Tomato Time – Student Post By Cody – Week of July 26th, 2017
Hey all! It is that time a year again to get excited about all the delicious varieties of tomatoes being sown at the TC3 Farm. With over two dozen heirloom, cherry and hybrid tomato varieties on the Farm, it is a mighty challenge to tame those taste buds as all the young seedlings are transplanted. The TC3 Farm grows both field and greenhouse/ hoop house tomatoes. Crop rotation best practices are followed in determining where the tomatoes will be grown both in the field and indoors. This week the farm team transplanted a variety of tomatoes in the greenhouse and hoop house. In this post, I will describe the techniques in preparing and setting up a greenhouse for tomato cultivation and some tips for having a successful and healthy growing season.
At this point you may be wondering why the TC3 Farm grows so many different varieties of tomatoes. I believe the unequivocal answer is that crop diversity is a key attribute to a successful and healthy farm operation. One might also be asking if there is an advantage to growing tomatoes in a greenhouse. I believe there are many advantages for the use of a greenhouse, especially in a relatively short northeast growing season. The first advantage is that a greenhouse can extend the growing season, and this is especially important for tomatoes which are a high value crop. Secondly, a greenhouse provides for temperature, precipitation and air flow control. This is crucial for tomatoes as it reduces the chances for fungal and oomycete diseases such as early blight and late blight which can devastate plants in the nightshade family. Proper crop rotation planning can reduce blight and pest problems during the growing season.
Preparing a greenhouse for tomatoes requires proper planning. For starters, tomatoes are nitrogen loving plants and heavy feeders. The soil should be tested to ensure it has the right amount of nutrients. We supplement with an organic fish-based fertilizer to provide tomatoes with the proper nutrients throughout the growing season. Tomatoes grown in the greenhouse at the TC3 Farm are watered by a drip tape system and the soil is covered with a landscape fabric to suppress weeds. Considering that the drip tape is laid out and covered with the fabric before the tomatoes are transplanted, it is essential to know the proper in-row and between row spacing. Our greenhouse tomatoes are planted in two-row beds with an in-row spacing of 18 inches. With a new landscape fabric, holes must be cut where the transplants will be placed. This must be done carefully and precisely as not to cut into the drip tape.
The drip tape provides the ability to water tomatoes at the base of the plant. This cultural practice ensures that the leaves of the plant do not get wet, thus reducing the chance for disease outbreaks. The landscape fabric reduces weed pressure and maintains soil temperatures. Finally, each tomato receives a single string that is dropped from the ceiling of the greenhouse and tied to the plant. We train the plants to grow vertically up these strings. The tomatoes are pruned and suckered which helps establish strong root growth and signals the plant to focus on fruit production as they grow up toward the top of the house. Pruning will occur throughout the season.
Proper temperature, precipitation and air flow techniques are a key practice for healthy tomato production. The greenhouse allows the Farm to modify the environment in order to focus on quality production. Cultural practices including the use of drip tape and fabric cover reduces the chance for fungal disease and weed pressure. With proper planning, preparation and best management practices, the TC3 Farm is well on its way to delivering the many great tasting tomatoes they have been providing their customers for years. I hope everyone can enjoy our labor of love this summer as they slice into a juicy mouthwatering tomato.