- Vegetables: tomatoes
- Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses
- Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Production Systems: general crop production
We produce vegetables year round on our farm, and work to extend the growing season of each crop we produce. Over the past few years we have found that late season tomatoes (ripening after Labor Day) are popular with our customers. However, we struggle to grow the tomato seedlings needed for fall production due to the labor required to care for seedlings during our busiest months of the year. As farmers working to produce six acres of vegetables with limited labor and limited mechanization, we must work with utmost efficiency in order to keep our cost of production down. Spending six weeks in May and June seeding flats (for early July field planting), maintaining correct germination and growing temperatures, and monitoring water levels of tomato seedlings takes precious labor time away from the myriad of other duties our farm staff must carry out during our busiest months. As a result, we have found that our fall tomato seedling production suffers during this time period. Certified organic tomato plugs are not locally available in our area during July, and mail order certified organic plugs are prohibitively expensive. Farmers in the North Central region can charge a premium for late season tomatoes, but many farmers do not attempt to grow tomatoes for fall production due to the unavailability of affordable organic plugs during early July.
We believe that affordable, certified organic tomato plants for fall production can be produced using side shoots (suckers) that are pruned from main season tomato plants.
We propose a trial of organic late season tomatoes produced via transplanted suckers.
This project has two specific sub-goals:
1. Measure potential yield differences between the plants produced via suckers and late season tomato plants grown from seed.
2. Calculate the economic implications of each production system by accounting for any observed yield differences and variations in labor hours.
Specific methods follow:
1. Tomato plants grown via suckers will be the experimental treatment, while tomato plants grown from seed will serve as controls.
2. At least 80 tomato plants will be produced in the experimental treatment, with an equal number being produced the control treatment.
3. All tomato plants in both treatments will be transplanted into a high tunnel to control for environmental factors, to prevent fungal disease, and to insure that the fall crop is able to produce as long as possible.
4. Suckers will be pruned from main season tomato plants and rooted during late-June. The control plants will be started from seed during mid-May to ensure that both groups of plants are roughly the same size when planted in the high tunnel during early July.
5. All transplanting and harvest activities will occur on the same day for both control and experimental tomatoes. 6. Crop yields (weight) and labor hours will be tracked for both groups throughout the growing season, and will be assigned a monetary value at the end of the season. These data will be used to compare the profitability of organic late season tomato plant production via suckers to traditional plant production via seeds.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Test methods for growing organic late season tomatoes produced via transplanted suckers.
- Positively impact the environment by growing more fall tomatoes in high tunnels, reducing the organic fungicides sprayed in the field during the main season.
- Increase farmers' profitability by evaluating the economic implications of using suckers to produce late season tomato plants instead of starting late season plants from seed.
- Share results with the farming community through on-farm field days, presentations at farming conferences and a blog.