You probably aren’t surprised to know that tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables that gardeners grow worldwide. Let’s learn some best practices to help you understand when it’s best to harvest your tomatoes, and how to do it!
Let’s talk about tomato color first. Whether you’re growing little cherry tomatoes or a large beefsteak variety, understanding your specific tomato variety’s optimal final color is crucial. Cherry tomatoes are pretty easy to read – when they’re bright red, they’re ripe. However, not all tomatoes are destined to be red! Lucid gem tomatoes are ready to harvest when their bottoms are a bright, soft orange color (don’t wait for them to turn red – they won’t!). Make sure you research and understand the final color that your specific tomato variety should be upon harvest.
Texture and feel are also important to know when you’re assessing your tomatoes for harvest. Again, this is different depending on your variety: cherry tomatoes will easily let you know they’re ready with their subtle give (they’ll pop right off the vine), but your juicy beefsteak tomatoes can be more challenging to assess. Make sure you know how your tomato variety is supposed to feel when it’s ready to pick!
What happens if we harvest too early? Don’t panic, it’s not the end of the world. In some parts of the USA, sometimes you have to pick your tomatoes early to avoid frost damage. If you accidentally pick an underripe tomato, it’s just a minor detour – not a horticultural disaster. Simply place your underripe tomato on your kitchen counter, and it will continue ripening to its final intended color. Or, if you don’t want to wait, use this as an opportunity to introduce yourself to some yummy fried green tomatoes! Just keep in mind that the flavor will be much better and most optimal when tomatoes ripen naturally on the vine.
To become a tomato harvesting master, just practice these simple steps, regularly and often:
1) Understand the correct color of your tomato variety and how the color will evolve over the growing process. Know what your tomato’s final color should look like.
2) Get to know how your tomato variety should feel. Conduct a “squeeze test” regularly, comparing how your tomatoes feel at different stages of their color development. The subtle give of your tomato when you apply gentle pressure will tell you it’s time to harvest for most varieties.
If you learn about your specific tomato variety and practice these tips, you’ll be a tomato expert in no time. Enjoy the learning process, and may your tomato harvests be bountiful!
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