Ripe, red tomatoes are a staple in summer salads and sandwiches. Home garden tomatoes are often more colorful and flavorful, making the work of growing and harvesting them well worth the effort. Picking the fruit at its height of ripeness is preferred for the best flavor and appearance, but tomatoes can also be picked before they are fully mature if frost threatens at the end of the growing season. Pick the tomatoes properly to avoid damaging the fruit or the plant.
Pick tomatoes when they are fully red and feel firm when lightly squeezed. Hold the stem the tomato is growing on with one hand and twist the fruit off the stem with the other hand.
Pick green tomatoes that are nearly full size, or those beginning to turn red, and ripen indoors if frost is expected, because frost will ruin any fruit left on the plant. Pick as you would ripe tomatoes.
Rinse the green tomatoes in cool water, then pat dry. Place in paper bags or place a single layer of tomatoes in a cardboard box. Keep the box in a warm room away from direct light.
Check the tomatoes every day or two. Remove the fruit from the bag once it reaches full color and use immediately or store in the refrigerator.
Alternatively, pull up the entire tomato plant before the first killing frost. Hang the plant upside down by its roots in a garage, shed or other protected place, allowing the plant to wither and die. Pick the fruit from the plant as it ripens. Most of the fruit will ripen before the plant dies off completely.