The best time to pick more beautiful tomatoes… they are actually blushing!

It’s the first week of September 2023 and I’ve already covered my tomatoes 3 nights because temperatures were going to be in the 40’s, yes under 50*F!

So far, the plants we covered look the same as the ones we didn’t cover. We couldn’t cover them all because we only have so many bed sheets and frost cloth.

Cool nights don’t kill the warm weather plants like a frost of 32*F, they stunt growth so while it may look fine, in reality the plants are going to slow down their growth more than the cool nights and shorter days are already doing to these plants.

To help the plants continue to grow and ripen the tomatoes we are picking our tomatoes at first blush, this is a Black Krim tomato.

When the tomatoes are starting to color up, they are at their full size, at least according to several agricultural universities, so we pick tomatoes at first blush and let them ripen on the kitchen counter. 

There are several benefits to picking the tomatoes early in my opinion.

  1. I want the plant to be able to support the ripening of the green tomatoes so as soon as a tomato gets a little coloring I pick it to reduce the stress of the parent plant. **All I can think about right now is how nice it is to have someone watch the kids for a few hours to get this kind of relief, still responsible for kids, but a lot less weighty – literally*
  2. The plant and tomatoes are less prone to damage from the weather with less weight on the vine
  3. Picking the tomatoes earlier gives less opportunities for pests to eat them before I can – red fruit like apples or tomatoes are VERY attractive to animals.
  4. Tomatoes are typically more firm and less blemished* earlier in their ripening journey. The firm unblemished tomatoes, once they are fully red on my counter, I can rinse them and put them right into freezer bags to use later on or use for sauce, salsa, and salads right away. *I asterisked this to note that some tomatoes grow into one another from the beginning, this doesn’t include those unique beauties.
  5. Tomatoes want consistent watering. So, no extra rain, no drought, exactly the same – but not too much or too little. If tomatoes experience too much variation in moisture, they are prone to cracking which invites more bugs and disease to the tomato so picking them earlier helps relieve some of that concern.
  6. Frost protection – the first year we lived at this house I was surprised by a frost on September 12th!!! I was finally going to harvest my massive basil plants and instead I woke up to them turning BLACK/sludgey dark brown. A blushing tomato sitting on my kitchen counter won’t experience frost because it won’t be in the garden.

So those are some reasons I think picking tomatoes at first blush is a great idea.

It’s been 3 days since I’ve been in the garden picking tomatoes. That means I have fully ripened red (or pink) tomatoes, I have blushing tomatoes, and I even have some tomatoes that dropped to the ground by now. I’ve been to the garden to check on other elements, but not with my harvest baskets (we are now up to several baskets to harvest now which blows my mind).

I’m telling you this because while this article is handy, thoughtful, and useful… life isn’t as simple as following advice found in a blog post. There are days it’s too stormy or the kids need you inside. There are days you’re fully engaged in projects or being present with the people in front of you.

There are worthy pursuits outside of the garden and I give you permission to have grace when you return to fallen tomatoes because your journey this season took you away from the garden. It’s okay if you can’t bring in the tomato harvest AND clean up all the tomatoes on the ground today. It’s the garden. She continues to grow as best she can despite the weeds, the water, the bugs, and the inattention.

^^^ That was a few words of encouragement for myself. I hope you are able to give some of the same words of support to yourself this week no matter what your garden looks like.

Thank you for reading about our blushing tomatoes.

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P.S. That last picture I harvested 5/6 tomatoes as this was just one of four big groupings on this plant. Lightening the load!

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