You’ve spent your summer babying your precious tomatoes, but do you know when to pick them? As it turns out, the best time to harvest your crop isn’t what most people think. You’re about to ketchup on the best-kept secret in the tomato gardening world!
When to Pick Tomatoes
Timing your harvest depends somewhat on the type of tomatoes you’re growing, but generally speaking, most people wait too long to pick their fruit. Most people think they should wait for the fruit to reach its reddest and ripest before they begin to pick their tomatoes. (That is, assuming it’s a type that turns red—many tomato varieties don’t!)
While you certainly can wait for your tomatoes to turn red before harvesting, and a fully sun-ripened fruit will certainly taste the sweetest, gardeners take several risks by waiting that long. For one, as the fruit gets riper, the connection between the stalk and the calyx weakens, and the fruit grows heavier. This can result in fallen fruit, which is promptly attacked by bugs, bacteria, and fungus. Some larger heirloom tomatoes get so big and heavy; they’ll often fall long before they reach peak ripeness. Tomatoes left on the vine are also more prone to cracking, and they’re also much shorter-lived in storage.
Instead, we should pick our tomatoes when the mature green fruits are just beginning to show a blush of colour at the bottom. This indicates that the gasses in the tomato have begun to mature and have triggered the ripening process, which will continue to occur after harvest.
How to Ripen Tomatoes After Picking
Once you’ve brought your bushel of green tomatoes inside, you’ll likely be eager to start digging in. You can help the ripening process along with these tips:
Fast: Place tomatoes stem-side-down on a south-facing windowsill. Fruit will ripen in 3-5 days.
Faster: Place a few tomatoes in a brown paper bag or cardboard box. Fruit will ripen in 2-4 days.
Fastest: Place a few tomatoes in a brown paper bag or cardboard box and add in a banana. Fruit will ripen in 1-3 days.
Storing Unripe Tomatoes
When you pick a large tomato harvest, there’s a good chance you only really need to use a fraction of it at a time. To store your tomatoes and extend their freshness, line a large plastic container with paper towels and place the tomatoes stem-side-down on top, leaving space between each fruit, and store uncovered in a room temperature place out of direct sunlight. This will allow the tomatoes to ripen and develop their flavour slowly over time.
What you don’t want to do is keep your tomatoes in the fridge! When tomatoes are kept in temperatures below 15˚C, the flavour quickly degrades, and the flesh develops an awful mealy texture that would make even the most devoted tomato lover pick the slices off their sandwich.
Recipe: Easy, Delicious Tomato Basil Sauce
So, what if after all this, you’re suddenly left with way too many overripe tomatoes? Don’t worry, boss—make a sauce!
This recipe can be multiplied for every 2 pounds of tomatoes you have to use. Store in sterile jars for up to 1 week.
- 2 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped (seeding is optional)
- 2-5 leaves chopped fresh basil (to taste)
- ½ a medium onion, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté olive oil, onion, and garlic until tender and fragrant.
- 2. Reduce heat to medium-low, add tomatoes, and cook until broken down into a loose sauce, about 20 minutes.
- 3. Add fresh basil and season with salt and pepper. Cook and allow the sauce to reduce until it reaches your desired thickness.