Harvesting Your Tomato Plants

Picking, storing, and enjoying tomatoes all season long!

Twist, don’t pull—or you might take stem with the tomato. Pick tomatoes when they start to soften, have a “tomato” scent, and most of the fruit has achieved its final color. Of course, there are lots of good uses for unripe (or green) tomatoes as well! A premature tomato that comes off the vine will get full color and flavor when left on a sunny windowsill or railing.

Smash Planting
The tomato is a hardy weed designed to fertilize itself. Don’t let rotting or partially pest-eaten tomatoes go to waste. Heave them into any inaccessible or inhospitable area: think of yourself as a modern day “Johnny Tomatoseed”. Hurl them into tall weeds! Smush them next to parking lot barriers! Tuck them near fences where the weed-whip won’t go! Check back next summer—you may find a pleasant surprise!

As the Season Wanes
Get every last bit of tomato goodness! When there’s only a month left of warm weather: cut off all growing vine ends, and all small and undeveloped fruit. Cut back on water and fertilizer so the plant focuses on ripening existing fruit.

What is an Heirloom Tomato?
Heirlooms are tomatoes that have been around a long time. Rediscovered in the recent taste revolution, “heirloom” refers to tomatoes that are not hybrids, and have been in existence at least 50 years—preserved for their superb taste. Heirloom tomatoes often are unusual shapes or colors. Many people have never tasted “real” tomatoes—if you’ve only eaten supermarket or other commercially produced tomatoes, you’re in for a delicious surprise. Supermarket tomatoes, along with the tomatoes served in most restaurants, are hybrids: bred to the specifications of mass production. Shippers demand tomatoes that turn red early, are hard enough to roll down chutes, and that have the shelf life of your left shoe. Such tomatoes are picked when the first hint of color shows, so they never fully ripen. They may leave a little bit of stem on them and say “vine ripened,” but they taste like cardboard compared to the tomatoes selected for flavor alone—heirlooms. When you consider that you are “shipping” your tomatoes less than a few hundred feet, you’ll see why they say “there’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love, and homegrown tomatoes.”

Fun Ways to Enjoy Heirlooms
Tomatoes are a substitute for anything. Think of them as a vegetable, or fruit, or meat or spice: experiment! Give them to your friends, and try not to refrigerate.