Harvesting Tomatoes (Tips for Beginners)

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You have planted your tomatoes now it is time to harvest them. As a new gardener, there are important things you should know about harvesting tomatoes.

You are going to learn when you should harvest tomatoes, how many times can you harvest them and so much more.


Let’s begin!

Now that your tomato plants are full of tomatoes it is time to harvest. But before you do it is time to learn all you need to know about harvesting tomatoes the right way.

When should tomatoes be harvested?

If grown properly, tomatoes are ready to be picked between 60 to 65 days after planting in the garden. Typically, outdoor tomato plants are ready to harvest at the end of their growing season, late summer or early fall.

Harvesting a tomato can be done in different ways and you will learn more about it in more detail.

To know if the tomatoes are ready to harvest, gently squeezed the tomatoes to check how firm they are.

A tomato that feels too hard is not ripe enough and will be ready to pick in a few days. Always check your tomatoes for 1 to 2 days to see which one is ripe enough to be picked.

Now, a too soft tomato means it is probably way overripe and it will not be ideal for salads. You can still harvest them and use them for stew and to make homemade sauce.

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What makes tomatoes red?

Tomatoes turn red due to a chemical named, ethylene. Once a green tomato reached a mature state, it will produce ethylene, an odorless, invisible, and tasteless gas, that ages the cells turning them red and softening the tomato.

This leads to the next question.

Male hand holding tomatoes.

Can you pick tomatoes when they are green?

Due to the process explained above, tomatoes are the only fruit that you can pick green and they will continue to ripe.

During the end of the tomato plant season, it is best to pick the tomatoes when they are green and bring them inside to ripen.

Young hand picking up green tomatoes from plant.

When should tomatoes be picked off the vine?

According to Joe, the best time to pick a tomato from the vine is during the “breaker stage.”

The breaker stage is when the tomato is about ½ green and ½ pink. During this stage, the tomato loses no flavor, quality, or nutrition.

How many times can you harvest tomatoes?

You can harvest tomatoes as long as the tomato plant provides. A tomato plant grows to give one harvest before it dies.

Now, it is estimated that a tomato plant can produce about 200 tomatoes in one season. Keep in mind that this is an estimate and it depends on the plant and the care it is given.

Will my tomato plants come back?

A tomato plant will not come back the next season, due to the temperature drops. In their natural habitat, tomatoes are perennials and live longer.

But because they are in a climate with temperatures that drop to lower than 50’s degrees, they succumb to the cold temperatures.  

Any temperature below the 40s and 50’s will cause tomato plants to die.

Do tomatoes ripen faster on or off the vine?

It is best to keep the tomato ripening in the vine as they will also continue to make sugar and that gives them that sweet juicy taste.

Leaving the tomatoes in the vine might give it a great taste, but if you miss the window to pick them at the right time, then maybe picking them green or in the breaker stage is a great idea.

You can pick them green and ripe them by:

  • Placing green tomatoes in a paper bag with an apple or banana. Apple releases ethylene higher than bananas. By adding a banana or apple, you will ripe your tomatoes fast.
  • Wrap each individual tomato in newspaper to help ripe them fast.
  • Let the tomatoes sit near a window to ripe.
Cutting tomatoes off plant with a rusty pruner.

How to harvest tomatoes at the end of the season

All good things come to an end and that can be said about gardening. At the end of the season, you want to get the best tomatoes as possible before the frost comes and your plant dies.

To help harvest as many tomatoes as possible there are a few things you can do.

Ripe tomato in plant.

Change the way you care about your plant

During the end of the season, you are going to change the way you have been caring about your tomato plants by doing the following:

Harvest ripe tomatoes

Removing all ripe tomatoes from your plants will help you get good tomatoes now before it is too late and you forget to pick them.

Remove all flowers from the plant

Since the end of the tomato season is here, you are going to remove all flowers from your tomato plants. When you remove them, you are letting the plant concentrate and use its energy on green tomatoes that need to grow and ripe. Tomato production is over and now we want to focus on just the tomatoes that are already growing.

Cut back in watering and fertilizing

Again, we are focusing on just making sure the tomatoes that are out will ripe, not producing more tomatoes. Halting fertilizer will stress the plant.

What to do after harvesting tomatoes?

There are many things you can do with your tomato plants. The video below will give you tips and guide you through this process.

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