Getting Tomatoes to You: Ripe is Right.
After eight weeks of tender loving care, the first clusters of tomatoes are ready to be picked. At this point the plant is about 16 feet tall. The highest fruit hangs off the plants at about waist high, and the most developed tomatoes are at the top of the cluster. No matter what type of tomato you are growing, if you look at a cluster of them, the first tomato (king fruit) is the first one to ripen. The tomato farthest down the vine ripens last.
First thing in the morning, we set out carts at the end of the rows that are scheduled to be picked. The carts sit on the heating rails of the greenhouse and are easily rolled up and down the row. There are 50 cartons on each cart that are stacked in columns of 10. Once filled, each carton will be weighed and quality checked in the pack house to ensure we are shipping the proper amount of top-quality tomatoes to our retailers.
The pickers arrive at 6:00 a.m. and find the carts waiting for them at the end of the rows that need to be picked. They go to their workstation, where they get their backpack, cutting gloves and snips. The backpack is filled with a disinfectant that runs through a tube into the end of their snips. Each time the picker clips off a cluster of tomatoes, the disinfectant is automatically sprayed on the plant in order to stop any type of infection and minimize any cross contamination.
The pickers start at the end of a row and pick on one side for 130 yards. When they get to the end of that side, they go to the other side of the row and repeat the process until they work their way back to where they started. Once one row is complete, they move on to the next.
The pickers hold the tomato cluster with one hand and use their snips to remove the cluster as close to the plant as possible.
With our single tomatoes (Beefsteaks and Somerset Pinks) we continuously pick the ripest tomatoes off the plant. This process moves a lot faster than the process of clipping clusters. It’s worth repeating that picking tomatoes is a lot of hard work and requires a trained eye, quick hands and a lot of physical energy. Some days we can get all the picking done in eight hours. Some days our pickers need to work overtime, and we hire extra people to get the tomatoes off the vine before they get TOO ripe.
We can control a lot of things in the greenhouse; we do our best to predict when the tomatoes are ready and how many we’re going to get, but as our head grower likes to say: “The plants are the boss.”
Once the fruit is picked and placed in the box, packers check for quality and correct weight. The fruit is then stickered, stacked and put on a pallet, ready to head out to grocers near you…typically, the same day.
Our tomatoes travel at a comfortable 55° F, so they reach the store full of freshness and flavor. Because we’re a local grower, our tomatoes never travel very far from our greenhouse, which means incredibly fresh, better-looking, better-tasting tomatoes all year long.