Fine Gardening Project Guides

Fruits and Vegetables

Guide Home

How to Harvest Tomatoes

Learn when tomatoes are ripe and ready for picking

Welcome to Homegrown/Homemade, a video series from We’ll be following a gardener (Fine Gardening executive editor Danielle Sherry) and a cook (Sarah Breckenridge) as they plant, maintain, harvest, store, and prepare garden vegetables. If you’re new to vegetable gardening, you’ll find these videos very helpful. In this video, the topic is tomatoes.

Episode 4: How to Harvest Tomatoes

It isn’t hard to harvest tomatoes, but the tricky part is determining when they are at peak ripeness. Danielle shows Sarah three things to check for: color, smell, and “squishability.” Red, yellow, and orange tomatoes should be bright red, yellow, and orange, respectively; pink-fruited varieties should be a dusty rose color. Green varieties such as Green Zebra should be mostly green, with just a little yellow. Black tomatoes such as Black Krim should have a dusky purple color. Next, check aroma. The tomato should smell like a ripe tomato. As for squishability, pressing a ripe fruit with your finger should make an indentation that springs back. If the fruit is hard, let it ripen a while longer. If the indentation stays, the fruit is overripe.

As fruit ripens, the bottom leaves of the plants may turn yellow and brown. That’s normal; no need to worry.

Episode 1: How to Plant Tomatoes

Here, Danielle show Sarah a couple of tips for setting tomato seedlings in the ground. For the strongest plants, clip off the lower leaves first, then plant the stems deep in the soil. That allows roots to form along the underground portion of the stems, increasing the nutrient flow to the plant and anchoring it more firmly. Once the raised bed is planted, Sarah and Danielle set up stakes and netting trellises. It’s best to do this before the plants, and their root systems, start to grow.

Episode 2: How to Prune Tomato Plants

The weather has been warm, and the tomato patch has turned into a jungle, so much so that the bed is getting crowded. Pruning will make it manageable again, and also allow sun to reach the ripening fruit. The first order of business is trimming back any low-lying branches that touch the ground. followed by pinching out small suckers that appear below the first flower cluster. (A sucker is a shoot that angles out between the stem and the horizontal branches.) Larger suckers can be controlled by Missouri pruning, which involves snipping off the top of the sucker. Missouri pruning must be repeated from time to time.

As you prune, keep an eye out for dead, damaged and diseased leaves. These should be removed as well.

Mostly, it’s the indeterminate tomato plants that require pruning. Determinate plants need little pruning.

Episode 3: How to Train Tomato Plants

This year, the weather has been hot and dry, and Sarah’s tomato patch is a jumble of thriving plants. A combination of selective pruning and tying will restore order to the patch. Panty hose makes good tie material because it stretches. A figure-eight loop wrapped loosely around the stake and tied in a knot can be used to support stems as well as branches with fruit. (You can use strips of other fabric as well.) If you see brown spots forming on the fruit, they might be blossom end rot, a sign of inconsistent watering.

Episode 5: How to Preserve Tomatoes: Fresh Tomato Purée

Traditionally, canning tomato sauce is a lengthy affair, but you can speed matters considerably by making and canning a fresh tomato puree, which later on can be transformed into sauce, soup, or even ketchup. Wash, core, and chop 8 pounds of paste tomatoes cook them over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Next, puree them using a tomato press or a food mill; this removes the seed and the skins. Now boil some water and get your canning equipment ready. You’ll need 4 clean pint Mason jars and lids. Put the lids into the boiling water to soften the rubber flanges. Meanwhile, take the tomato purée and bring to a boil.

When all is ready put 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid into the bottom of each jar to prevent botulism and fill with purée, leaving 1 inch of head space. Stir with a rod to remove any air bubbles, wipe the rims, apply the flat lids and then the top bands that hold the lids in place. As the liquid cools, the lids will form a seal. Then put the jars into a rack, and process in boiling water for 40 minutes. Let them cool in the pot for 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack or towel and let cool for at least 8 hours. Properly sealed jars of tomato purée will keep up to a year in the pantry.


Previous: 8 Tomato Myths Debunked Next: A Quick Canning Method for Preserving Tomatoes
View Comments


  1. user-7007125 08/18/2014

    I start pruning in mid July. Having a healthy harvest this year! Great site

  2. mikefraser 10/07/2021

    I recently read your article on "How to Harvest Tomatoes". I really enjoyed the information and learned a lot of things that I never knew about tomatoes. Thank you for posting such an awesome article! tree removal

  3. tijundonghua60 04/19/2022

    The life of the sisters on the farm was comfortable. I can see that life here is very fresh, quiet and very comfortable drift f1

  4. alexreynolds 06/08/2023

    You were doing really well. Such a great article with interesting ideas quordle

  5. XhinGona 08/10/2023

    Thanks for the info on how to plant and take care of tomatoes. I recently created my small garden in my backyard and this guide helped me a lot. loldle.

  6. fakazason 08/10/2023

    Great, this is considered a vibrant well explined procedure on harvesting tomatoes, i have begin implementing this process and it is the most qualified procedure to ever work with right on the my farm today today. Fakaza

Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and Vegetables

Growing your own food is easy with the help of this comprehensive step-by-step guide

View Project Guide

View All Project Guides »

Become a member and get unlimited site access, including the Fruits and Vegetables Project Guide.

Start Free Trial

Cool-Season Crops
Warm-Season Crops