While the results from 2013 are still fresh in my mind, I thought I would do a roundup of the paste tomatoes I grew here this year. This wasn’t a scientific experiment, but I grew about a dozen different varieties this year and will share my observations on how each did.
I’ll start with the determinate types. I grew these supported by folding tomato cages I got from Gardener’s Supply. These cages are 32 inches tall and about 14 inches square when installed in the ground, and have 8 inch openings to retrieve the tomatoes. They are a bit pricy, but are really good for the short-vine tomatoes and should last many years.
I planted these tomatoes in mid-May about 18 inches apart, one plant per cage. I amended the soil first with compost, and gave each plant some Espoma Tomato-Tone mixed in the planting hole. I mulched using newspaper that I covered with straw. Five weeks later, they had grown to the top of the cages and were beginning to set fruit.
I grew three of my tried and true paste tomato varieties in these cages: Viva Italia, Health Kick and Rio Grande. All three are hybrid varieties with good disease resistance and dependable yields, and they began ripening about 10 weeks after setting out the plants. I’ve grown Viva Italia for many years, and it never fails to produce for me. The tomatoes are about three to four ounces in size, with a classic Roma shape.
Similar in size, shape and color is Health Kick. I’ve been growing it ever since it was introduced back in 1999. It was bred to have 50% more lycopene than other taste tomatoes. While I certainly can’t verify that claim, I can tell you that it has been a reliable performer for me every year I have grown it. The tomatoes are nearly identical to Viva Italia, perhaps a tad bigger on average, but not much. They are meaty, and great for cooking. I can’t tell you how most of these paste tomatoes taste raw, because I almost never eat them that way. They do sometimes wind up in salads, but most of them get cooked down.
Next up is Rio Grande. This is my third year growing this variety, and it has done great in all three years. Which is saying something, since 2011 brought us cool and wet conditions in early summer, and 2012 gave us hot and dry weather. This year it has been wet, and slightly cooler than usual. Rio Grande has pumped out lots of blocky red paste tomatoes every year. They are a bit larger than Viva Italia and Health Kick and similar in color and texture. I got my seed from Seeds From Italy.
I also grow several indeterminate type paste tomatoes. For these I use my concrete remesh cages, and normally set two plants per cage. Soil prep, fertilizer and mulch are the same for all tomatoes I grow. A newcomer here this year is an open-pollinated one called Italian Gold. I got my seed from Victory Seeds, where it is listed as a determinate variety. I am glad I planted it in a taller cage, because it has vined to at least six feet tall for me! I guess it could be called a ‘tall’ determinate. The tomatoes are a bit smaller than Viva Italia, and a lovely golden orange shade. It has done pretty well for me under somewhat challenging weather conditions, so I will likely grow it again next year.
Another indeterminate yellow paste tomato I like is Golden Rave. I have been growing this one for five or six years now. Golden Rave is a pale yellow hybrid paste tomato, listed as a saladette type or mini-Roma. I got my seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, where it is called a ‘baby Roma’. Golden Rave never fails to pump out loads of 2 ounce tomatoes that are great for roasting and cooking, as well as eating fresh. They have a mild flavor, and are a colorful addition to salads and salsas. My one cage with two plants has yielded 12 pounds of tomatoes so far, which makes it a real winner to me.
Back to the red varieties, another indeterminate one I’m growing is Super Marzano. I have not had much luck growing any of the open-pollinated varieties of San Marzano, and I’ve tried several. But Super Marzono is a hybrid version of these classic Italian paste tomatoes with good disease resistance and a hybrid vigor. The tomatoes are nice and meaty, and somewhat drier than many of the paste tomatoes I grow. The tomatoes are elongated in the San Marzano style, and average about 4 ounces each. I’ve grown this one for about five years now, and I plan on growing it next year.
Another newcomer this year is an open-pollinated indeterminate variety called Ludmilla’s Red Plum. I got the seeds from a swap with reader Jeanne who also sent me seeds for one called 10 Fingers of Naples. I could not get those seeds to germinate and grow, but Ludmilla has done great in its first showing here. The tomatoes are large and average about five ounces. It has been the largest of the paste varieties this year, and I will definitely grow this one again. Thanks to Jeanne for sharing the seeds!
I also grew the Burpee hybrid Big Mama, which has had mixed results here in the few years I’ve grown it. A local friend recommended this one, which does well for him. It’s a big paste tomato, but doesn’t produce all that many tomatoes for me on the rambling vines. I might give it one more try next year, but I’m not sure it adds much to the mix of tomatoes here. We will see.
One newcomer this year that won’t be back is Speckled Roman. It has only managed to set a few pitiful fruits this year, and they have suffered from blossom end rot and splitting problems. I have yet to get a single usable tomato from it! Mind you, it is the only tomato in the whole lot that has any blossom end rot this year, so it would seem to be something inherent to this variety. It might do well for some but it hasn’t for me.
Amish Paste has done worse than ever this year, only giving a couple of tomatoes all season. I’m not even going to dignify it with a photo! I know some rave about it, but after several years of giving it my usual tomato TLC it has failed to impress here. So it is officially OUTTA here!
And while not technically a paste tomato, we use Juliet in much the same ways. Johnny’s calls it a ‘small mini-Roma’, and it is a perennial favorite here. Two cages with two plants each have yielded about 18 pounds of tomatoes total so far, and they are good fresh and cooked. Many of them wound up in the Vitamix Freezer Tomato Sauce this year, and they are great for dehydrating and roasting too.
Most of the tomatoes in the above photos went into sauces and ketchup we cooked up last week. There are a few more on the vines, but the big slowdown has arrived and I am happy about that! The freezer is full, and we should have plenty of tomato goodness to last us until next summer. I hope you have enjoyed this roundup of paste tomatoes. To see what other gardeners are rounding up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions, where Daphne hosts the Harvest Monday series.
I like the descriptions of the Golden Rave paste tomato, very versatile. Going to plant next year.
Do you make separate sauces with each tomato variety or do you combine them? I have problem visualizing a yellow tomato sauce.
I mix them all up together to make sauces. The yellow or gold color isn’t noticeable to me then.
That is a lot of paste varieties. When I could eat tomatoes, Amish paste was one of my favorites. But then it grew well here and produced a lot of superb tasting fruit. I’m always amazed at how a plant will do so well in one place and totally fail in another. Some are very picky about their soil or the temperature variables, or the rain.
I know Amish Paste does quite well for a lot of folks. But it never really did that great here. I got just enough tomatoes to make me wish it did better! But this is the 4th year I’ve tried it, and I don’t think it is ever going to cut it here.
Great break down Dave, thanks for the round up. We don’t grow paste tomatoes because we have yet to learn (or teach ourselves) to can sauces and the like. Most of our tomatoes get can whole and if we need a sauce we will process them further later. I guess we need to learn! Thanks for the pointers and the great break down of varieties!!
Thanks for the roundup of paste tomatoes. I have limited room so I can’t waste space on non-producers. I had the same experience as you with Striped Roman (same as your Speckled Roman?). Some people rave about it but for me it is a sparse producer and every single fruit had BER and splits and was fit only for compost. Haven’t had a Gilbertie ripen yet but one plant has about 9 very large tomatoes on it. Juliet as usual has been great although a few split with our flood/drought cycles.
Golden Rave will occasionally split with water fluctuations, but it is not a big problem. We had some Juliets that split too, but it is a minor thing here.
Striped Roman and Speckled Roman would appear to be the same variety. At least they were developed by the same person – John Swenson.
I haven’t grown any of those varieties except Amish Paste and it did fabulously well for me. How interesting, as Daphne said, that different varieties really are suited to certain conditions. I’m sure there’s someplace where the Speckled Romans will be happy also, just not your garden.
Amish Paste was frustrating because I know it does well for many gardeners. This year is the worst it has every done. And The Speckled Romans surely do well for many! I guess that is one reason there are so many hundreds of varieties of tomatoes out there.
Astonishing amount of paste tomatoes! Your garden never ceases to amaze me. I have had a lousy year for tomatoes in my Southern California garden. I have not made one batch of spaghetti sauce this year. 🙁 I am finally getting a few ripe ones, enough for some salads at least.
I do think that tomatoes are harder to grow than some folks realize. There are a lot of things that can go wrong, and lots of things that they don’t like!
Thanks for the review of paste tomatoes, most of which are varieties I’m unfamiliar with. They will give me ideas for future plantings!
I grew a San Marzano plant this year and the results were disappointing. Looks like I’ll have to buy some seeds and start the plants myself, since I’ve never seen any of the varieties you describe other than Juliet at the local greenhouse.
That’s how I got started with growing my own plants many years ago. I was frustrated by the lack of selection locally. That has improved somewhat, but many of my favorite varieties are still just not available.
Great round up! I wish I had the space to grow enough varieties to do a comparison like this, so I’m grateful that you do have the space and are sharing your learnings 🙂
thank you for a wonderful paste variety review. it really helps to know what really produces well
I was excited to come across this post today, as I have been trying out a number of different paste tomatoes myself this year, and it’s interesting to see what others think (as well as see what else is out there to try in the future!). I’ve had good results with Big Mama for a number of years, but I really want to find an heirloom/OP alternative so I can save seed from year to year. My outstanding varieties this year (admittedly a tough year for tomatoes) have been Amish Paste and Opalka. I definitely think Ludmilla’s Red Plum is worth looking into for next year!