Tomato Ripeness

Ripe Tomatoes

Q. How can I tell when the tomatoes in my garden are ripe?

A. Determining when tomatoes are ripe can be tricky, especially when we are anxiously waiting to sample the first tomatoes of the season. As a practical matter, the best guides to tomato ripeness, particularly for the heirloom varieties and those hybrids bred for the home gardener, are color and touch.

First, know the ripe color of the specific tomato variety. This is especially important with non-red tomatoes and some heirloom varieties. The former may not always match the name color (for example, a “yellow” may actually be more “gold” when ripe), while the latter may have green shoulders when fully ripe. Most modern reference books and many seed catalogs have excellent color photographs that can help.

Second, use your thumb and forefinger. Except for some hybrids bred to withstand long distance transport, ripe tomatoes will yield moderately to a gentle squeeze. Even if the color is right, it isn’t ripe unless it yields. But don’t wait too long! The time between ripe and overripe is fleeting, especially on the vine in the hot summer sun.

Please email plantinfo@chicagobotanic.org for more information.