By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
Growing up in the country, I had the best of both worlds.
Fresh produce and freshly cooked meals were the norm not the exception.
I was known to eat right out of the garden but today that habit is discouraged, as soil-born pathogens seem to appear out of nowhere.
Knowing what, when, and how to pick tomatoes is an important skill that some beginning gardeners do not have. While picking a tomato that is not ripe will not kill you, picking one that is soiled, bruised or diseased can cause problems.
I recommend that only fruit that is clean and blemish free should be picked. While this goes against my grain of thought since nature does not produce anything perfect, it is very important for those who may have a damaged or weak immune system.
Once the tomato has been picked, it should be eaten, canned, dried or preserved in some way as soon as possible. Prior to cutting or eating, the tomatoes should be washed in water that is 10 degrees F warmer then the fruit. After the fruit has been cut, either use it immediately or refrigerate at 41 degrees F or cooler. If you must leave tomatoes out, such as with a salsa, do not leave them out longer then four hours.
If the cut tomatoes remain in the refrigerator longer then seven days, then discard them in the compost bin.
The question remains what to do with the tomatoes that are not good enough for human consumption. The answer is simple. If they are simply dirty or bruised, they can be saved for seed. The remaining can go into compost bin or used as kitchen scraps to feed chickens.
Now we know what to pick, we need to know how to pick. Picking tomatoes is as simple as the twist of the wrist. When you spy that perfect tomato, simply grasp the stem and twist. If the tomato comes away from its cap, make sure to remove the cap from the plant.
Now that we have the what and how question answered, the next question is when. Tomatoes can safely be picked anytime during their growth cycle. The color really depends on their intended use and the season.
Answering the what, when, and how of tomato production is very important. In some situations, using a fresh tomato that is not properly processed can make a person sick or even worse be fatal. So until be blog again, do not forget to clean your knifes, your cutting board and your fruit in preparation for the tomato growing season.