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The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie

From a tiny yellow blossom: a grape-sized tomato, a golf-ball-sized orb, or something the size of a grapefruit? The size of the blossom doesn’t tell you much about the size of the fruit that’s on the way.

Tomatoes are coming on full-force in my small kitchen garden, and I hope you’re having the same kind of luck with yours. I understand that cool and wet weather has challenged many tomato plants from the Midwest into the Northeast. The lucky folks, apparently, have lost some fruit to blossom-end rot. The unlucky ones have seen late blight decimate their plants.

Whether your tomatoes are growing strong, coming ripe, or dying on the vine, you’ve probably been involved in at least one conversation about tomatoes this year. The one I hear repeatedly is about how terrible are the tomatoes you buy in grocery stores. Invariably, everyone in this conversation agrees, and someone offers up that those tomatoes come off the vines green and travel cross-country while ripening… and if it doesn’t ripen on the vine, it’s just no good.

I respectfully submit: That last observation is complete hogwash.

Water regularly, and your tomatoes will likely come out OK. However, one ill-timed rainstorm could cause cracks that lead to rot, insect infestations, and mildew.

Genetics Makes a Lousy Tomato

If you want a tomato that tastes horrible and has lousy texture, start by planting seeds for the “tastes horrible and has lousy texture” tomato. That’s what commercial grocery suppliers do. Plant breeders spent decades developing varieties of tomatoes that hold up incredibly well when stacked and jostled during harvest and transport. They paid no attention to the flavor and textural appeal of these tomatoes.

Hapless grocery store shoppers buy those horrid things because those shoppers have grown up believing real tomatoes taste horrible and have lousy texture. OK… that horrible flavor becomes an acquired taste if it’s the only tomato you ever eat.

If the tomato cracks early, it may try to heal itself. Once healed, it won’t attract insects and disease, but there will be a section you’d rather not chew.

These tomatoes aren’t bad because they’re picked green. They’re bad because they’re a lousy breed. Put a decent tomato on a truck and ship it 3,000 miles, and it’ll be a smooshed tomato at its destination.

Vine-Ripened is Over-Rated

On the flip-side of this discussion is the erroneously perpetuated belief that a tomato must ripen on the vine to be good. I’m confident that the belief exists because no right-minded gardener would pick a tomato before it’s ripe (unless there was threat of frost). Yet, would the right-minded gardeners of the world pick some un-ripened tomatoes for the sake of comparison, they would learn an astonishing and happy truth: vine-ripening is way over-rated.

In fact, vine-ripening tomatoes is one of the most challenging of all gardening tasks… yet experienced gardeners so often suggest tomatoes as the ideal beginner’s crop: Tomatoes are so easy to grow, we say, and they’re so superior to store-bought. But unless you have absolute control over how much rain falls in your small kitchen garden, and how often it falls, growing beautiful ripe tomatoes is a bit of a nail-biting proposition.

This tomato cracked because it got too much water during ripening. The cracks healed, but then the tomato received too much sunshine, so it developed green shoulders. When I slice this up for salad, I’ll probably cut off some of the green stuff, leaving less to eat.

Perfect Tomato Culture

When a tomato first emerges from its tiny yellow tomato flower, it’s hard to visualize the monster it may eventually become. Still, over the course of a month, the little green ball grows larger as it sucks water from the tomato plant. To produce a perfect, ripe tomato, the plant must draw from a steady supply of water. If there is no rain, you should water two or three times a week. Ideally the weekly total will be a full inch of water over the area defined by the outstretched leaves of the plant.

If you can manage that, you may also need to control the amount of sunlight that reaches the individual tomatoes; a tomato that gets excessive direct sun may not ripen evenly.

Cracks and Hard Spots (Green Shoulders)

So, you’re controlling the amount of water and sunlight your tomatoes get, and then it rains. Your tomato plants don’t mind too much of a good thing; they suck up the additional burst of water and the young, green tomatoes get larger. Here’s the rub: tomatoes that have started to ripen aren’t as resilient as younger, greener tomatoes. As they expand under the new load of water, their skins are likely to stretch and tear.

A tomato that gets extra water during its last week or two of growth can develop stretch marks and cracks in the skin. Left to finish ripening, the cracked tomato can attract fruit flies and other sugar-loving insects, fungus and mold, and bacteria that rapidly reduce the tomato’s innards to smelly slime.

Even without the rain storm, sunlight striking the top of a tomato on the vine can prevent ripening there while the bottom and sides of the tomato sweeten, soften, and turn bright red (or whatever other color represents ripe for the varieties you grow). These “green shoulders” detract considerably from the flavor and texture of an otherwise ripe fruit.

This tomato has just started to show pink; I‘ll let it ripen on my dining room table and it will be ready to use in seven-to-fourteen days. It will taste every bit as good as a cracked tomato with green shoulders that ripens on the vine. Actually, it’ll taste better, because it won’t have green shoulders!

So, Don’t Vine-Ripen!

Earlier I said, “…unless you have absolute control over how much rain falls and how often…” You do have such control! Quite simply: don’t let your tomatoes ripen on the vine. When pink first appears on a tomato’s skin, pick the tomato and set it inside out of direct sunlight.

Unless I get busy and miss a few days, I pick each tomato when it starts to change color. Typically, this means that every second day, I harvest anything showing pink. I fill a large stainless steel bowl with the day’s pickings, and set it on my dining room table. About seven-to-ten days later, the tomatoes reach peak ripeness without torn skin and without green shoulders… and every tomato is just as delectable as any tomato I ever let ripen on the vine. In fact, every tomato is nearly perfect… and I could never say that in the days that I left them on the plants.

I picked these tomatoes about two weeks before I photographed them. They ripened on my dining room table, and they are as red, juicy, sweet, and delicious as any vine-ripened tomato.

Oh, Yeah? (an Anecdote)

I visited with a farmer once who managed an impressive kitchen garden. Before touring his garden, his wife and I discussed various gardening techniques. At one point, she insisted: “Oh, we let all our tomatoes ripen on the vine. They’re just not as good if they don’t.”

I countered: “I’ve found if I pick them when they start to ripen, they never split or develop green shoulders… and you can’t taste the difference.”

Her reply: “A farmer can taste the difference… and our tomatoes never crack.”

When we reached the garden, every red tomato on every tomato plant had one or more cracks in its skin. (No, I didn’t comment about it… that would have been rude. But I’d sure like to put my tomatoes up against hers in a taste-test with farmers.)

 

Here are links to other articles that discuss green shoulders and cracking tomatoes:

 

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77 Responses to “The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie”

  • I may have to experiment with this. I have a ton of just starting to turn tomatoes, but with the on-again-off-again weather I’m afraid they’re going to spoil they turn red.

  • [...] As they say in the blogosphere, go read the whole thing. [...]

  • Great article! Just a couple of thoughts:

    You are correct about the taste being virtually the same, because we’ve bought not-quite-ripe tomatoes at the local farmer’s market and let them sit in a bowl and they were just as tasty. However, I personally like the taste of a ripe tomato warm from the sun, and I can’t pop a pinkish cherry tomato in my mouth while standing barefoot in the kitchen garden — yuck! We also like to slice up warm tomatoes moments before they’re served for dinner. These are two pleasures I wouldn’t want to give up entirely. I also wouldn’t want to give up the sight of tomatoes ripening on the vine, like glowing jewels, when I look out on my garden. The visual pleasures are just as much a part of it for me as the taste (and I have a photo-blog of my kitchen garden to demonstrate ;).

    Still, I can bring in a few for more aesthetically pleasing tomatoes, especially for giving away. I would also note, as far as cracking goes, that Americans are far too trained to expect “perfect” produce, which usually tastes like cardboard. It might be good for us all to learn to cut away the blemishes on all kinds of produce! In general, we are way too picky.

  • admin:

    Meryl: A belated thank you for visiting. I hope you’ve had a chance to experiment and have been satisfied with the results.

    -Daniel

    Meredith: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I’m a tad chagrined at some of my word choices in my post; I try not to sound as though what I teach is the right way. Given the vast array of gardening techniques, I try to advocate: do what works for you… and what makes you happy.

    This post was a bit of a departure, I think, because I had recently heard several people insist that vine-ripened is to die for and anything else is garbage. Since that just isn’t so, my comments were very much a counterpoint rather than simply a “here’s how I do it, you might like it too.”

    Honestly, that’s my attitude: find what works best for you, and enjoy what you’re doing. You obviously enjoy what you’re doing! Thanks for visiting, and for the link!

    -Daniel

  • Jeanie:

    I too enjoy a warm sliced tomatoe from the garden. I have experienced a few black bottoms this year but have been diligent in getting rid of them a.s.a.p. I think it helped with the others fairing better. I also have cherry tomatoes that seem to split if not picked as soon as color appear. The rest of the tomatoes mainly Romas, Better Girls, and Bigger Boys are just fine.Last year I had so many green on the vine at the end of the year I was afraid frost would hit before they’d ripen so I picked them all and put them in a paper bag and they were just as good as any vine ripened tomatoe.

  • Melissa:

    I 2nd pulling them in. I am gonna wait until about halfway this year than pull inside.

    I also think it helps somewhat with not having as many tomatoes lost to pest’s. I have never had any green tomatoes bitten into or chewed on, but leave a ripened tom on the vine, it’s gone and found later on in the middle of my yard chewed on.

  • I’m with you – our tomatoes are about 50/50 windowsill ripened and vine ripened. The taste difference is negligible but the windowsill ones don’t get attacked by slugs or flies or even birds!

  • first timer:

    I came across this suggestion either in a book or on a blog. This is my first garden.I live in the suburbs with tons of pests. I have 3 tomato plants that I grew in compost and they all reached over 7 ft tall, 3 ft wide. I have picked every single one “at first blush”. I love to put a ripening banana in the bottom of a fruit bowl and pile the tomatoes on top and cover with a towel.They give off ethylene the same gas the ripening tomatoes give off. This is what they do commercially(although without the banana)I have 3 bowls going at once. The “first blushers” The” almost ready” and “the ready to eat” bowl. I had a party yesterday and was able to get many “oohs and aahhs” from family and friends. Not one crack or blemish. I have harvested more than 200 tomatoes so far. Since this is my first time I only have to go on what others tell me and that my turn out is amazing. I liked being able to send people who had a ways to travel back home the greener tomatoes so they did not have to rush to eat them . I have been so happy. I live in Michigan if that helps.The rain is not predictable. I saw a red tomato in someones garden in passing and it killed me. All I could think of was the bugs and beetles taking a big juicy bite out of it. Hope this helps

  • Dr. Tomato:

    Vine ripened tomatoes will have a higher concentration of nutrients and minerals compared to the pseudo-ripened tomatoes picked prematurely. The truth is, the green preemies simply turn red in color once they’re picked from the vine, they do not fully ripen as a true, vine ripened tomato does. And if you put it to the test, the vine ripened tomato will have a superior flavor compared to that of it’s premature counterpart “ripened” off the vine.

    The preemies might still taste good once they “ripen” indoors, but this would be most likely because it’s a good strain of tomato. The point is, you get a higher dose of vitamins and minerals and a superior taste from a vine ripened tomato.

  • Anna:

    I wish Dr. Tomato would provide a few references/explanations for his assertions.
    Anyway, there’s another advantage to bring tomatoes in early: you don’t have to fight with the squirrels for them! Until now, I’ve left my tomatoes to ripen on the vine and have really struggled to get my newly ripe tomatoes before the critters do! Since they don’t like ‘blushy’ tomatoes, I’ll get to enjoy more of my crop.
    Thanks for the tip.

  • admin:

    Jeanie: Thank you for you comments. I’m gun-shy about those end-of-season tomatoes. I think the ones that grow up when the weather is very cool and come inside green tend to be tougher, harder, and less appetizing than hot-weather tomatoes. People report good experiences with ripening them after frost; apparently that has worked for you.

    Melissa: I’ve heard that most critters chew on fruits because they can’t find local sources of drinking water. In dry years, you may be able to protect tomatoes from foragers simply by keeping a bowl of fresh water on the ground somewhere near your garden. I’ve never tried this, but it hints at truth: I’ve had my tomatoes chewed by rodents only during very dry summers.

    allotment blogger: I adopted the pick-pink method because I tossed so many split, buggy, and rotting tomatoes in the compost heap… and table-ripening produced delicious, juicy tomatoes in fine shape. I’m glad you found something that works for you.

    first timer: Since posting this article, I’ve seen evidence of a fairly well-established pick-pink school of tomato growers. Thanks for letting us know there are other advocates out there.

    Dr Tomato: Thank you for your comments. It seems reasonable that more vitamins and minerals find their way into a tomato ripening on the vine. As well, I’ve heard a lot of bias that vine-ripened tomatoes taste better. I’d be grateful if you’d provide links to studies that support the claim about nutrition; I’d be surprised to learn that the difference in nutrition is anything but minor. As for flavor? If I had tasted a difference in the first season I tried this, I wouldn’t be advocating a pick-pink approach, but I concede that people with taste buds more sensitive than mine may taste a difference.

    Throwing terms like “pseudo-ripen” into the discussion feels more like marketing an opinion than sharing information; it detracts from your argument and makes the information you provide suspect. Ripening is ripening; the definition doesn’t mention where a fruit is when ripening takes place. Seeds from picked-pink tomatoes are fully-mature and grow into new plants. The fruits become juicy, sweet, and delicious; they ripen.

    Some fruits – pears, for example – simply ripen better after you pick them than they do if you leave them on their host plants. Tomatoes, I think, are on the fence: depending on your sensibilities, you may be happier with picked-pink tomatoes. If you prefer vine-ripened, that’s fine too.

    Anna: Thank you for your observations. I wonder if the critters in some regions are more tomato-aware than the critters in other regions are. My tomatoes have been wildly successful this season, and I’ve had none bitten by critters… though that may make your point: I pick them when they show pink.

  • So weird, yet so appropriate to see this post. Due to the typical (yet again)erratic behavior of Mid-Atlantic weather, this year I have started pulling my tomatoes off the vine once they showed ANY signs of color, because EVERY SINGLE ONE otherwise is developing deep, gigantic, SENT FROM HELL cracks. We had a rather moderate spring and early summer, followed by an abrupt drought and soaring temps, and then many torrential rain events with continuing high temps. Now the rain has abated, temps have cooled, but the plants are hanging on by a thread. I don’t freakin care if snatching them early compromises the sugar, I am taking them early and doing a compromise ripening rather than not having any at all!

  • Good post. There are benefits to the dreaded soil though, as it contains a whole array of microbes that assist digestion, or so I am told.

  • I’m racing with blight, hoping that some tomatoes will show some color so I can bring them in. I would be so delighted with pink tomatoes at this point – I may have to develop a taste for green tomatoes. Any recipes for green tomato relish?

  • admin:

    My only experiences with green tomatoes are 1: Classic fried green… not compelling enough for me that I’d bother with them. 2: Green tomato mincemeat. As mincemeat goes, this was fine. If you have any interest, I suspect I can dig up a recipe.

    That said, if you come up with a green tomato relish (or other product) to die for, please let me know. I don’t think I’ll have green tomatoes this season, but I’m hoping there’ll be a few next seasons in which I might get some green ones

  • Hmmmm. Interesting post and comments. I’ve picked unripe tomatoes at the end of season of necessity, but never considered doing it to avoid splitting and other issues. For those whose garden is just at their door, the still-sun-warmed tomato is an easy treat. For those like me who have a bit of a hike to reach the allotment, the idea of catch-as-catch-can is useful. If I get *any* tomatoes on my late-planted vines this year, it’s likely they’ll have to be ripened indoors.

    I, too, would be interested in the science behind the nutrient value of tomatoes, whether vine ripened or the tabletop technique.

  • marcella:

    I read you can pull the whole plant with the tomatoes still on the vine (just before frost) and they will keep well and continue to ripen if kept in cool dry place. Has anyone tried this? I got a late start on planting and my tom are mostly still green. I don’t want to loose them. Great info here. Thanks

  • [...] do plan to take the advice I found earlier this summer over at a blog called Your Small Kitchen Garden and pull all the green [...]

  • Erin:

    I came across this website as I race against the frost. I have a tonne of tomatoes but have only had about 5 that went ripe (including the ones I picked when starting and that are sitting ripening inside right now).
    I tried picking some green, but they went bad before they started to ripen. Any suggestions for ripening very green tomatoes?

  • admin:

    I’m afraid the answer depends very much on why your tomatoes went bad before the started to ripen. Did they develop brown lesions on the skin and then start to get soft? I posted photos of such tomatoes here: Tomato Strife in Small Kitchen Gardens Everywhere. If your tomatoes have late blight, you may simply be out of luck.

    That’s the worst scenario. A tomato – even one picked green – wants to ripen, and it can though it might not be as satisfying as a tomato that has at least started to show pink before you pick it. Still, the conventional wisdom is: wrap each tomato in a page from a newspaper and put many together in a paper bag. Fold over the bag and let it sit at room temperature. Unfortunately, you need to check the tomatoes every other day or so and remove ones that start to go bad. (Wrapping tomatoes individually in newspaper before putting them in a bag may reduce the spread of diseases – such as Late Blight – if there are any on any of the tomatoes.) Some people put ripe bananas in with their tomatoes because gas given off by the bananas promotes ripening. I’ve had some success with bagging green tomatoes this way, but it’s not a panacea.

    After that, I’d encourage you to look into ways to use green tomatoes in cooking. I’m not a fan of fried green tomatoes, though some people rave about them. I do, however, like a good green tomato mincemeat.

  • Heirloom Maters:

    Hi!

    We have had late ripening on the vine but plants have pumped out so many we’ve been giving them away by the box, bag, 1/2 bushel, and bushel. I am beginning to look on late blight as a friend since I am kinda sorta sick of the smell of cooking/canning tomatoes! ;-)

    Our plants are about 95% heirloom varieties, though, which I find has helped them. Yes, I know there is a school of thought that says the hybrids are more vigorous, disease-resistant and dependable than the heirlooms, but in nearly 20 years of growing tomatoes, I have to say I have found that to be another tomato myth. Don’t get me wrong — there are some good hybrids (Sungold leaps to mind!!), but overall in our experience, the majority of our heirloom choices have out-germinated, out-grown, out-produced, and out-survived disease, adverse weather conditions, something I’ve found to be true gardening in two different zones, first Zone 7 and now 5b.

    The success rate for picking them before frost and ripening them inside has been quite high, and last year’s last fresh tomato was consumed in a salad around New Year’s.

    Oh, and yes, I DO have a good green tomato relish recipe if anyone wants it! Works well as a pickle relish substitute making yummy tuna salad, potato salad, and a stellar homemade Thousand Island Dressing — one of the easiest dressings to make EVER. It’s just mayo, relish, and catsup in whatever proportions taste best to you. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and a little mustard if you like more bite, then enjoy!

    Happy Gardening!

  • anthony:

    So you don’t vine ripen and your tomatoes look prettier. SO WHAT. The taste difference is phenomonal and if you can’t taste it the problem is with your taste buds not the tomatoes. Next you would have us believe shelf ripened bananas and pineapples are good too. And don’t forget oranges and grapefruits.

  • admin:

    Anthony: Thank you for visiting and sharing your perspective. But, wow! Why such an unpleasant tone? I’m encouraging people to think beyond the conventional and learn something for themselves. I encourage you to read all the comments associated with this blog post: I really don’t want people to believe something just cuz I said it, I encourage people to try and decide whether my approach is appropriate for them. I’m confident when I say that in a side-by-side taste test, vine-ripened and shelf-ripened tomatoes of the same variety are virtually indistinguishable in flavor and texture. If it pleases you to insist I’m wrong without testing this for yourself, by all means, feel free. If you like to experiment and learn new things, please try some shelf ripening and do your own comparisons.

    Bananas and pineapples? Around here, the only bananas and pineapples available at any time of year were picked green and shipped. Most need to sit on the counter for three to five days before they’re ready to eat. Are they as good as bananas and pineapples ripened on the plants and then harvested? I can’t say; I’ve never picked bananas or pineapples ripe. Given the chance, I would love to make a comparison so I can speak authoritatively on the differences. Until I make those comparisons, I’ll try to remain civil when I express my opinions about the issue.

  • Ferrell Reynolds:

    I am 58 years old and grow oer 100 tomato vines every year and I disagree with your assertions on the taste of a vine ripe tomato or pick it early. Why do you think that early in the spring when tomatoes come from Mexico or Flordia. It’s because they have been picked before they ripen for shipping purposes. I have done experiments both ways and a vine ripen tomato taste a 100% better. Yes the longer you leave it the more things that can happen to it, but If I see a tomato with no imperfections I leave it on the vine. I challenge anyone to go out and find 2 tomatoes that look just alike, pick 1 and put on cabinet and leave the other on the vine, and I guarunatee you the vine ripen tomato will be better. I’ve done it to many times. You might think it’s just as good, but it’s not if you eat them both at the same time, you will be able to tell the difference.

  • admin:

    Ferrell: Thank you for your comments. Apparently, you and I have had different experiences. I will continue to encourage readers to try exactly what you suggest: Pick some tomatoes pink and let them ripen off the vine while you leave other tomatoes to ripen on the vines. Then, taste the tomatoes side-by-side and decide for yourself. In my experience, there is no difference, but if you find that one is better than the other, go with it.

    Commercially-grown and shipped tomatoes are horrible because they are flavorless varieties having horrible textures… they’re just as unappealing when they ripen on the vine as they are when they ripen off the vine.

  • [...] season! Why did I pick it when it’s so under ripe? I explained last season in a post titled The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie. This baby will finish ripening on my dining room table. addthis_url = [...]

  • Prometheus:

    Gotta go with Dr. Tomato here. As I tell folks, I’m not a gardener, I’m just a tomato farmer. I usually grow a number of red cherry tomatoes (sweet 100), and 12-18 Burpee’s “Big Boy” plants each year.

    I’ve been doing this for a much shorter period of time than some folks, but after eight or nine wildly successful years in a row, (300+ big boys and uncountable cherries) I like to think I have some experience under my belt.

    I live in Central Wisconsin, where the growing season is pretty short, so I try to get as much out of my garden as I can while the getting is good. That means lots of vine-ripened ‘maters, and a decent crop of green ones at the end of the season so they don’t go to waste.

    Here’s my thought on it, and your mileage may vary- it’s even possible that I’m more emotional than logical on the issue. You conceded that vine-ripened fruit *probably* has more vitamins than those ripened on the counter, and I think that’s a fair assessment.

    So here’s the thing- the reason I grow my own tomatoes every summer is because of the vitamin C, specifically. I can taste it, and it’s wonderful- a tomato from my garden harvested just before the critters get at it has more in common with an orange than the red superballs they sell at the grocery stores. This is much more intense when taken off the vine ripe than it is when I ripen the last batch in a paper bag at the end of the season.

    But, it doesn’t end there. There’s some science, or at least folk-lore dressed up like science that leads me to believe that this ensures that I have a nice, steady flow of ‘maters every day during the summer once the first ones turn. At least in theory, the Ethyline ?sp? gas keeps the mid-range tomatoes ripening. So, instead of a huge pile of cherries all at once, I get a dozen or two a day in a nice, even flow- which is more-or-less manageable (though I *do* usually end up with some heartburn issues by the end of the summer after eating a big handful of them every day.)

    I have only had splitting one year that I can remember, and it was localized and very short in duration, after a long dry spell when I forgot to water for a couple of days. I *do* ignore conventional wisdom a little bit, but it’s been working very well for me, so I see no reason to mess up a good thing.

    In case anyone wants to try, here’s what I do.

    -Plant the tomato plants close together (12-18″ apart) Yes, they grow together and are hard to harvest- but it protects the fruit from too much sun.

    -Miracle Grow, Miracle Grow, Miracle Grow. Every seven days, mixed up in ice-cream pails. Can’t say enough good things about the stuff.

    -5′ tall stakes and zip-ties. Yes, they get that tall, and I let ‘em. I don’t pinch off suckers. Seems like the shade keeps the fruit from cracking or getting wrinkly- and if it doesn’t, then it still works, and I’m saving myself some effort.

    -I never weed. Sounds weird, I know, but it seems to work- here’s my take on it; a little grass isn’t going to kill a tomato plant that is as tall as my girlfriend, and a little ground cover seems to work even better than mulch or plastic to keep in water without getting moldy.

    -Give the garden a little shake every night. Why? I don’t really know. It makes the plants smell more strongly, and seems to speed up ripening. Could toughen them up, or maybe they just like the attention. Don’t matter, as it’s mostly voodoo on this one, it just seems to work.

    - Water every day before work, unless it rains.

    Like most things in life, results are what matter for me here, and I’ve found that doing the above consistently yields me several hundred big, perfect-looking and delicious tomatoes, 90% ripened completely on the vine. Seems like the biggest thing is just going out to check on them once or twice a day. Let them go for longer than that, and all kinds of ugly things seem to happen fast and furiously.

    Anyhow, that’s my two cents, but I’m going to stick with vine-ripe unless I have to pick them early as a last-ditch effort to save the last harvest from a frost. Glad to hear you’re having luck getting them to turn red off the vine, but make sure you leave a few on there, just in case- in the interest of scientific-esque inquiry, of course.

  • admin:

    Prometheus: That is an awesome comment… you’ve written an entire blog post. It’s well-presented and entertaining, and it has drawn me back to the question that “Mr Tomato” raised last year: How does the nutrition of “picked pink” tomatoes compare with that of “vine ripened” tomatoes.

    I couldn’t rip myself away from the answer when I found it last night… but it’s too big to leave in a comment, so I’m going to prepare a new blog post on this topic.

    Thanks so much for visiting and contributing to this conversation!

  • [...] Then I explained how I harvest, and I insisted that my “picked-pink” tomatoes are just as good as their vine-ripened counterparts… in fact, that picked-pink tomatoes are better because they don’t crack or develop “green shoulders.” Please read the original post here: The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie. [...]

  • Raygen:

    I just found your site today and cant stop reading! :) I am gardening this year for the first time and really have no clue what I am doing. Most of the very few tomatos that I have gotten have had cracks and I had no idea why. After fighting aphids for them (and winning!) they mostly healed themselves and I was able to eat them. I live in Eastern North Carolina right now and apparently we get lots of bad thunderstorms in the summer. I have let several tomatos ripen inside, mostly because my toddler thinks its funny to pick them and run. However, after reading this I will be picking all them pink and hopefully will have better luck! Thank you for this site and all of your information!

  • Raygen:

    Ah, *tomatoes. Its late and I am exhausted :)

  • admin:

    Raygen: Thank you for visiting. I hope you have better luck with your tomatoes–whether because the thunderstorms let up or because ripening tomatoes indoors works out acceptably for you.

    People are so passionate about this issue…

  • Shaniqua:

    The only way to settle this issue is a double-blind taste test:

    1. Vine ripened vs Ripened off the vine
    2. Examine whether two groups (group 1: “vine ripened tomatoes are more flavoursome”; and, group 2: laypeople who enjoy eating tomatoes but are not aware of this ripening controversy; proponents of off-the-vine ripening needn’t take part as their position is that there’s no detectable difference in taste.

    I’m a complete novice grower (only my second season). Ideally i would prefer to ripen on-the-plant, but necessity inevitably dictates that a large portion will have to be ripened off the vine, at least in my location. This preference is mainly for aesthetic reasons, i can’t say that i’ve noticed any difference in taste or texture between the two.

  • admin:

    Shaniqua: Thanks for weighing in. I’ve been musing about a double-blind taste-test, but it seems so unnecessary. If anyone wants to try ripening picked-pink tomatoes indoors, and they decide the approach is appropriate for them, that’s cool. If they decide the difference in flavor between picked-pink and vine-ripened is enough that they reject the picked-pink approach, that also is cool. If people decide they don’t care to try picked-pink tomatoes, I’m good with that as well.

    I recently tasted a vine-ripened tomato next to an equivalent table-ripened tomato and noticed a significant difference in flavor. This was a variety I’d not grown in past years, and it leads me to want to emphasize my earlier suggestion: Decide for yourself whether the flavor difference is important to you.

    Especially for tomatoes you use in cooking, pinking pink results in more consistent texture and quality. But please, world, harvest tomatoes whichever way makes you happiest. What works for me certainly isn’t right for everyone.

  • Fujiyama_mama:

    Hello all,
    I love the posts in this group! they are by far the most informative I’ve come across so far!! I was just wondering about frost…what happens if your almost pink tomatoes receive a little frost one night but there are a couple of warm days ahead…can you leave them on the vine?? You see someone told me I “CAN’T” grow tomatoes at all where I live ( the laurentian mountains Zone 3b) and after 3 yr’s of trial and error I have managed to get some beautifully shaped/sized Cherry,Roma & Manitoba Tomatoes however we had frost last night, & they have yet to give me any ripe fruit on the vine! Do I bring them in or what??

  • Fujiyama_mama:

    Note:
    Only a couple of the Cherry and Roma’s have pink….The rest are a greeny/yellow and still really firm!

  • admin:

    Fujiyama_mama: I harvest all the tomatoes I want to save before any frost touches them. Granted, mild frost won’t likely damage the tomatoes. However, light frost may seriously damage a tomato plant’s foliage and once that’s broken, the overall performance of the plant diminishes.

    It may be too late for these thoughts to be useful this year, but here are some things I’d consider:

    1. When the weather service predicts frost, cover the entire plant(s) with a plastic drop-cloth. Anticipating this in the spring, I’d set plants in clusters so I could cover four or eight mature plants easily with a single large drop-cloth. Uncover the plants when it warms up the next day. This could extend your growing season 2 to 4 weeks.

    2. If covering isn’t an option, you could try this crazy idea I’ve read on some blogs: When frost is on the way, pull the plants by their roots and hang them upside down indoors. This may give the more mature but still green tomatoes time to pink up before you remove them from the plants and set them on a counter or table to finish ripening.

    As for what to do now? If the plants still have viable leaves, I’d leave the green tomatoes on them in hopes that at least some tomatoes develop pink. However, I’d harvest everything I want to save (green and pink alike) if the weather service predicts more frost. Once the flesh freezes and thaws on any tomato things go downhill really quickly.

    I’ve tweeted with folks who grow kitchen gardens in cold climates and I encourage you to seek them out. There’s a lot of great information about growing stuff in zone 3 (and maybe even colder). Someone who deals with this every year will have more clever ideas for you than I about growing tomatoes in a short season. Honestly, by the time frost hits here, I’m all too happy to let the plants and the unripened fruits freeze and turn to mush. I hope you have a better experience than that! Best of luck.

  • [...] information about harvesting tomatoes to assure the best possible fruit at The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie blog. You might reduce the number of green tomatoes you have to deal with at the end of the season. [...]

  • [...] information about harvesting tomatoes to assure the best possible fruit at The Vine-Ripened Tomato Lie blog. You might reduce the number of green tomatoes you have to deal with at the end of the season. [...]

  • Michelle B:

    In French kitchen gardens, not letting tomatoes ripen on the vine is considered an anathema. Experimenting for me was risky, would my lovely next-door-neighbors, shunned me for ever, if they caught me picking pink instead of red?

    The only solution–as I am of the experimenting persuasion–was quickly pulling off a few blushing beauties when I thought no one was watching then running inside like a madwoman, shifty-eyed and gloriously demented in my intense desire to be free to experiment, all the while desperately trying not to cackle!

    For beefsteak tomatoes, there was no difference. Not only was the taste equally fantastic, the picked pink ones were spared from insects nibbling on them, so there was more for us. I haven’t tried the experiment for the other varieties that I grow but I will eventually.

    Being dogmatic is always suspect. Unfortunately, the horrid varieties that are sold at supermarkets feed this dogma for many equate their tasteless state to their not being ripened on the vine. But in the case of mass-marketed tomatoes, it is not that the nurture is problematic, but nature, that is, their genetics, is the culprit.

  • admin:

    Michelle B: Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Dogma is for folks who have stopped thinking for themselves. Gardening shouldn’t be an argument about the right way to grow stuff; it should be about having fun doing what you enjoy. I hope you find gardening methods that suit your style, and that you never have to apologize for them.

  • Dr. decaf:

    Hello,
    I just stumbled upon your tomato ripening page after googling “tomatoes cracking on the vine”. Nice that you take the time to add replies to the comments, makes for a fun blog and lively discussion! I just pulled a batch of not-there-yet romas and am looking forward to trying the windowsil ripen…

  • admin:

    Dr. decaf: You must be having some dry periods followed by rain if your romas are cracking. Of course, if you’re going to sauce them, cracks aren’t a huge problem. However, if you want to sauce them on your own schedule (rather than when they start to smell bad), it’s nice to get them off the plants before the skins crack. I hope you decide that picking pink deserves consideration for your gardening repertoire.

  • Michelle B:

    Two months ago I hung up 3 uprooted Romas plants upside down in the root cellar. I have been harvesting ripe tomatoes since then and the plants probably have another 5 pounds on them. It has been fantastic harvesting fresh tomatoes in December. There are probably about 100 pounds of apples in the cellar and perhaps that has aided the tomatoes in the ripening? Other than that, the cellar is moderately moist and cool.

  • I was wondering why my tomatoes always cracked and had green shoulders. I grew up always hearing “let them vine-ripen for the best flavor.” This year, I’ll be picking them pink to see if I can taste the difference. Thanks for the info!

  • Jennie:

    I have to say that after reading this post last summer, I picked the last of the goliath tomatoes before the frost (they were various stages of pink) and they never got tasty. The texture was very mushy and the flavor was bland, whereas off the vine they were amazing. Maybe some varieties are better suited for inside-ripening than others.

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Jennie: I’m on record somewhere with the following observation: When tomatoes come off the vines at the end of the season as the days have become cool and the nights cold, ripening off the vine will likely be unsatisfying. Tomatoes are best when they mature on hot summer days. Picked pink in August and September, they’ll ripen very nicely off the vines. Of course, there could be differences from one variety to another–I’ve tested only on about 8 varieties so far, though this season I hope to try four or five that are new to me. In any case, I agree: the ones you pick at the threat of frost may ripen, but they’re usually mushy and flavorless.

  • dawn:

    why are my tomatoes rottening on one side only while on the vine?

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Not quite enough information to be confident of my answer, but two thoughts come to mind:

    1. Are the tomatoes rotting on the “tips” opposite the stems? In other words: at the blossom ends? This is a common disease called blossom end rot. It happens when the tomato plant isn’t getting enough calcium from the soil. There are several contributing factors. There may not be enough calcium in the soil. You might have planted the tomatoes when the ground was chilly. Watering is irregular; perhaps you had a wet spring, but now it has gotten very dry. For this season, you might control the blossom end rot by watering regularly and mulching around your plants. Long-term, work calcium into your soil and make sure you let things warm up before setting tomato seedlings in the garden.

    2. If the tomatoes are changing color in patches–perhaps all on the side facing prevailing winds–you may have blight in your garden. If this were the case, you’d also see lesions on the leaves and stems of your plants. Once blight is there, your tomato plants don’t have long to live. Generally, by the time you see blight on one plant, it is already present on surrounding plant–just not yet visible. In a commercial tomato field, you’d pull the diseased plants along with a surrounding ring of healthy-looking plants, and bury them.

    If you’d post a photograph of your bad tomatoes, I might be able to tell you what’s wrong with them. Please feel free to send a photo to me at admin@smallkitchengarden.net

  • mark johnson:

    I totally agree that picking a tomato, before it’s fully ripe, can yield a tomato that is indistinguishable from one “vine ripened” — provided the tomato has matured (i.e. stopped growing, and started to change color). At this point, leaving the tomato on the vine gains nothing in terms of flavor (or nutrition); and it’s just asking for trouble.

    So, if it’s not because they are picked green, why is it that commercially-grown tomatoes have so little flavor?

    My guess is it’s because most commercial growers grow DETERMINATE tomato varieties; while we home-growers generally grow INDETERMINATE varieties.

    “Determinate” tomatoes flower and produce all their fruit in one shot, and then die. So growers can hire workers, rent trucks, etc., and harvest the entire crop at one time. That’s great for assembly-line farming methods.

    Indeterminate tomato varieties produce just a few tomatoes at a time, but they do it all season long. That’s not good for assembly-line commercial growers, who would need to keep workers and machinery on hand, all season long.

    As for “Dr Tomato”, well, even a COUGH-Tomato-Industry-COUGH-Shill is entitled to have an opinion. And spreading “manure” helps tomato plants grow!

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