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Is It Ripe? When to Pick Tomatoes

Since 2010, Tomato Dirt has garnered 4.6+ million views, making it the web’s leading online source for growing tomatoes in the home garden. Award-winning writer and Tomato Dirt owner Kathy Widenhouse has helped thousands of home gardeners grow healthier tomatoes. Be one of them when you get Tomato Dirt’s Growing Guide here.

How do you know a tomato is ripe? The question about when to pick tomatoes is one we get a lot.

If you’re like many of us at the beginning of the season, you may have trouble restraining yourself from plucking the first tomato off a fledgling plant.

But ripeness is especially important at season’s end when you’re concerned about cold nights and wonder whether or not to pick fruit … or take a chance and leave it on the vine.

Is there a magic formula to know if a tomato is ready? You’re not the only one who wants to know!

In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has created standards that help growers and vendors to classify a tomato’s ripeness based on external appearance. (The USDA also publishes standards for internal appearance, size, defects, and even packaging and display.)

These “Tomato Color Standards” are labeled as “ripeness stages.” Each stage represents a progressively increasing amount of color on the tomato.

The standards were created to ensure a consistent food supply.

But you can use these helpful guidelines to pick tomatoes in your garden. (And you can also simply pick tomatoes when they look good, when you want to eat them, when you want to use them in a recipe, or when you have time to can, freeze, or dry your harvest.)

When to Pick Tomatoes

A Guide to Tomato Color and Ripeness

USDA Tomato Ripening stages to help you know when to pick tomatoes with Tomato Dirt.

Immature green tomatoes: have not yet begun to turn white

Stage 1: The surface has not yet begun to turn color, although the shade of green may vary from light to dark.

Stage 2: Breakers. The tomato’s skin shows a definite break in color from green to tan, yellow, orange, or pink – but not more than 10% of its surface

Stage 3: Turning. Between 10-30% of the tomato’s surface shows a definite change in color

Stage 4: Pink. Between 30-60% of the tomato’s surface shows a definite change in color

Stage 5: Light Red. Between 60-90% of the tomato’s surface shows a definite change in color

Stage 6: Red. More than 90% of the tomato’s surface shows a definite change in color. 

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