A Novel, Laborsaving Trellising System for Grape Tomatoes

Project Overview

ONE11-136
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,980.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Steve Bogash
Penn State Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: tomatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: fertigation, foliar feeding, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: biological control, biorational pesticides, botanical pesticides, chemical control, integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    According to USDA statistics, the market demand for grape tomatoes is increasing significantly from year to year. This is a direct reflection of the consumer’s need for fresh and healthy snacks that are easy to store and process in the kitchen. On the positive for farmers, grape tomatoes are less prone to pathogens compared to other types of tomatoes and produce large quantities of fruit that have a long shelf life. On the negative side, the indeterminate growth habit of most grape tomatoes require high labor inputs for trellising and harvesting. Through a 2009 NESARE partnership grant, we were able to demonstrate that shaker-based harvest system for grape tomatoes could be feasible given a trellising system that could accommodate the collection portion of the system. Unfortunately, the most commonly trellising systems used in the field, Florida-weave and Wire cages, do not allow for shake based system. Also, shake-based systems waste vast quantities of fruit in the harvest of unripe tomatoes and require extensive sorting post harvest. Moreover, these systems require high levels of labor input an d it is challenging for growers to sterilize trellis components in order to minimize the transfer of soil-borne diseases to other fields. This project will test a novel grape tomato trellising system which will reduce labor and materials and utilize components that are readily sterilizable.

    Outreach will be at grower meetings, association newsletter articles and at research station.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Evaluate a four stem, wire supported growing system for grape tomato production in a grower greenhouse. Modify the system as necessary before installing into other cooperator high tunnels and greenhouses.
    The goal of this project as well as its’ predecessor is to take advantage of grape tomato plants’ heavy, indeterminate growth and create a trellis / harvest system that reduces labor while maintaining fruit quality and profitability. We will compare new trellis and training system designs with vertical "Florida weave-type" systems.
    Systems will be evaluated on the ease of training tomato vines as well as the simplicity and cost of various trellis types. Creating a system that does not require ladders or scaffolding and at the same time causes the fruiting clusters to be easier to examine and harvest is the objective.

    Methods
    Greenhouse operations specialized on year-around grape tomato production have two cycles of production, late fall and early spring. The late fall production starts in August and ends in December, while the spring production starts in January and ends in July. Most greenhouse grape tomato growers choose to use the two-stem, wire-supported trellising system.

    Depending on the variety, in about three months the grape tomatoes grown in this system form more than twelve-foot long stems, and by the end of the production cycle these stems can be more than twenty-foot long, which can be challenging to manage. As a way to avoid this and produce plants for the new trellising system, we propose a four-stem, wire-supported growing
    system for the greenhouse early spring production. Four months after the plants have been started, the stems will be about eight-foot long, which will allow us to harvest them for starting new plants after the root
    formation was initiated. The fruit on these stems will be left to ripen off the vine, and mother plants will continue the fruit production on new stems that will be selected from the later shoots. This should have a minimum impact on the greenhouse production, and yet, it will allow growers to better manage the height of the tomato plants.

    In this project, we will trial this production management system on the three most commonly grown grape tomatoes varieties. The first part of the project will take place at Twin Springs Fruit Farm in Orttanna, PA. The owners of this farm grow greenhouse grape tomatoes year-around. New mother
    plants will be started in December and will be installed in the greenhouse in late January. On May 1st, 21 plants (seven plants of each variety) will be randomly selected for inducing root formation on their stems by the air-layering method. On May 20th, 84 new plants (28 plants of each variety) will be ready to be moved in the production fields of the following three PA farms: 1) Wilson College Sustainable Living Farm, Chambersburg; 2) Dickinson College Organic Farm, Boiling Springs; 3) Twin Springs Fruit Farm, Orttanna.

    Each farm will have nine grape tomato plants of each variety, planted in three repetition plots. For cost effectiveness comparison between the current grape tomato production systems and the one we propose, another 168 grape tomato plants (56 for each variety) will be started on March 15th. These will be started on heat mats/ under growing lights, and will be ready to be moved into the field on May 20th. The 168 plants will be divided in two; 84 plants (28 plants per each variety) for the “Florida-weave” system and 84 plants (28 plants per each variety) for the “wire-cage” system. These plants will be installed at the four collaborating farms involved, and will be trialed against the plants trained on the new trellising system. The farm staff will record the hours spent trellising and harvesting grape tomatoes from each of the three trellising systems. Fruit size and weight will be recorded as well. The fruit from the grape tomatoes trained on the newly proposed trellising system will be mechanically harvested.

    Timetable

    December 20, 2010 – Start 42 grape tomato plants in the greenhouse (14 plants for each of the three varieties: Ceylon, Favorita, and Tami G).From this 42 plants, only 21 will become mother plants, the other half will serve as a control group. All plants will be trained on a four-stem, ire-supported trellis system;*

    February15, 2011 – Select 21 mother plants (7 plants for each of the three varieties). As soon as the fruit starts to ripen, the yield data (fruit size and weight) will be collected from both the 21 mother plants and the
    21-plant control group. The data will be collected for the entire early spring greenhouse production and will be used for determining the yield difference between plants from which stems will be harvested and control
    plants;

    * March 15th, 2011 – Start 168 grape tomato plants (56 for each variety). This will be planted directly in the field on May 20th and will be trained on “Florida weave” and “wire cage” trellising systems;

    ** April 10th, 2011 or as soon as the award is made public, field and trellis materials (stakes, reinforcing wire, and PVC pipes) are purchased, and trellises are built;

    May 1st, 2011 – Initiate root formation on the stems belonging to the 21 mother plants;

    May 20th, 2011 – Harvest the stems/ new plants, pass them through the tubes and install them on three collaborating farms. The other 168 plants will be installed in this period;

    June 1st through September 30th, 2011 – Collect data for all the labor needed to manage each of the three systems. Fruit will be measured and graded;

    October 1st, 2011- Take apart research plots/ trellises. Evaluate
    possible damage that might have occurred to the PVC trellises.

    November 1st to December 15, 2011 –
    Compile all data and write the final report.

    Outreach

    The results of the project will be promoted to the commercial growing community through a series of outreach activities, print publications and web-based publications:

    – All project results will be published in the regional newsletter, HortReport, which is mailed to over 500 farmers in Central PA and West Central, PA, and emailed to over 170 email accounts.

    – Articles and project results will be submitted to the PVGA
    newsmagazine, “PA Vegetable Growers News”, which covers all of PA and has wide readership in the Mid-Atlantic. Articles printed in this newsletter are often reprinted in other related media. – All articles and research reports will be included in the Penn State Capital Region Horticulture website.

    – Results of this project along with recommendations for growers will be widely disseminated to growers at winter meetings (Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture, Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Tri-County Meeting, New Holland Meeting, etc.).

    – Vegetable and fruit grower field days and twilight
    meetings at the Penn State Fruit Research Lab (FREC) and Southeast Research and Extension Center (SREC) will include this project as part of their program.

    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.