Each year, I dedicate around 200 square feet of my home garden to growing tomatoes. Approximately 150 square feet of that space is reserved for varieties that are particularly well-suited for making sauce. If you’ve grown a “standard” tomato, you can certainly grow sauce tomatoes, but there are a few quirks to be aware of.

Before we dive into the quirks, I want to emphasize that any tomato can be used to make sauce. However, certain characteristics make some tomatoes better than others for this purpose.

Characteristics of Good Sauce Tomatoes

  1. Varieties with a Meaty Texture and Few Seeds

When making sauce, it’s best to remove the seeds to achieve a smooth texture. This is often done using a food mill. The fewer seeds that need to be removed, the faster the process goes. A meaty tomato, which means more flesh and less juice, is also important.

  1. Varieties that are Easy to Peel

Peeling your tomatoes is crucial for texture. In my experience, larger varieties are easier to peel (or mill), but many sauce tomatoes are commonly less than 4 oz.

 

  1. Varieties with High Yields

I almost never have enough garden sauce. Varieties that don’t produce well in my garden get replaced until I find the highest-yielding tomatoes. Most sauce varieties should produce 10-15 lbs per plant. Some of my favorite sauce varieties include:

-Federle

-Celebrity

-Martino’s Roma

-Speckled Roman Roma

-Amish Paste

 

Growing Sauce Tomatoes

  1. Sauce Tomato Plants Get Huge

Most tomato varieties need to be trellised, and sauce tomatoes are no exception. In my garden, sauce tomatoes typically grow 5-6 feet tall. Without a trellis, the plants would creep or “vine” on the ground, causing the fruit to rot before it’s ripe. Set up your trellis at transplant time and continue to support branches throughout the growing season.  I give my sauce tomatoes at least 2 square feet each to allow them to reach their full size potential instead of cramming them together.  In my experience, I have gotten better yields from less plants that are spaced farther apart than I have with more plants spaced tightly together. 

  1. Sauce Tomatoes Generally Mature Later in the Season

It’s not uncommon for sauce tomatoes to take 80 days or more to reach maturity. One of my favorite sauce varieties, “Federle,” makes me nervous every year because the plants grow quickly but don’t start fruiting until late July or August. I have yet to miss a harvest from an 80-day variety (knock on wood), but I also plant a large number of Celebrity (70 days) and Martino’s Roma (70 days) to ensure I have tomatoes maturing in July and early August–just in case.

 

  1. Sauce Tomato Plants Often Look “Weak”

The growth habit of many sauce varieties of tomatoes is very viney.  It is not uncommon to think that these tomatoes are “ugly” or not healthy; however, they are perfectly fine and that is just how they grow.  

 

4. Sauce Tomatoes Need Cal-Mag!!

Sauce tomatoes grow very quickly and are prone to cracking and Blossom End Rot.  Begin watering in a liquid Cal-Mag product as soon as plants begin to flower and through the remainder of the growing season.  Read more about Cal-Mag and tomatoes here.

 

 

Don’t Forget to Grow the Additives

While the flavor of home-grown tomato sauce tomatoes is wonderful on its own, I love to grow common additives to make my sauce even more rich! Suggested additives to grow include:

  • Onion
  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Oregano

Harvest

I harvest my sauce tomatoes as soon as they “blush.” This is the stage where they have a bit of a pink tint to their flesh but are not perfectly red yet.  I do this to maximize my yield and allow some of those later maturing fruits to blush on the vine.  There is sufficient scientific evidence that says once a tomato has blushed it will not gain anything else from the plant so you are not missing out on more flavor or nutrition.  Once a tomato has blushed, it will continue to ripen to fully red on the counter inside–safe from pests & the elements! Let your tomato get fully red inside as ripe tomatoes are much easier to process into sauce than less ripe.  

If I do not have enough tomatoes to make a batch of sauce, which is common early in the season, I put the whole tomato in the freezer once it is fully red.  When I am ready to process a batch, I pull the tomatoes out of the freezer to fully thaw.  The skin of frozen tomatoes comes off easily.  If I had to freeze my tomatoes, I remove the skin by hand as they thaw instead of in the food mill.  

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