Fruit or vegetable, now that is the question! Much confusion exists around tomato’s classification, but that doesn’t make homegrown tomatoes any less delicious. Believed to have originated in South America, the tomato plant has made its way up through Mexico to the US and Canada and even to Europe via Spanish conquistadors, where it has since become a beloved ingredient in all manner of cuisines. While the “fruit” part of the plant is clearly edible, the rest of the plant is, in fact, toxic and should be grown somewhere away from small children and furry friends who have a tendency to explore the world with their taste buds. The tomato plant comes in a plethora of varieties which vary in shape, color, size, and taste, so we recommend investigating all your options and selecting varieties that cater to your preferences prior to growing!
Italian Roma is an heirloom, determinate plum tomato that produces high yields of 3 to 4″ long, oval-shaped fruits that are best for cooking or in sauces due to their relatively low water content and the fact that you’ll have a bunch of them ready to pick all at once. Plants are resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt, making it a breeze to grow them. They will reach 4–8′ tall and appreciate some support to keep their heavy fruits off the ground.
Seed Depth: 1/8–1/4″
Space Between Plants: 24″
Space Between Rows: 3–4′
Germination Soil Temperature: 70–90°F
Days for Germination: 6–10
Sow Indoors: 6–8 weeks before average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After all danger of frost has passed and soil is at least 60°F. Only recommended if your growing season is long.
Vegetative: Can be easily propagated by taking root or stem cuttings or by layering. Cuttings will root in an aeroponic system or soilless media.
Grows best in warm weather. Be sure that you plant early in areas with short summers to allow time for ripening before the first frost. If your summer is extremely hot (regularly over 90°F), some light shading will help tomatoes stay happy. Not frost tolerant.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Grows best under HID lamps due to their need for tons of light. Use metal halide for the vegetative growth and switch to high pressure sodium when you want the fruit to start forming.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained loamy or sandy soil with a high amount of organic matter. A pH between 6.0 and 6.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Start seeds and root cuttings using a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems, including NFT, slab, and media-based systems. Use perlite or mineral wool as the growing medium.
Aeroponics: Cuttings will root in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Once established, they are fairly drought tolerant. Even soil moisture is necessary to prevent cracking fruits and blossom end rot. Avoid getting water on the leaves.
Nutrients: Requires high levels of nutrients. Amend soil with compost and aged manure before planting. Fertilize 3–5 times during the growing season using a balanced liquid fertilizer, compost tea, and/or liquid seaweed.
Mulching: Use mulch to conserve soil moisture. Black landscaping fabric can be helpful in warming the soil more quickly and allowing for earlier planting in addition to suppressing weed populations.
Support: Though not necessary for this determinate type, a tomato cage can help to keep tomatoes off the ground and make it easier to harvest your plants.
Disease(s): This variety is resistant to Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt.
Deficiency(s): A calcium deficiency can lead to blossom end rot. To remedy, try adding a small amount of crushed eggshells to the soil around the base of your plant.
Rotation: A 3-year rotation away from all plants in the Solanaceae family is recommended. Plant after a cover crop or nitrogen-fixing legume like peas or beans. If nematodes are a problem, plant after tilling marigolds into the soil.
Companions: Grows well with basil, asparagus, beans, bee balm, borage, carrots, celery, chives, cucumber, garlic, lettuce, marigolds, mint, nasturtium, onion, parsley, pea, pepper, and sow thistle. Avoid dill, corn, kohlrabi, potatoes, apricot, fennel, cabbage, and cauliflower. Don’t plant tomatoes under walnut trees.
Harvest: Pick fruit at the peak of ripeness when there is no green or orange color left for the best taste. Check plants daily or every other day to make sure you don’t miss any ripe tomatoes. They don’t need sunlight to ripen, so be sure to reach all the fruits in the middle of the plant. Wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting to protect your skin from potential irritation that some people experience after contact with tomato leaves. With Italian Roma, all of the fruit will ripen at around the same time, beginning about 80 days after planting.
Storage: Keep fresh tomatoes at room temperature for 2–3 days for the best taste. Handle gently and store ‘upside down’ with the stems carefully removed. If you can’t eat your entire harvest, we recommend preserving tomatoes rather than refrigerating them, since this alters the texture of the fruit.
Fun Fact: Each American eats an average of 80 pounds of tomatoes per year!
Seed Saving: To save heirloom tomato seeds, select tomatoes at their peak ripeness (not too soft and not too firm) that display characteristics you value (e.g., size, shape, color, heartiness and/or taste). Cut your tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds and jelly-like liquid inside, and place in a jar. Add about ½ a cup of water and put jar in a dark location for 3—4 days until the seed coatings separate from the seeds. As this happens, viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the jar. If a mold forms on top of your jar, don’t be alarmed! This is a natural part of the process and will not negatively impact your seeds. Pour off the top layer of the mixture (the mold, seed coatings, etc.) and place the seeds that are left in a strainer and rinse. Lay out seeds on a cookie sheet or coffee filters to dry, and then store in an airtight jar until ready for use!
Preserve: Tomatoes are easy and fun to can as sauce, cubes, or peeled and whole. Green tomatoes can be made into a chutney or salsa and canned or pickled.
Prepare: Can be used to make sauces, salsas, ketchup, and soup, or used raw in salads or on sandwiches. Green tomatoes are delicious sliced, breaded, and fried.
Nutritional: Provides high levels of vitamin(s) A and C. Also a good source of B vitamins, potassium, and calcium.
Medicinal: Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant compound that is currently being investigated for its cancer fighting and cholesterol lowering abilities. Lycopene may also help your skin protect itself from UV damage. Regular consumption may also help protect against heart disease.
Warnings: Tomato leaves can be a skin irritant for some, so wear long sleeves and gloves when harvesting.
Kick those canned soups out of your cabinet and make this Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup with your Italian Roma tomatoes instead.