There’s no real mystique to picking tomatoes, except that some types ripen more quickly and differently to other types. Also, if you just tug the tomato off the bush you may damage the stems.
The Best Time to Pick Tomatoes
It usually takes six to eight weeks for tomatoes to form and ripen, and there is absolutely no doubt that they taste best and are most nutritious when they are allowed to ripen on the plant. Even though unripe tomatoes will ripen quite adequately at room temperature, if you pick fully ripe fruit you really will capture the full flavour of juicy tomatoes. The best is to pick them and eat them right away, at very least within hours.
The reason commercial tomato farmers usually pick their tomatoes when they are still green or lightly coloured and firm, is because they want to lengthen their shelf life. By the time they make the supermarket shelves, they are usually almost ripe. If they are too ripe, they become wastage, simply because they soften and start to rot. Of course you can pick them before they ripen if you wish; just be sure that they are looking nice and glossy and that they are just starting to soften.
Indeterminate tomato plants will continue to form and ripen for several weeks. Determinate varieties, on the other hand ripen all at once. The latter generally forms a bush while the indeterminate varieties can grow as high as five metres or 15 feet.
Generally tomatoes start to ripen from underneath, and some types – including some lovely big heirloom varieties – actually ripen before they are fully coloured. This can be confusing if you haven’t grown the variety before. A good rule of thumb in this case (in other words when it is a type of tomato you haven’t grown before) is to pick when the skin is smooth and looks slightly waxy.
Just remember that tomatoes ripen from the inside; so if they look ripe outside, they WILL be ripe inside.
The best way to pick tomatoes is to remove the fruit by gently breaking the stalk just above the calyx that formed to protect the flower bud. If there is any danger that the calyx will damage the fruit, remove it before stacking and storing the fruit.
Once they stop producing, lift the entire plant out of the ground. You can throw these plants on the compost heap unless they show evidence of nematode infection. These are microscopic, unsegmented and parasitic worms that can cause an enormous amount of damage to vegetable garden crops. While there are hundreds of different species, they all feed on the roots of the plant, and even if you load the soil with fertiliser and water generously, the plants won’t grow and they will quickly lose colour. You can identify nematodes by the lumps they form on the roots of your tomatoes. If you spot nematode damage or infection, burn the affected plants.
Remember that healthy soil produces healthy tomato plants.