Harvest is the time every gardener looks forward to because it shows us that all that hard work pays off.
But did you know that there is such a thing as the right way to collect the fruits of your labor, tomatoes included?
You have to choose the right time and day to do it, find the best tools, and employ the best technique.
Because many tomato varieties fruit more than once, and if you harvest the first batch incorrectly, you might get a poor yield from the second one.
Let’s learn the right way to harvest tomatoes!
1. Understand The Varieties
One of the first things you need to know before harvesting tomatoes is the variety you have.
Determinate varieties will give you only one yield, so it’s best to leave each fruit on its vine until it fully ripens.
Indeterminate tomatoes, however, keep producing new fruit until the frost kills them. And if you want to increase your harvest, you can collect the fruits before they fully ripen to make room for new ones.
So, understanding this difference will allow you to plan your harvesting strategy in advance and get the maximum yield out of your tomato plants.
Additionally, determinate tomatoes are ideal for canning and preserving, while you can keep indeterminate ones in a cool and dry place for about 3-5 days before they begin to spoil.
2. Choose The Right Time
You have to know when to pick tomatoes. These veggies are ready for the harvest once they reach a red, yellow, or pink color, depending on the variety you have.
They usually take between 60-120 days to mature, which also depends on the type of tomato you decide to grow.
Harvesting too late will lead to overripe and mushy fruit that isn’t very appealing. An early harvest, however, isn’t that big of a deal.
If you collect some tomatoes that aren’t fully ripe, you can just leave them on the kitchen counter, away from direct sunlight, and they’ll mature on their own in a couple of days.
I do this with my indeterminate varieties because they produce fruit until the plant dies and it gives me a larger seasonal yield.
Or you can make your tomatoes ripen faster on vines by increasing air circulation, watering them properly, topping the plants, pruning the roots, etc.
3. Do It On A Dry Day
Collect your tomatoes on a dry afternoon because the warmth of the sun’s rays will increase their flavor and aroma.
Furthermore, rain and dew can increase the risk of developing fungal diseases and spoiling during storage.
Therefore, harvesting tomatoes on a dry day minimizes post-harvest storage issues and makes sure each of your fruit remains intact.
4. Use The Right Tools
When it comes to harvesting mature tomatoes, you have three options: your hands, shears, or scissors.
Hand picking can cause some damage to your tomato plant if not done properly and reduce your future harvest if you have an indeterminate variety.
If you’re using your hands to harvest tomatoes, make sure the fruit is ripe and gently twist it until it falls off. This approach minimizes the stress you cause to the plant and leaves it undisturbed, unlike pulling the fruit off of it.
Shears and scissors are another great option because they allow you to snip the fruit off the vine without disturbing the plant. Just make sure your tools are clean so that you don’t transfer any diseases or bacteria onto your tomato plants.
Both options work well and, in the end, it depends on your preference.
5. Harvest Tomatoes Individually
Not all tomatoes on a single plant will mature at the same time. Monitor your plants regularly and harvest the fruits regularly as they ripen.
This method allows your plant to divert its energy into producing new fruit and prevents certain branches from breaking due to being too heavy.
Therefore, if you want your indeterminate tomatoes to continuously produce until the plant dies, harvest the fruits individually throughout the growing season.
6. Handle Them With Care
Once you harvest your tomatoes, make sure to handle them with care to prevent any damage and bruising. Put them in a shallow tray or basket and avoid stacking them.
This technique will allow them to keep their shape, skin, and flesh untouched.
If you rough the tomatoes up, it will lead to bruising, compromise their integrity and taste, and even lead to premature rotting.
7. Prepare Them For Use
The tomato harvest is over and now you’re left with the question of what to do with all that fruit.
Well, there are numerous tomato canning recipes you can try out, or you can start making salads right away.
Wash them in cool water to remove any dirt and debris, and dig in. And if you want to store your clean tomatoes, pat them dry to make them last longer.
Store them away from direct sunlight at room temperature in baskets with plenty of airflow.
You can store them in the fridge to increase their shelf life, but their flavor will slightly diminish.
Mastering the tomato harvest requires understanding of timing, techniques, and post-harvest care.
These seven tips will allow you to collect the tastiest tomatoes, maintain their flavor, and keep them fresh for longer.
So put on your gardening gloves, take some shears in hand, and embark on a new adventure of growing and harvesting tomatoes.