- Vegetables: tomatoes
- Crop Production: fertigation, foliar feeding, irrigation, organic fertilizers, tissue analysis
- Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
- Pest Management: biological control, chemical control, cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, physical control, mulching - plastic, prevention
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Soil Management: soil analysis
The market for cherry and grape tomatoes continues to heat up. According to USDA, ERS statistics, the consumption of cherry / grape tomatoes increased by 302% from 1999-2003 (this is the latest data available). Grape tomatoes are in especially high demand at farmers markets and provide tomato growers with early marketable tomatoes since they ripen 2-3 weeks before slicing tomatoes. Although very high yielding and potentially highly profitable, efficient harvesting and vine management of these tomatoes remains a problem. Most cherry and grape tomatoes are grown using various versions of modified Florida weave or large cages. Both of these methods are well-suited to slicing tomatoes, but do not meet the requirements of efficient production and harvesting of these smaller tomatoes. Specifically, most of the commonly used varieties of cherry and grape tomatoes are indeterminate with the potential to create very large, unmanageable plants. Also, harvesting is very labor intensive. This project will evaluate various methods of trellising, pruning and harvesting grape and cherry tomatoes along the lines of primocane raspberry trellising and vertical grape systems using wooden stakes. Limitations on labor availability as well as the costs associated with labor and the need to get fruit out of the field early in the day to prevent the buildup of field heat make more efficient harvesting vitally important. Evaluation will be based on yield per production area, trellis construction and management costs as well as timed harvests.
Project objectives from proposal:
This project has two related focal points. 1) We will examine a number of trellising systems for indeterminate grape tomatoes seeking one or more systems that will be cost effective to install, train vines onto and maintain as well as efficient to hand harvest. And, 2) Several of the trellising systems seem to lend themselves to shake harvesting onto plastic tarps using simple modifications of tools that are found on nearly every farm.
By better trellising that not only makes better use of the vigor of the grape tomato vines, but also allows easier access to ripe fruit, we hope to increase the quantity of fruit that an individual harvester can pack in a given amount of time. We will evaluate this part of the program by comparing yields per plant with trellis costs and time needed to harvest a given weight of fruit.
In a small proof of concept trial at the Penn State Southeast Research and Extension Center (SREC) in 2008, we concluded that there is the potential to shake harvest ripe grape tomatoes onto a tarp, then sort and pack the fruit later in a shaded packing shed on a slant table similar to those used to sort cherries and other small fruit. Adapting a rechargeable drill with an offset cam should create a reproducible shaking motion that can be applied to support mesh to separate riper fruit from the vine. This portion of the program will be evaluated by the cost of the trellis system, the time needed to shake and lift the fruit and the time needed to sort the ripe from the unripe fruit in the packing house.