Wednesday, July 25, 2012

At First Blush

To vine ripen or pick at first blush? Seems there is a lot of contention in the tomato growing world about when exactly to pick your tomatoes.  There are some growers who swear they can taste the difference between a vine ripened tomato and one picked at first blush and left to finish ripening off the vine (note: this is different than picking a green tomato and using ethylene to turn it red, which what they do to most of the tomatoes you get in grocery stores during the off season).  The scientific studies I have seen, however, say there is no difference in taste between the two.  Studies claim that as long as the tomato blushes before you pick it and you let it ripen naturally, it tastes the same as one that ripens on the vine.

Today's tomato harvest

I am one of those folks who pick at first blush.  I have not always been that way.  I used to let mine ripen on the vine.  Recently, however, I have encountered 3 very good reasons to pick at first blush.

Reason 1: Squirrels.  A few years ago the squirrels discovered my garden.  They love raiding it and taking a bite or two out of my juicy ripe tomatoes.  Seems the have a preference for the biggest beefsteaks! They usually leave the green ones alone and go for a ripe one.  If I want more tomatoes that have not been pre-sampled by rodents I have to pick them at first blush.  If not, then a lot of them end up looking like the one below!

Squirrel eaten tomato

Reason 2: Rain.  I grow a lot of heirlooms and we have been getting a fair amount of rain this year.  Those two factors can equal cracked tomatoes.  I just hate waiting for a gorgeous tomato to ripen and going out finding it has a huge crack in it that shortens its shelf life.  Picking when they blush reduces the chances that this happens.  Happily, I have no photos of split tomatoes because I have been picking them early enough.

Reason 3: Leaf foot bugs.  For the first time we have leaf footed (aka stink bugs) in the garden.  One of their favorite foods is tomato.  After they suck the juices out of a tomato it will form hard ugly white spots.  Like us, they prefer ripe tomatoes. Picking at first blush has reduced the number of disfigured tomatoes that I have been picking.

Leaf footed bugs having sexy time.

So, there you have it.  The reasons I pick at first blush!  When do you pick?


  1. Very interesting. I've been picking my tomatoes when they are ripe. I just assumed they taste better vine-ripened.

    I think I may try picking a few at first blush, let them ripen on the counter, and then do a taste comparison!! If there is truly no discernible difference, I think I will start picking at first blush too! Thanks for this post. :)

    1. Let me know the results of your taste test. There are some very dedicated tomato growers who swear there is a difference!

  2. I pick at first blush to try to beat the stink bugs (buggers!) and the squirrels (also buggers!). I would rather leave them on the vine until they are really ripe, because I hate waiting and feel the wait more when they are inside, but I have to beat those pests. Glad to know it doesn't affect taste.

    1. I'm with you. I would rather wait but fear I would get 1/2 the harvest I get picking at first blush.

  3. Hmm, the squirrels here (we have LOTS) haven't discovered a taste for tomatoes yet. And the stink bugs are coming but not yet. But I will keep this in mind since it's probably only a matter of time! I do often pick tomatoes a bit earlier than fully ripe to beat out the disease that the vines always get.

  4. I sometimes pick my tomatoes at first blush (this is not a term I had come across until now), and my reasons are: #1 blight (I may have to pick some soon, because blight is attacking my garden right now); #2 weather - some of my tomatoes take a long time to ripen in our mild (aka cold) climate, so it often comes to October and I still have fruits on the vines. I generally bring them in and ripen them indoors in the warmth. I have found little difference in taste between vine-ripened tomatoes and those ripened indoors , even if they are picked green. I do get visited by squirrels very frequently, but they evidently haven't developed a taste for tomatoes. They prefer the nuts I put out for the birds.

  5. Well that explains it! (I feel honored that my question inspired an entire post :) ).

    We sometimes have the problems you experience but I guess we don't feel they cut into our harvest amounts enough to matter. Storing green tomatoes in a warm place to ripen would pose a bigger challenge for us!

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