how many tomato plants to grow for canning?

Amy Wickett
March 4, 2019

I don't know that I'd be using them for canning but I would be using them for more than just eating out of hand. They'd be used for making sauce/puree.

I realize that if you plan to grow tomatoes to use them for what I plan to use them for, you have to grow a larger amount of plants (even a small batch of sauce requires a large amount of tomatoes).

I understand the amount of plants you grow varies, as it depends on how many people you're growing them for, but this would just be for myself. However since making sauce requires a lot of time and effort, I'd prefer to do large batches (by large I mean a minimum of 8 lbs. raw tomatoes).

My last question is in regards to extending my harvest (staggering it). Typically I know in order to do this, you'd grow indeterminate varieties, because they produce all season until a frost kills them.

I have a decent amount of space available, but I don't have acres of land to garden on either, and indeterminate tomato plants take up a lot of space. I could trellis, but this will mean added expense, and I'm trying to avoid spending a fortune on gardening. If I were to grow varieties that mature at different times (early season, mid-season, and late maturing) could I accomplish the same thing that you would growing indeterminate varieties?

Comments (12)

  • vgkg Z-7 Va

    Our experience here has been to grow about 25 indeterminate plants and plant another 6 2 months later in the season (replaces dying plants). We get an ample amount of tomatoes to at least can 2 dozen qts of sauce or salsa and give away the excess tomatoes and also eat fresh.

    " I'd prefer to do large batches (by large I mean a minimum of 8 lbs. raw tomatoes)."

    We mainly grow pink Brandywine and Cherokee purples where just 6 plants would easily produce 8 lbs weekly. 8 lbs may produce 4-5 pints of sauce once the waste is peeled and cored away. Sometimes we freeze the prepped tomatoes to make extra large batches later.

  • rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

    Amy, if you live in the US, I encourage you to contact your local county Extension office. This is exactly the type of concern in which they specialize.

  • bcomplx

    For two people in Zone 6b, I grow 6-8 good canning tomatoes like Roma VF and Plum Regal for canning. Plus 4-5 more interesting heirlooms in different sizes and colors for fresh eating and drying, and 3 cherry tomatoes succession planted, for fresh eating and freezing. The goal is 15 total plants, with about the same number of pepper plants. That's a year's supply of both crops.

  • theforgottenone1013 (SE MI zone 5b/6a)

    According to the NCHFP, linked above, for a thin tomato sauce "An average of 35 pounds is needed per canner load of 7 quarts; an average of 21 pounds is needed per canner load of 9 pints."

    For a thick sauce "An average of 46 pounds is needed per canner load of 7 quarts; an average of 28 pounds is needed per canner load of 9 pints."

    Now, these are just averages and the actual amount needed will depend on the meat to juice ratio of your tomatoes but it is a good starting point.

    I focus mostly on determinate tomatoes when I grow them (I am not a fan of raw tomatoes). You don't get the season long production of an indeterminate but they produce a lot of ripe fruit over a short period of time. Good for canning. And they are smaller plants that do not need extensive supports. If you have the room you can let them sprawl (you can do that with indeterminates too) or use a couple stakes and some twine to keep them upright.


  • nancyjane_gardener

    All of the above, but what are your growing conditions? I moved 2 years ago from the boonies where I had many raised beds with lots of home made compost into town where I had a very small area that had not been amended or anything that I could determine (The sellers put in a fake raised bed and filled it with construction rubble to make it look like a garden bed!)

    After clearing out a diseased rose bush and moving things around, we found an area about 10x20'. We planted a few things and were delighted to find that with just a sprinkle of root enhancer at planting time, our veges thrived! I hadn't planned on doing any sauce, but ended up with a few gallons from just 3 plants!

    I'm back to gardening! NT

  • joe graham Zone 9 Central Ca.

    The best canning variety for me is San Marzano. To stagger the harvest I make two plantings that are all grown from seed. I'm in zone 9 so I plant in January and May. The first planting has pretty much given up it's bumper crop and you still get a few from it but the second planting matures late summer early fall and these tomato's are big and healthy. It's just me and the wife so 6 in the spring and 6 in the fall makes about 48 pint jars.

  • caryltoo Z7/SE PA

    All of the above is good advice. I grow about 12 plants and usually can some sauce as well as use for fresh eating and fresh sauce. One thing I'd suggest to help with the peeling & seeding is to get a tomato strainer -- Vittorio used to be one brand, but I don't think they're around anymore. I bought my son the Weston Food and tomato strainer last year on Amazon. It was $37. All you do is cut off the stem end, quarter them and run them through. You get tomato juice without seeds and just cook it down for sauce. A lot easier than putting them in hot water, peeling, etc.

  • Richard Brennan

    I grow mostly Romas and San Marzanos for canning. The fact that the all ripen at once is the key. Indeterminates are only viable for canning if you have a large number of plants all producing at once. I also "cheat" and buy boxes of tomatoes from a local garden stand that I also can to give me a full winter supply.

  • gekkodojo

    To give you an answer from a volumetric perspective - I froze most of my canning tomatoes last year bc I didn’t have time in the summer to process. I took out a heaping 20 quart batch from the freezer (20 quarts is about the largest stock pan you can buy). As the tomatoes thawed they expelled about six quarts of clear fluid (which made a tasty tomato juice). After milling the pulp and cooking down I was left with two quarts of tomatoe sauce.

  • nancyjane_gardener

    Also, when I've had too many tomatoes and not enough time (before retirement) for sauce making, I just tossed them into a plastic bag and put them in the freezer until I had time to do sauce! Fine and dandy!

  • HighColdDesert

    By the way, not answering your question, but last year I learned a great tweak to my tomato canning methods.

    Cut the tomatoes in half, or if they're huge, quarters or whatever, arrange them skin side down on trays, and bake in the oven for a while. When they look a bit cooked, you'll find the skins just come right off without any effort. The tomatoes get a lovely sweet roasted flavour, and some of the liquid has already come out, so then we just heat them all in a pot and then into jars for the usual processing. Ooh, yum, easy, reduces volume, and makes winter tomato sauces instantly get that long-cooked flavour. We don't remove the seeds or pulp, since we don't remove those when cooking with fresh tomatoes, and the pulp seems to have great flavour. Ideally we do some plain and some roasted like this.

  • PRO
    Len NW 7a


    To generate the most volume I suggest indeterminate varieties on trellis. There are many ways to do this that will take some time but do not have to cost a lot of money.

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