The Trouble with Growing Paste Tomatoes: Determinate vs. Indeterminate Varieties

I love growing my own tomatoes. I don’t grow them for slicing, sandwiches or salads. I grow my tomatoes so that in autumn I can make and can my own pizza sauce. The trouble is, a lot of paste tomatoes are indeterminate instead of determinate.

What does that mean?

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes

In tomato sauce production, that is, the big commercial fields that grow the tomatoes for our ketchup, jars of marinara, and tomato paste, they grow determinate tomatoes. This means that the tomato produces all of its fruit at once. All of the fruit ripens at the same time, and all of the fruit can be harvested at once. This makes sense, right? If you’re going to harvest the fruit out of a field with a tomato harvesting machine, then you’ve got to do it all at once. A few weeks ago some folks on my team at work took some bloggers out to California to see this in person. Check out this post from DadLogic showing how tomatoes are harvested and turned into tomato paste. It’s fascinating.

What what about those indeterminate tomatoes that I’m growing in my yard? Indeterminate tomatoes are plants that produce their fruit gradually over the entire season. This makes perfect sense for home gardeners, because most home gardeners would be baffled by a sudden single harvest of pounds of tomatoes with no tomatoes after that. You’d want to harvest a few for your salad, then the next day harvest a few more, and so forth. It’s perfect for having tomatoes all season long.

In June, the garden really starts rocking. See what warm weather veggies are taking off and which cool weather vegetable need to be taken out.

Here’s the trouble…

I’m not growing tomatoes for sandwiches and salads. I’m growing tomatoes for canning, which means, I need to have a lot of tomatoes all at once. Even with 8 lbs of tomatoes last year, I only wound up with 4 jars of sauce. A tomato here and there just won’t cut it.

So why wouldn’t I just buy determinate tomatoes like the farmers do? Deer. Caterpillars. Raccoons. The wildlife in my neighborhood is attracted to my garden like it’s some kind of all summer buffet. The idea of having one crop all at once sounds great to me, but it also feels a lot like putting all my eggs in one basket if that makes sense. If the fawns wean right around the time the green tomatoes start appearing, the entire crop is lost, and it’s lost forever.

What works best for me is having indeterminate tomatoes so if the critters decide to come for a snack, there are still plenty of blossoms on the vines to produce lots more fruit to make up for what I lost.

countertop tomatoes

But what about that canning thing?

With the indeterminate tomatoes, I run into the problem of having a tomato here and a tomato there. So how do I get enough to make my pizza sauce? I need 10 lbs at the very least to make this whole thing worthwhile.

This was a struggle I ran into last year. The tomatoes were going bad before I could get enough to can. What could I do?

Then, mid-season last year, it hit me. I knew the solution to my problem.

I froze them.

 

I started washing them and freezing them in big gallon bags. I managed to save 8 lbs last year, and got my pizza sauce. It wasn’t enough to give any away (I guard my sauce jealously), but it was enough, if we used it carefully, to last my family through winter, spring, and summer.

This year, I started freezing tomatoes as soon as they ripened. I’ve got around 15 lbs of paste tomatoes packed into my freezer today, with a bunch more ripening on the counter, and more on the vines. (Full disclosure: My local grocery had a sale on roma tomatoes, so I went ahead and bought a few lbs and froze them, so some of those came from the store.)

Frozen Tomatoes

Won’t freezing ruin my tomatoes though?

In my experience, freezing sauce tomatoes actually helps. A frozen tomato will thaw out mushy and falling out of its peel. This is gross if you’re wanting a tomato for a sandwich, but for sauce? It’s kind of perfect! Saves me the time of having to fool with peeling them!

That first year, peeling and seeding tomatoes was a total nightmare. You have to boil them, dunk them in ice water and then get the skin off. It took forever, and I scalded all my fingers, which would’ve been great if I was living a life of crime because, Hey! No fingerprints! But since I’m not living a life of crime and I like my fingerprints and I also like my fingers to not hurt, it wasn’t so great at all. Also, I ended up losing a lot of the tomato that stuck to the peel and wasting what could otherwise have gone into my pot.

When you freeze a tomato, the peel slips right off after it thaws, so you don’t have to fool with boiling water, burned fingertips, and wasted fruit.

And here’s a bonus tip: My grandma, who’s been canning her whole life, tells me that you really don’t have to get all the peel. You can just toss the tomatoes in the blender peel and all. She tells me that when she makes salsa, the peel seems to help thicken the salsa and improve the texture!

So, if you’re growing tomatoes for sauce, and you’re having trouble getting enough to can, consider freezing them! It’s worked great for me, and I hope it works well for you, too.

Freezing Tomatoes pin

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