Tomatoes are in full gear in the garden, loaded with lots of green, un-ripe tomatoes. So when will they ripen and how can you tell when is the best time to pick them?
Summer Conditions Contribute to How Fast the Fruit Ripens
The tomato plant is working hard during the summer–making fruit, new leaves, new roots and ripening more mature fruit. The summer weather plays a huge part in the ripening of the fruit. If the temperature rises above 85°F the ripening slows down. This is due in part to a slowing in production of the plant pigments, carotene and lycopene, that impart the color of the fruit.
The soil temperature should be below 80°F for the best root growth. If the temperatures rise above that the plant will divert energy to making more and deeper roots and therefore, there will be less energy devoted to the ripening process.
How to Help Speed Up the Ripening Process
- Remove some of the smaller, imperfect fruit. This is especially important if your plant is loaded with lots of green tomatoes.
- If you are having a heat wave, you may want to consider covering your tomatoes with some shade cloth. 30% shade cloth will be enough to help cool your plants down and also help prevent sun scald of your ripening fruit.
- Make sure you have a thick layer of mulch, like straw. This will help keep your soil a little cooler and also help cut down on evaporation.
- Pick the fruit that is at least at the breaker stage (showing some pink color) and allow to ripen on the counter. This will help take some of the load off the plant. If growing heirlooms, this will help prevent fruit cracking, which often occurs on those varieties.
Harvesting At the Right Time
Vine ripened tomatoes are the best, but don’t leave them on the vine too long.
- Depending on the variety, look for a deep rich color (red, yellow, orange or green).
- Lightly squeeze the fruit and it should give a little, not be mushy and not too firm.
- To prevent cracking on some of the heirloom varieties, you can pick before they are fully ripe and allow them to ripen on the counter (just make sure they have some color).
Do you Have to Wait Until the Tomato is Fully in Color?
Vine ripened tomatoes have such good flavor and if possible, it is best to allow them to fully ripen on the plant. But if it is getting late in the season and frost is around the corner you may want to pick those partially ripe tomatoes. If the tomato has developed a little pink color (color will vary depending on variety), also called the breaker stage, the fruit can be removed and allowed to ripen off the vine. Place them out of the sun, in temperatures between 50-85°F.