The question of whether a home grown tomato tastes better when it’s vine ripened is a bone we could chew on for a long time without having everyone agree on the answer.
I’m not sure — but my guess as to how that saying got started was probably when super market no-taste-tomatoes came on the scene. As we now know they are bred for shipping and color — not for taste. It’s my thought that folks not knowing that fact said — “they have no taste because they’re not vine ripened. ” The saying certainly caught on because it’s still said and believed. (Of course, tomatoes bred for the commercial market have no taste anyway — it wouldn’t matter how long they were on the vine.)
Before I started to garden I was of the same opinion and I think many people are. It’s seems to be the predominant belief promoted in information online.
Here’s a true story that proves the point.
We had friends who use to live within a mile of us. We visited each other’s garden often. Every time I would visit my friends in tomato season I would see dozens and dozens of bright red tomatoes hanging on the vine. They never picked tomatoes unless they were going to eat one or can them. I learned later it was because they felt that in order to have good taste the tomato had to be vine ripened.
I usually always have tomatoes well into December and sometimes January, because I pick all of them before a hard freeze is expected. Year before last I had a bumper crop and picked about 1,000 tomatoes before a hard frost. Our friends were over one day and I asked if they’d like to have some tomatoes. I knew that their tomatoes had stopped producing months ago. (Not picking them – but rather leaving them hang on the vines – was one of the reasons their plants stopped producing.)
They were a bit skeptical, so I asked if they’d like to taste one of the tomatoes that had been ripened off the vine. They did and were amazed at the wonderful flavor and taste. Our friend said, “I guess we fell for the old saying that there is nothing like a vine ripened tomato. Boy! were we wrong!”
When to Harvest Tomatoes
I visit and harvest in my garden everyday. I pick tomatoes when they have the first blush of color on them. Sometimes if bugs are getting them, or if rain is expected (which can cause them to split) I’ll harvest them when they’ve turned a yellow/green. Very seldom does a tomato stay on the vine in my garden to get fully red. And I am not sacrificing one bit of flavor!
And then what?
I usually put them in baskets and keep them in my office which is a warmer than where I store ripe tomatoes. (Not hot — just warmer than cold.)
After they are fully red I put them in a cooler location. I have a basket that holds a single layer of about 100 tomatoes. I’ve kept tomatoes this way for a month —- sometimes a bit longer — fully ripe and still the right amount of firmness. Some varieties keep longer than others.
Two More Things of Importance
- NEVER put tomatoes in the refrigerator. You’ll destroy all the taste if you do.
- It use to be thought that tomatoes were poisonous. Of course — that is not true. But the foliage is — so don’t allow kids to put the foliage in their mouths.
If you’re new to raising tomatoes and choose to do a little reading and video watching online — don’t fall for the old thing about tomatoes needing to be vine ripened to be good.
To taste delicious a tomato has to be
- a taste-good variety that is homegrown — not one of the cardboard varieties in the super market.
- needs to stay at room temperature with good air circulation while ripening. The room temperature can be slightly warmer while it is ripening, but store in cooler temperatures. Air conditioning is not necessary, but will work great for longer storage.
More Posts on Tomatoes:
How to Keep Tomatoes Through December for Eating Fresh
Tomato – Tomato – How Do I keep Thee – Let me Count the Ways
A Quick and Delicious Tomato Sauce
Addendum to a Quick and Delicious Tomato Sauce
Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient and it’s a lot healthier.
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Theresa, This is one of the best tips I’ve had from you this year. I agree that the taste is no different. I’ve saved and been able to use, many tomatoes that I’d otherwise have lost (to deer, squirrels, bugs, etc) this year, by harvesting early. It’s amazing – the power of marketing!
Wow! That’s good to know. I’ve been kicking myself for not getting my tomatoes started early enough to ripen on the vine before it’s too cold! So now I won’t feel bad about all the trays of tomatoes I have to keep around my kitchen until eaten or preserved. Many, many thanks!
Yes, Sandra the power of marketing is very strong — not only with information on tomatoes — but so many other garden things as well.
And Connie, I think lots of folks feel bad when they have to pick tomatoes before they are fully ripe. I hope they will see this post too and find out — like you — that you are not missing a thing!
Thanks to you both for joining in!
P.S. Connie, you might want to read my post More About Storing Tomatoes.
A very timely post indeed! A branch on my tomato plant snapped probably due to the weight of too many tomatoes. Not all the tomatoes on that branch have ripened. Good to know I can still enjoy flavorful tomatoes.
Thanks for the tips!
Yes, Aparna — I’m sure you’ll be able to enjoy many from that broken branch. Sometimes if they are too small and too far away from maturity they won’t ripen but most of the time — they’ll do great!
Tomatoes are my favorite. I also pick them before they turn red, so birds or bugs wouldn’t get them. I agree, in supermarkets tomatoes have no taste, we buy in the farmer’s market sometimes, but garden tomatoes are the best!
Thank you for posting this, Theresa!
I have always thought that the vine-ripened tomatoes are by far more superior to the ones ripened off the vine. I have tried to ripen green tomatoes using the brown paper bag method, but they have always wrinkled and gone soft before getting red, so I usually end up tossing them. Perhaps there will be difference if I try this with blushing tomatoes. Do you cover your tomato basket?
If I plan to save seed from the tomato, I should probably let it ripen on the vine, am I right? 🙂
Thanks for commenting Alyona.
Boy do I appreciate this tomato post. I have always wondered about that and am glad to hear that there’s not much difference – if any – and if there is, it’s really not palpable. I’d been leaving them on the vine but when you do that more bugs and birds can eat at them making the harvest less bountiful. If I pick them when they just begin to turn, the critters can’t get to them as bad! Thank you!!!!
I think I’ve seen that paper bag method somewhere online and every time I do I wonder where they get all this stuff. It’s obviously from someone who has not gardened and doesn’t deal with a lot of fresh produce, so I can understand why you’ve not had luck with it.
Fruits and vegetables — without exception — need air circulation when they are ripening AND when they are in storage. Otherwise they start to rot — which is what is happening to your tomatoes in the paper bag
And no — I NEVER – NEVER – NEVER cover the tomatoes. That would be a sure way to get them to rot.
In my post How to Keep Tomatoes Through December for Eating Fresh I said “During peak season I keep tomatoes in a single layer flat basket in a cool place with constant air circulation away from direct sunlight. If the basket fills with ripe tomatoes, I know it’s time to start preparing and freezing for winter use.”
I give more information in that post Kiskin, so I’m sure you’ll want to read that one.
Also read the one More About Storing Tomatoes for even more detail.
Sometimes green tomatoes that have not had enough time on the vine will not ripen at all. I’ll have that happen in December or January when I’ve had to pick all the tomatoes because of a freeze — and then some just were not there long enough to keep up the ripening process.
But if you are picking tomatoes when they have turned from green to green/yellow they should ripen just fine. And — as you mentioned — blushing tomatoes will indeed ripen just fine.
One more thing — generally speaking — heirloom tomatoes don’t hold as long as hybrids. Brandywines — an heirloom that I will NEVER grow again — would never keep as long as say the several hybrids I have on the table close to me that have been ripe for 4 weeks and are in perfect condition.
Ideally I would like to keep tomatoes on the vine until ripe for saving seed, but I’m always afraid — once I chose that perfect tomato that I want for seed — something will happen to it to prevent it from maturing —so I pick it and let it ripen inside. I have never had trouble. The seeds germinate beautifully and the end result is good —- so based on that —- I can tell you first hand that it doesn’t matter. If you want to take a chance on leaving the tomato on the vine — you can. Otherwise, you can pick it in the blush stage and you should do just fine.
I hope this has been helpful Kiskin. Please let me know how you do after this. You should have no trouble at all. If you have more questions, I will be happy to do my best to answer them.
Hi Bearfoot Mama,
I know you grow and sell wonderful heirloom tomatoes and knowing this will make your life much easier and your customers even happier.
When they get their tomatoes that you have picked a bit ahead and allowed to ripen inside — they will be picture perfect and still absolute delicious!
Thanks for commenting!
THANK YOU THERESA for your elaborate answer!
The way you communicate with your readers is just marvelous! You provide such a wealth of gardening information! 🙂 I am so glad to have found your blog, I`m learning so many new things here!
Now I`m off to read your suggested tomato-posts.
Thanks again, Kiskin
You are very welcome Kiskin. Learning is exciting and I’m so glad that I’ve been part of your learning experience.
Keep me updated.
Theresa, my tomatoes seem to have late blight so I’m pulling them out of the ground this week to prep my beds for fall/ winter gardening. I have a lot of green tomatoes still on the vines, though. Can I pick them green and store them? Can I store them in flat cardboard boxes, like the ones pints of berries come in?
On another note, my new pumpkins are taking off like gang-busters!! I’m praying for a few pumpkins in late fall for my kiddos. Now I just need to keep those pesky squash bugs off of them.
Again, thanks so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge, especially to those first time gardeners like my family and me!!
Sure sorry to hear you have late blight. I am still working on the tomato post that will address the Early and Late Blights on tomatoes. It’s taking forever — but I’ll eventually get it done!
One suggestion —- if it’s possible for you to do so —- after you remove the plants from your garden – sow some oats and some field peas into your beds where the tomatoes were. I’ll explain my reasoning behind this in the forthcoming post. Sow rather thickly so you’ll have a nice cover.
And yes you can pick your tomatoes green and store them. Read my posts More About Storing Tomatoes and How to Keep Tomatoes Through December for Fresh Eating
If the flat cardboard boxes are the ones I’m thinking of — they will be perfect. Will make the tomatoes easy to check (it’s normal to loose some to rot) and will allow them to have air circulation. You will do fine.
Downright exciting about your pumpkins! Keep at those squash bugs. Sure don’t want them to have one of your garden’s most exciting offerings of the season.
Always a pleasure to help you Jennifer.
Keep me posted and let me know if you have more questions.
Sadly, I don’t have access to seed for oats right now, at least not without paying an arm and a leg for shipping, 😉 Any other cover crop I could sow with similar results as the oats/ field peas?
Let me know what you have access to Jennifer. Clovers can be used. Wheat and cereal rye can be used — but can winter over and are harder to deal with in the spring. (I know you have a lot on your plate and wanted to make things easy for you.)
Buckwheat — sown thickly — you still have time for. Then cut when it bloom. Lay on the beds and cover with straw.
Tell me what you have access to and we’ll go from there.
PS. You can also sow snap beans if you have some on hand. Sow more thickly and then allow to grow. They’ll winter kill. Roots will decay before spring and add nitrogen and good stuff to your beds.
I have red clover, wheat, and rye on hand (the wheat and rye would come from my bulk grain buckets). The site I order seed from has buckwheat in stock and I was intending on buying some anyway for my other beds as a cover crop, they’re just sold out of oats right now.
I’ll have to look at what beans I have, I inherited a friend’s stash of seed when she realized she wasn’t going to be gardening, and a large portion of it was beans.
How would I cut the buckwheat? My beds are sided, raised beds. Could I just use a shovel and turn the buckwheat under?
Thanks again for all your help, Theresa.
Sounds like you have lots of options Jennifer.
Wheat or rye make an excellent cover. You just have to be on top of them next spring. If you cut it early you’d have to either dig them under (not my choice) since otherwise it would keep growing. Or wait until the pollen is hanging — just before it sets seed — and cut it with a small sickle. Then it will stop growing and late crops like tomatoes, cukes, peppers, and squash can be planted right into the stubble since the roots will just decay and add great stuff to your soil while protecting your bed and keeping moisture in.
Whether you cut it early or cut it late — you can lay the green biomass on top as more mulch. — Or you could compost it or use it elsewhere for mulch.
Cut buckwheat with your sickle. Sometimes I just pull it up (it’s easy, easy) and lay it on top of the bed and cover with straw. Sorta acts like a compost pile would —- with the greens and browns. Green makes your nitrogen and then straw or leaves would be your carbon.
And yes — if you want to you can use your shovel and turn the buckwheat under. It would be excellent. I would still throw some straw on top.
If you have any doubts or more questions, let me know.
You’re doing a great job Jennifer!
If you don’t have a sickle just use anything until you can get one. I’ve even use hedge clippers. 🙂
Ah, ha found it!
I knew that SOMEWHERE you’d said, Theresa, that you could save seed from tomatoes ripened inside. I’ve got one ripening on my counter top right now that I want to get seeds from to save for next year. I figure that any tomatoes still going strong now, are worth a great deal to me. Thanks for this info.
Glad you found it. Most of the tomatoes that I save seed from are ripened inside.
I am really glad I found TMG, today I went out to the garden to harvest, yesterday was cold, wet and dreary. I pulled a lot of arugula, beans, eggplant and broccoli. I noticed that I have a lot of tomatoes on the vine, most are all still green/yellow. Some of
the large heirloom tomatoes are cracking. When I came inside I decided to check your previous blog and I am glad I did. I am now going back out to the garden to pick the tomatoes that I left outside to turn red. I will let you know how they turn out.
Karen from Orlando, FL
Here in Virginia — I will use my last tomato probably next week. No one else here has any — but me. 🙂 It’s all in knowing what to do.
But since Florida is not as cold — you should be able to have tomatoes well into the winter.
I don’t have any idea what you weather has been like —- but its always best to pick your tomatoes before a freeze. They keep even better that way.
Be sure to read the first two post mentioned at the end of this one. Lots more additional info in them.
Keep me updated! I’ll be anxious to know how you do.
Aren’t you going to be disappointed saving F1 tomato seeds?
John, I’m not sure what your question has to do with picking tomatoes before they have fully ripened.
But regarding saving seed from hybrids (F1), you never know for sure what you’ll get. It’s the open pollinated ones that are true to the parents.
This is the first year that the early and late blights didn’t destroy all of our plants. Thanks to your tip about planting tomatoes in the rubble of our winter rye cover crop, we have very healthy and productive tomatoe plants. Everyone here in Europe has the misconceptions you are writing about with respect to “vine-ripened tomatoes”; they also utilize the myth about ripening tomatoes in paper bags. Thank you so much for your wisdom.
July 2014 was the warmest year in the history of our region, with plenty of rain, so we’ll be having bumper crops until first frost. The growing period will probably almost extend to December.
Millard, I’m delighted to hear that your tomato plants escaped the early and especially late blight this year!! I know you and your fellow gardeners in the area are absolutely thrilled. I would like to think that the tomatoes escaped late blight because of the stubble, but that may not be true. That blight can be, and usually is, carried on the wind. However, planting your tomatoes in the rye stubble is still an excellent practice.
I think the old myth about vine-ripened tomatoes will continue on forever. But it sure makes life a lot easier to know that you can ripen them inside without a loss of flavor.
So glad to hear of your bumper crops and extended growing season. Grab all the gusto that nature offers!
And thanks for sharing.
I have also picked my tomatoes before they were ripe, before a big storm or at the end of the season. However there is a very good reason not to under normal circumstances. When tomatoes (and other produce) is picked before it has ripened it does not contain the same amount of vitamins as a tomato left on the growing plant to ripen. A tomato will only contain half the amount of vitamin C when picked green and then once they are picked they will loose even more nutrition sitting around waiting to turn red. They may taste ok but they have lost most of their nutritional value. So for the sake of our health it’s best to leave them on the vine until they are ripe.
Great point Fran. Thanks for taking time to comment.
For the paper bag ripening trick to work, you need to put about six small holes in the bag here and there for air circulation. I also put an apple or banana in with them to speed things up. It works for me!
This post has really hit home. Many years ago I moved to a very different location before my many tomatoes ripened and I didn’t want to leave them. I wrapped them individually in newspaper. put them in boxes and took them with me and put them in a closet. I kept some on the window sill and enjoyed fully ripe great tasting tomatoes for months. Because I did not have time for several years to garden I forgot the whole thing and when I restarted we picked our tomatoes at the end of the season and froze them in various forms. Now I’m saying to myself, what’s wrong with you. Thanks again for your thoughts and enjoy your garden