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Johnson County

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Johnson County
11811 S. Sunset Drive
Suite 1500
Olathe, KS 66061

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Monday - Friday,
8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.

(913) 715-7000
(913) 715-7005 fax
jo@listserv.ksu.eduMap to our office

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Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service

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Harvesting and Ripening Tomatoes

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Early to mid-July is almost like heaven to a vegetable gardener. It is the start of the tomato season. All winter we have been subjected to the so-called tomatoes in the grocery store, but now the flavorful homegrown fruits are ready for the picking.

Do vine-ripened tomatoes taste better?
We have all enjoyed the vine-ripe flavor of fresh tomatoes from the garden, but does a tomato have to remain on the vine until it is completely ripe to develop that wonderful flavor? The answer is no.

Although many will debate this answer, it is true from a scientific standpoint. What has happened over the years is we have been conditioned to relate taste with ripening on the vine. This is because of the poor flavor and quality of greenhouse tomatoes.

How tomatoes ripen
When a tomato reaches full size it becomes pale green. This is when the ripening process starts, which is regulated by an internal gas produced within the fruit called ethylene. When the tomato reaches the breaker stage, when it is about half green and half pinkish-red, a layer of cells form across the stem of the tomato sealing it off from the main vine. When this occurs, there is nothing that can move from the plant into the fruit. The tomato can be harvested and ripened off the vine with no loss of flavor, quality or nutrition.

Harvesting at the breaker stage offers several advantages to a tomato grower. It lightens the fruit load on the plant, reducing the chance of cracking or fruit damage, and also allows the grower to control the ripening process.

Controlling the ripening process
One common tomato problem in Kansas during summer is the heat. Temperatures over ninety-five degrees decrease the development of the red pigments, resulting in an orange-red fruit.

Picking and ripening indoors allows you to control the ripening, thus the supply that needs to be used at one time. Tomatoes held at cooler temperatures will ripen slower. You can speed up or slow down the process by raising the temperature to an optimum eighty-five degrees or lowering to a minimum of fifty degrees.

Harvesting a vine-ripe tomato may give us the feeling of picking the perfect fruit, but it is not necessary for a flavorful harvest. Just remember that tomatoes develop their optimum flavor, nutrition, and color when they are in the full red ripe stage, but this does not have to occur on the plant.

K-State Research and Extension Johnson County Master Gardener logo

Have questions? The Garden Hotline is staffed by trained EMG volunteers and Extension staff who will assist you with questions.

Phone: (913) 715-7050

Email: garden.help@jocogov.org