Harvesting tomatoes: at last, it’s time to enjoy the fruit of your labor!

Nothing tastes like a fresh tomato! Harvesting tomatoes at the right time means you get fantastic flavor. Fully-ripened fruit tastes much better than fruit picked early.

That’s because once a tomato is picked, it is cut off from its main oxygen source. But even when a tomato is picked before it is ready, it continues to ripen. Its sugars are now processed without a steady supply of oxygen and are converted into compounds that promote decay -- ketones, aldehydes, and alcohols. Sugar decay impacts taste. Tomatoes simply won’t taste as good as those picked in their prime.

When are tomatoes ready?

You’ll start picking about 60-85 days after planting seedlings in the garden. Harvesting tomatoes continues until frost (if you have some indeterminates in your crop). Early varieties, obviously, ripen earlier than mid-season varieties.

Determinate tomatoes set and ripen their fruit all at one time, usually within two weeks. Be ready for a large harvest – its a good time for canning tomatoes, freezing tomatoes, making homemade tomato sauce, or canning tomato juice.

Indeterminate varieties ripen all season long. You can help them to set fruit earlier by pinching off the tips of the main stems in early summer.

How do you know when to pick tomatoes?

You know a tomato is ripe when –

  • It has turned red on the vine (or yellow for yellow tomatoes, pink for pink varieties, and so forth).
  • Its color is even. In other words, ripe red tomatoes don’t have one side that’s green. The entire tomato has color. (There are exceptions – see “special harvesting situations” below.)
  • It is just a tiny bit soft when squeezed. Some gardeners say “in between firm and soft.”

Special harvesting situations

  • Heirloom varieties ripen before they completely turn color. Pick heirloom tomatoes before they look totally ripe.
  • Cherry tomatoes crack if left on the vine too long. Pick them just before they look like they’re perfectly ripe.

How do you pick a tomato?

Grasp a ripened tomato gently and firmly. Twist it until it snaps off the vine.

You can also use a garden clippers or knife to harvest tomatoes. Cut the stem close to the fruit.

Special facts about ripening and harvesting tomatoes

  • Looks count! Tomatoes ripen from the inside out. If a tomato looks ripe on the outside, it will be ripe on the inside.
  • Tomatoes need warmth to ripen, not light. Fruit will continue to ripen during overcast or cloudy days that are warm or tropical.
  • Tomatoes stop ripening when temperatures are above 86º F. If you have a long string of hot days, or if you live in an area that has consistently hot summers, then tomatoes may ripen to a yellow/orange color and stop. Harvest them before they turn completely red.

Keep checking your tomato patch

Once tomatoes start ripening, check plants each day and pick those that are ready. Overripe tomatoes will fall or be knocked off stems. They rot quickly. You can easily lose a big portion of your crop if you don’t monitor your patch and keep harvesting tomatoes!


Get more tips on our Harvesting Tomatoes Pinterest board.

More on ripening and harvesting tomatoes

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Protecting tomatoes from frost and freezing ...

Fall tomato garden clean up ...


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