Improving Small Garden Farm Productivity by Extending the Growing Season and Avoiding the Uncertainty of the Weather Conditions

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $7,392.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Cicero Farm Market
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, cropping systems, extening season for tomatoes both eary planting and fall planting

    Proposal summary:


    2015 presented weather related challenges to productivity and yield of the Cicero Farm Garden farm. Previous years pointed out the challenges to manual weeding and soil amendments on large rows. Mechanized cultivating and weeding have proven to be not cost effective for this modest sized market garden. The addition of an unheated hoop house last year had the potential to modestly extend the growing season. Conventional hoop house heating for wintertime use would be cost prohibitive.

    Extensive rain followed by high summer heat in 2015 reduced or even totally destroyed much of the outdoor plantings and even negatively affected many of the plants growing in the ground inside the hoop house due to water infiltration, and accelerated overall weed growth, thereby reducing expected gross yield, and shortening the normally planned growing season.

    Tomatoes had to be replanted outside in July in order to yield even a modest crop before the Fall frost arrived. Weed invasion in the rows due to the combination of excess rain and high summer heat advanced beyond the ability of available manual weeding methods. Mechanized weeding methods are currently beyond our means.

    Because of the uncertainty of the weather, we need to come up with low cost planting techniques that address or ideally eliminate these unpredictable weather related problems and ground conditions.

    These new methods must prove to be both cost effective and have the potential to increase productivity and profitability of the Cicero Farm Market farm, while also improving/reducing overall environmental impact, adapting to both existing hoop house facilities and outdoor growing areas, and comply with the Organic Farming requirements that we have established over the past several years.


    We believe these new techniques will take the uncertainty and unpredictably out of the weather patterns/conditions that are effecting the production of our tomatoes.

    The new techniques that are proposed to be combined – “aeroponics”, “root air layering”, “root air pruning” using above ground polypropylene grow bags in containers, with semiautomated or automated watering/nutrient delivery system addresses all the plant growth concerns previously mentioned, including reduction of environmental impact on soil and ground water, while having the potential to increase productivity, yield and profitability.

    This growth technique, originally developed by NASA for use on the International Space Station, now commonly called aeroponics or fogponics, utilizes a small low power consumption water mist generator producing micron sized water particles that accelerate plant root growth and nutrient uptake.

    This process has already been proven on a pilot scale – tomato plant cuttings (clones) – have been successfully rooted numerous times in 7 to 10 days and have been producing flowers and fruit.

    Use of the aeroponic technique, coupled with root air layering – generation of new roots directly on plant shoots before cutting off the shoot – has the potential to continuously generate hardy mature starter plants on a monthly basis from existing plants, providing a continuous supply of plantings on a rotational basis. In the hoop houses, even unheated, the growing season can start earlier with already mature fruiting plants and extend yields well into the Fall beyond the first frost.

    The use of above ground grow bags and a closed watering system will allow the use of targeted watering – less water and nutrient requirement – and recapture/reuse of nutrients, thereby reducing the impact on the water table.

    In 24 months, this combination of new techniques can be documented, compared to conventional methods for cost effectiveness, and overall profitability.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Test various low cost planting techniques that address or ideally eliminate unpredictable weather related problems and ground conditions, including aeroponics, root air layering,  and root air pruning.
    2. Positively impact the environment by identifying techniques that improve soil health and ground water.
    3. Empower farmers to increase profitability by measuring yields corresponding with each technique.
    4. Share project results through farm tours, seminars, printed materials, and online videos.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.