Roma tomatoes are a classic variety of tomatoes. These fruits are egg-shaped, bright red, and delicious. They are favored for sauce-making and home canning, as they have abundant flesh with few seeds and liquid. Roma tomatoes are available in both bush-type (determinate) and vining (indeterminate) varieties. Growing ‘determinate’ Roma tomatoes is advantageous in gardens where space is limited, making them ideal for container gardening. In addition to being more compact, bush-type Roma tomatoes set all their fruit in a shorter timeframe, making them ideal for home sauce making and canning.
Growing tomatoes from seed provides a home gardener a great opportunity to explore the many varieties available, and offers many lessons in patience, care and developing new skills. Tomato seeds must be started in a well-lit, well ventilated area 8 weeks before the middle of May. Seedlings are also available in late spring at many garden centers and local nurseries. When you are choosing your tomatoes, be mindful of the type and that you are selecting a determinate, bush-type tomato.
Picking Your Spot
Select a sunny spot in your garden, as tomatoes need more than 6 hours of direct sun per day. The more sun they get, the happier they will be. Keep an eye on proximity to buildings, trees, and shady spots. In general, the best location is fully exposed to the southern side, allowing sun on the plants all day. Being on the northern side of a structure can light-limited. It’s also important to make sure your site has water access, as carrying water to-and-fro can be a challenge.
Tomato seedlings should be planted DEEP – burying the lower half of the plant – and WIDE – giving each plant to 3 to 4 feet of space on every side. Enrich your soil with organic compost and fertilizer and water your seedlings generously at time of planting. If you’re planting tomatoes in a pot on your porch, it’s important that you get some fertile potting soil. Fabric pots are a great alternative to plastic, as they increase airflow to the roots and can help you achieve a successful tomato harvest.
To reach their full potential, tomatoes require some extra support. A TRELLIS is a kind of structure or network that stands together with young life and helps them to grow up and be fruitful. Cages or stakes are good options, either store bought or home crafted, and should go in the ground at the time of planting (doing it later – when it’s needed – can damage the root system).
Care Through the Summer
Bush-type Roma tomatoes don’t need pruning, but they do need to be watered and fed regularly.
WATERING: Provide 1-2 inches of water each week, always at the base of the plant – overhead watering greatly increases the chances of your plants getting diseases. Tomatoes like to dry out a little bit between watering, so throughout the summer you can plan to water every 3 days or so, depending on weather conditions. It is best to water thoroughly, less frequently, than to water a little bit every day.
FEEDING: All fruiting plants – like tomatoes – are regarded as “heavy feeders”; to produce a lot of fruit requires a lot of nutrition in the soil. It can be hugely beneficial to fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks throughout the summer. At the time of planting, use an organic fertilizer with high nitrogen content – this will promote lots of leafy growth. When the plant begins to flower, switch to an organic fertilizer high in phosphorous and potassium – this will promote an abundance of fruit. A tomato plant in a pot may need water more often than a plant in the ground. If you’re planting tomatoes in a pot on your porch, it’s important that you get some fertile potting soil. In general, the larger the pot you select, the happier your tomato plant will be. Fabric pots are a great alternative to plastic pots as it will increase airflow to the roots and can help you achieve a successful tomato harvest.
Time to Harvest!
In late summer Roma tomatoes begin to set their fruit heavily and the plants will start to die back with energy going to the tomatoes. Harvest full-sized tomatoes by twisting away from the plant. Orange or even green tomatoes will ripen if they are placed in a paper bag on your kitchen counter!
Common Pest Problems
Throughout the season, tomatoes can be bothered by a few common pests. Squirrels, groundhogs and birds can go after ripe tomatoes and take bites out of them. You can create a natural repellant spray of cayenne pepper and garlic mixed in water and apply this to the fruits frequently. You can also harvest tomatoes slightly early and let them ripen in the safety of your home. Tomato hornworms are voracious caterpillars that will eat the fruit and foliage of your tomato plants. If you see an abundance of missing leaves on your plants, search thoroughly for these large, green pests and remove by hand. Encouraging beneficial insects in your garden can have a preventative effect on hornworms. You can do this by planting native, pollinator friendly plants nearby.