Watching your tomatoes ripen to a quintessential shade of red can be excruciating. It never fails that you’ve just about reached perfection, and then a critter or an insect takes a big bite out of the fruit, ruining your chances at that summer caprese salad you’ve been craving.

To prevent your perfect produce from become waste, it’s OK to harvest your tomatoes before they’re completely ripened. Tomatoes ripen from the bottom up, so pick the them when they are the right size but there’s a little green on the shoulders. Then you can take them inside—safe from pecking birds, insects and squirrels—to ripen the rest of the way.

When you harvest, do it in a way that doesn’t stress the plant or ruin the tomato. Tugging on the vine could cause damage on either end that will mean fewer tomatoes for you in the long run. Instead harvest using these tips:

  1. Twist the tomato off the vine.
  2. If twisting doesn’t work, use a pair of shears or pruners for a clean cut.
  3. Snip the stem at the junction where the tomato connects to the plant.

These same harvesting techniques can work on your peppers, as well, and as you can tell, it’s super simple. So don’t let pests get the best of you and your tomato crop this year—harvest a little early and save yourself the heartbreak.

Hobby Farms publishes the info you need to know to run a small-scale, sustainable farm.

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