by Sandy Swegel
You might think this is a completely obvious question. You pick tomatoes when they are red and falling off the vine ready to eat. But I asked a few gardening friends how they decided when to harvest tomatoes and as always, with gardeners, there are more opinions than people.
Tomatoes ripen from the inside out, so if they look ripe they are. General characteristics of a ripe tomato are good bright even color, firm with a little give (not too hard and not soft and mushy.) Several people claim the tomato pulls easily off the vine when it’s ready and doesn’t need to be cut.
If you’re going to make a mistake in picking, pick when the tomatoes are slightly under-ripe They do not have to be on the vine to finish ripening. You might pick early because you won’t have time to harvest tomorrow, or because it’s about to rain and excess moisture often makes tomatoes split open. Hot temperatures in the 90s are a good reason to pick a little early…the tomato will ripen more evenly on your counter than in the blistering sun.
To finish ripening tomatoes inside, you know the rule. Never put tomatoes in the refrigerator. Makes them mushy. They also don’t need light as much as they need warmth. So skip the hot sunny window sill and put them on a kitchen counter.
Heirlooms. Tomatoes used to be red and it was kinda easy to tell when the red was the right color. But now tomatoes are pink and green and yellow, or green on the neck or mostly black. The “firm but not squishy rule works”. Also, there’s an esoteric description of the color: the color just “brightens up” and you can tell it’s ready.
I recommend lots of sampling and fine-tuning your picking strategy.
I also recommend eating at least one tomato completely ripe in the hot afternoon sun. Take a big mouthful and let all the juices and seeds run down your face and shirt as you savor the awesome tomatoey flavor of summer. My neighbor used to take a salt shaker with him out to the garden and salt each bite!
Organic Heirloom Vegetables