still unripe tomatoes should not be injured in the process. And also the plants themselves should not be affected by the harvest: So the best way to break off the fruit when harvesting is to use your fingertip. Set at the small thickened bend above the fruit stalk and sepals, this works best. You can also cut the fruit off with scissors, including the green base. The latter is especially useful for beef tomatoes, because they are often difficult to detach from the bush.

When to harvest tomatoes? – Why time of day and sequence determine harvest quality

If you prefer to enjoy your homegrown tomatoes fresh off the bush, the time of day has a noticeable effect on the flavor. If you pick the fruit under the first rays of sun in the morning, it will taste crisp, fresh and mild. If you harvest tomatoes in the late afternoon hours, you will experience a warm, highly aromatic treat. It’s best to try both varieties once.

Experienced amateur gardeners first harvest the tomatoes that are directly on the stem. These specimens are always particularly ripe. As if the fruits want to postpone their fate a little more, they often hide behind the leaves. But your trained eye is certainly not fooled by this. Beef tomatoes have bad cards in this game of hide-and-seek anyway, unlike cocktail tomatoes.

Accompanying care of the plants

In order for tomatoes to be ready for harvest for as long as possible, you should constantly care for the plant. To allow air circulation and thus keep the risk of blight low, you can break out lower leaves when the tomatoes are harvested there. It can be useful to pinch out continuously if the tomatoes are growing too densely, this also helps to prevent fungal attack.

The approach of covering the soil under tomatoes with red foil has been scientifically proven. The tomatoes are said to ripen faster over it and also produce up to 50 percent higher yields when harvested. The film is supposed to reflect light waves, which in turn mobilize a protein that makes the fruit ripen faster.

When to stop tomatoes from producing new fruits

In principle, the tomato plant continuously produces new flowers when it is harvested. However, it should be stopped by mid-August at the latest, because the flowers can no longer ripen during the rest of the growing season. If the plant is now cut about two pairs of leaves above the last desired fruit set, then it concentrates its strength on the maturation of the existing fruits.

How to after-ripen tomatoes

Tomatoes are children of the south. In temperate climates, not all of them will ripen during the growing season. But even if the temperatures become cooler and ripening in the open field or greenhouse is no longer possible, after-ripening is possible. Leaving them out longer at night temperatures below 10 °C / 50 °F is not a good idea, because they will either get glassy spots or burst open. There are various methods for after-ripening. Only healthy fruit should be used for this purpose. When ripening, there is a risk that diseased tomatoes will infect healthy ones. If the tomatoes rot, you will notice this at the latest when fruit flies appear. Here it is best to check the vegetables again and again.

Ideal for all methods is a temperature between about 18 and 25 °C / 64 and 77 °F, ideally around 20 °C / 68 °F. The tomatoes should also be kept at a relatively high humidity. It is also important to have a relatively high humidity. Darkness is not a problem. The tomatoes are then ripe in a period of three days to two weeks. If only a few days are missing for ripening, you can put the tomatoes somewhere on the window sill in the sun. Here’s what you can try:

  • Simply pull out the whole tomato plant, shake off the soil, remove the foliage, and then hang upside down in a dry and warm place: This is the most rigorous method.
  • Single tomatoes can be packed in newspaper, a perforated plastic bag or a paper bag. Add an apple or banana, the tomatoes benefit from their ethylene release and the ripening process progresses even faster due to this gas.
  • In a box, place the tomatoes next to each other, so they don’t touch. Cover them with some newspaper.
  • Ripening in a clay pot has also proven to be effective. To do this, soak a clay pot in water, for example, so that it can soak up liquid. The tomatoes are then placed in the pot and covered with a clay lid, if possible. The warm and humid atmosphere allows the tomatoes to ripen quickly. If the liquid evaporates, you can put in a container filled with water.

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