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Growing Flavorful Roma Tomatoes for Cooking and Home Canning

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Roma tomatoes are a meatier, less seedy variety of tomato, perfect for cooking up into thick, rich sauces or for dehydrating. I also use them in my salsa recipe for canning.

tomatoes in a wooden basket

Get cooking with Roma tomatoes!

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As you gear up for gardening season, it’s time to consider which fruits and vegetables you’d like to incorporate into your garden. Whether it’s your first time attempting a backyard garden or you consider yourself gifted with a green thumb, tomatoes are an easy, delicious choice to include in the lineup.

Specifically, be sure to grow Roma tomatoes! If you’re ready to dive in and learn more about how to successfully grow these tasty cooking tomatoes, here’s a brief guide to help you get started:

Introduction to Roma Tomatoes

Calling all paste tomatoes by the Roma name is kind of like calling all facial tissue Kleenex. The Roma tomato variety has become the face of paste tomatoes and we often call all paste tomatoes by that name. Technically, these tomatoes are a specific variety of paste tomato. The San Marzano tomato is another paste tomato that gets high marks for flavor.

They are both heirloom tomatoes, which means you can save the seeds from year to year. (Here’s how to save tomato seeds.) Paste tomatoes — whether Romas, the San Marzano tomato, or any of the other paste tomato varieties — share some traits.

  • They are meatier than slicing tomatoes, making them a favorite for cooking down into thick, rich pasta sauces.
  • These small, elongated tomatoes are firm to the touch and contain fewer seeds and less moisture than many other variants.
  • These meaty tomatoes typically grow about three feet tall and can be cultivated outdoors in a garden bed or planted in a container. They’re a great option for gardeners who are short on space.
  • They are determinate, so they’ll all ripen within a narrow window of time – not throughout the season.
tray full of halved roma tomatoes

Growing Roma tomatoes

A Roma tomato plant doesn’t need a lot to thrive. In fact, I’ve found them to be some of the easiest, hardiest tomatoes to grow. They tend to be a sturdy plant, producing flavorful nuggets of tomato goodness in the heat of the summer.

Water, soil, and sun exposure

All tomatoes love sunlight and, in optimal conditions, should receive eight hours of full sun exposure each day. This is true for growing Roma tomato plants as well.

Take care to give your Roma tomatoes sufficient water on a regular schedule. Don’t oversaturate the soil, especially if you’re attempting to grow your Roma tomato plant in a pot.

Romas thrive in rich, nutrient-dense earth, but they perform best in light, loamy soil. Take care to ensure the soil can drain properly and won’t trap too much moisture. If you’re a soil tester, make sure the pH levels are between 6.2 to 6.8 before planting your seeds to ensure optimal growth. I admit, though, I’ve had great luck growing Roma tomatoes and have never tested my soil.

Fertilize your Roma tomatoes every couple of weeks.

Using natural fertilizers like fish emulsion or seaweed-based fertilizers will give your growing Roma tomatoes a boost. And be sure to consider starting a compost pile if you don’t already have one – this rich organic matter is perfect for fueling your roma tomatoes’ growth.

How much space do Roma tomatoes need?

Roma tomatoes don’t need too much space to grow, but you should give them a little breathing room. Leave a foot or two of space between each tomato plant for prime growing conditions. Here’s how to figure out how many tomato plants you’ll need for your family.

Temperature

Roma tomatoes grow best in temperatures that range between 55 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit; don’t them too early in the season. Take it from me: You might think you’re getting a jump on the growing season, but plant them too early and you’ll come to know the phrase “failure to thrive.” Wait until you’re well beyond the final frost of the year before planting tomatoes of any variety to avoid issues.

two tomatoes growing on a green plant

Growth habits

As soon as your tomato plants are tall enough, begin to stake them off the ground. You can use traditional tomato stakes or tomato cages to accomplish this pretty easily.

Roma tomatoes are determinate, which means they stay fairly compact. There’s no need to prune them. Feel free to remove any leaves or stems that look scraggly or malnourished, but don’t trim back too much of your tomato plant. Otherwise, you’ll be losing out on some of your harvest.

tomatoes from above, and in wooden baskets

Pests and other problems

Roma tomatoes are resistant to many of the diseases and pests that plague gardens, making them a great choice for a beginning gardener or one planting in an area prone to pests. Most varieties are resistant to fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt, two common problems that plague garden plants. However, they are still susceptible to a couple of common garden pests you’ll need to watch for.

hornworm pest on a plant

One of the biggest threats to tomatoes are tomato hornworms. These bright green caterpillars enjoy nothing more than chomping on tomato leaves, leaving your plants ragged and sad. Handpicking them is the best way to remove them from your garden naturally. You can deter hornworms by adding a companion plant nearby. Dill, basil, and some wildflowers repel these worms. [More on companion planting here.]

Other problems Roma tomatoes face as they grow come from poor growing conditions.

Blossom end rot emerges as a big black spot at the bottom of ripening fruit. This is the result of too little calcium, likely caused by a deficiency in the soil. To correct this, incorporate extra eggshells into your compost pile. The added calcium can help correct this blight.

When to pick Roma tomatoes

Since these tomatoes are determinate, instead of ripening at various times throughout the season, all of your tomatoes will ripen at roughly the same time. They’ll be ready to harvest around three months after they’re first planted.

Watch your tomatoes closely as they grow and give them special attention as they ripen, ensuring they receive enough water to thrive.

You’ll want to pick the tomatoes in part based on what you plan to do with them. If you’re going to incorporate your tomatoes into a fresh salsa or salad, or you’re going to stew them down into a rich pasta sauce, you’ll want to pick them when they’re table ripe – bright red, firm to the touch, and no longer increasing in size on the vine.

If your plan is to can your tomatoes for future use, let them ripen a little longer. Pick them when they’re a little darker red and slightly softer to the touch for optimal canning.

Go here to learn how to save seeds from your tomatoes.

Garden fresh salsa recipe in a yellow bowl with round yellow tortilla chips

 

What to do with Roma tomatoes

Because they naturally contain less liquid than slicing tomatoes, they are a perfect choice for drying. Sun-dried tomatoes are usually made from Romas. These tomatoes are also sweeter and more acidic than many other tomato variants. This makes them a very popular choice for slow-cooking or simmering down into flavorful sauces for pizza or this Italian meat sauce.

The properties of Roma tomatoes also make them a prime choice for canning and preserving. Give this tomato chutney a try. They also hold up well in fresh salsas. As you can see, there is no shortage of reasons to include a few of these tomato plants in your garden!

What’s YOUR favorite way to use Roma tomatoes??

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

8 comments… add one
  • Melissa Willis Apr 2, 2018, 11:46 am

    Gotta love a basic Roma! I can’t wait for tomato season! Thanks for the tips, Kris! Hope you have a wonderful week!

    • Kris Bordessa May 19, 2018, 7:37 am

      Romas are just such a solid addition to a garden. Miss you, friend!

  • Melissa Redden Apr 21, 2018, 10:33 am

    I’ve got Roma and cherry tomatoes… only about 3-4″ tall…. can hardly wait for them to start producing!

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 30, 2018, 4:21 pm

      Mm. Salsa in your future!

  • Timothy DuParc May 9, 2019, 7:20 am

    Kris,

    Good afternoon (Texas Hill Country). Starting a wonderful chapter of life w/ my wife & our first baby (boy) on the way. Self-reliance & simplicity is the name of the game for us. Utilized Texas A&M Agrilife Extension to build my own raised beds https://youtu.be/qIA-wuB4lFs with Romas growing beautifully. Thank you for sharing your experience & ideas. Looking forward, as a huge NATGEO fan, to your new book.

    v/r

    Timothy

    • Kris Bordessa May 11, 2019, 12:24 pm

      Aloha Timothy! Glad to hear your Romas are thriving!

  • Lee Apr 18, 2020, 5:42 am

    What would cause a very small to turn red when its not as big as even a golf ball?

    • Kris Bordessa Apr 18, 2020, 1:14 pm

      Sometimes they just ripen while very small, so it could be as simple as that. Sometimes, though, bug damage causes fruit to turn color before it’s ready. Check for damage, but if none is visible, enjoy it!

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