This year I’m starting a few different varieties of cherry tomatoes. Chadwick cherry, red currant, and some seeds I saved from last year. A yellow variety, a large red cherry and an orange teardrop-shaped cherry tomato.
It’s quite a wide variety, some of which I’ve never grown before. So this got me thinking, how am I going to know when to pick these cherry tomatoes? No doubt they will have different shapes, sizes, colors and rates of ripening. This could make it a bit tricky to pick them at the right time.
By the end of this article, we’ll all have a complete understanding of when to pick cherry tomatoes based on a few tell-tale signs. Now we can get down to it and find out exactly when to harvest these tasty little gems.
Let’s get pickin’!
When to Pick Cherry Tomatoes
Harvesting cherry tomatoes is a pretty straightforward task, but like any process in the garden, there are a few points to consider before plucking the shiny, red fruit from its stem. Take into account these factors when determining when to pick your cherry tomatoes.
Growing Days From Transplanting Outside
Seed packets and starter plants usually come with instructions indicating how long a tomato plant will take until it bears ripe fruit. The most common method of measurement is to track the days after transplanting outdoors, whether it be in the garden or a container.
Based on days after transplanting, cherry tomatoes usually take anywhere from 50-70 days to ripen. There are variables that can alter this timeframe like the weather, climate, location and variety, size and age of the transplant. But barring any extraordinary circumstances, expect to be picking your sweet cherries within a couple months.
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Tomatoes Pop off the Plant Easily
If your timing is right, picking fruit is less of a picking action than it is a popping, twisting or turning. Ripe cherry tomatoes especially because of their slight size, will basically fall right off the plant when touched. This is an obvious indication you should be picking them. You don’t want to be losing any fruit to the garden floor. So if they seem loose or are dropping off freely, it’s time to pick.
This is the number one, clear-cut way to tell if your cherry tomatoes are ready to pick. As soon as it changes from green to its varietal color, whether it be red, yellow, orange or purple, an individual tomato is ready to harvest. The entire fruit doesn’t have to be fully colored. As long as it starts turning, the tomato will continue to ripen off the vine.
I always like to pick a day or two after they start changing colors to stay ahead of the crop. By continually plucking off the fruit you’re making way for new blossoms and fruits. Constant picking can help increase your yield.
A friend once shared with me a packet of seeds called Dr. Frosty’s Green Cherry Tomatoes. Now how on earth are we supposed to know when to pick a green tomato? Just follow the principles above; count the days and check to see when the fruit comes off easily or begins to soften. Simple as that!
Another good reason to pick early and often is to prevent the fruit from cracking. The longer they stay on the plant, the greater the chance they overripen, crack and burst, leading to spoiled fruit.
Wildlife is not your friend in the garden; they will be more attracted to your tomatoes as they ripen. Picking early is a way to deter them from foraging and gleaning free snacks at the expense of all your hard work. Birds, squirrels and chipmunks, among other critters, have a knack for getting to the fruit just as it’s ripening. Be sure you beat them to it, otherwise, you might end up empty-handed.
I’m still unsure if the popular adage “Vine-ripened tomatoes” holds any weight. Do tomatoes taste better if left on the plant to ripen completely? I personally don’t think so. An old farmer I used to work for told me there’s no merit to the saying and he always had us pick tomatoes as early as possible. I tend to agree with him as I’ve never tasted much difference and there are other clear benefits to picking tomatoes as soon as you can.
Just have patience and let them turn a deep color if you choose to let them ripen off the plant. They’ll have the best texture and flavor at this point.
How to Pick Cherry Tomatoes
There is a little bit of technique involved when it comes to picking tomatoes, especially such small dainty varieties. First of all, don’t ever squeeze the fruit. Just hold it gently between your thumb and a couple fingers without applying any pressure.
If you observe closely, you should be able to see the joint where the stem of the fruit is attached to the bunch or larger stem. Carefully roll or turn the tomato in the opposite direction that it’s hanging from that joint and it should click right off. If it doesn’t pop off easily, then you might want to give it another day or two to ripen.
Never toss fruit! Place them gently into the bucket, basket, bag or turned-up t-shirt (how I often find myself harvesting) you’re using to prevent bruising. Beat-up fruits won’t taste as good and will spoil faster.
A lot of cherry varieties produce their fruits in clusters. You can pick one at a time as they ripen or wait until they all show some color and snip the entire bunch. The bunches look so neat when harvested together like that. And with more of the stem attached, they’ll ripen at a slower pace, giving you more time to process your bountiful harvest.
Top Cherry Pickin’ Tomato Tips
- Once your cherry tomatoes start ripening, check the plants on a daily basis. It’s unbelievable how fast they’ll ripen and it’s a shame to lose any of your bounty.
- To prevent cracking fruit, water your plants evenly throughout the season. An excessive amount of water is never good, but especially avoid heavy watering after periods of drought.
- For that reason, try to pick any ripe tomatoes if there is torrential rain in the forecast.
- When the first frost threatens, clean your plants of all tomatoes, even the green ones. They won’t be usable after getting hit by a frost.
- Green tomatoes are not appetizing, in my opinion, but some folks love them for certain recipes. They can be picked and used as desired. If some green tomatoes are inadvertently knocked off your plant, try putting them inside a paper bag in a warm place. It might just get them to ripen. This trick also works to speed up the process of already ripening tomatoes.
- Cherry tomatoes shouldn’t be harvested first thing in the morning. If they’re wet with dew, they’ll bruise easier and the sugar content increases over the course of the day. Wait until at least mid-morning or afternoon to pick.
- Try your best not to pick when your tomato plants are wet. The fruit will be more delicate and diseases spread easily when working in the garden while it’s wet. Tomato plants are especially susceptible to fungal diseases which spread in warm, moist conditions.
- Don’t leave your picked cherry tomatoes in direct sunlight. It will cause them to ripen unevenly and spoil quickly.
- Keep your picked cherry tomatoes stem side down on a paper towel or in an open container at room temperature. Only refrigerate them if they have reached peak ripeness and you’re not ready to use them.
- Freeze cherry tomatoes whole to preserve your season’s bounty.
Bringin’ it Home for the Harvest
Cherry tomatoes are a staple in the summer garden. None of my gardens have ever gone a season without sporting at least a few of these ruby-studded plants. The tiny scarlet fruits are attractive, delectable and perfectly snackable.
This season I look forward to having a handful of varieties of different sizes, shapes and colors. And by the time midsummer rolls around and we’re all asking “When should I pick my cherry tomatoes?” remember this article and put to practice the points listed above.