One of the most frustrating gardening experiences is watching a beautiful big tomato get close to ripeness and then – just when it’s reached peak eating stage – finding that something has ruined it. There’s a persistently repeated myth out there that you need to let tomatoes ripen on the vine or they won’t have “fresh-picked flavor.” But really, this isn’t true. A tomato picked early and ripened on your counter will be just as good as one left on the plant.
Pick your tomatoes at “breaker” stage, when they’ve just started turning color. Hard green tomatoes will not ripen to satisfaction indoors, but tomatoes that are beginning to soften and blush red (or yellow, or purple, or whatever the ripe color will be) will do just fine.
|Breaker stage tomatoes: photo by Bob Nixon. They can be greener than this!|
So remember, if your vine-ripened tomatoes get savaged by birds and squirrels – pick early. If your lovely soft red fruits end up with hard spots from stink bug damage – pick early. If your plants are losing leaves fast to fungal diseases, and you’re worried the fruits will get sunburned or rot – pick early. If you don’t get to your garden every day to pick, and tomatoes often over-ripen and fall off – pick early. If your fruits tend to crack after rain – pick early.
We’ve been saying this since 2011! Read Bob’s post about tasting kitchen-ripened tomatoes. This is the best advice I’ve had about tomatoes ever. It doesn’t always work, and you will still lose a few of your precious fruits to really greedy visitors or rots that set in early, but your yields will be far higher and your frustration levels much lower.