Greenhouse Tomatoes in a New
York High Tunnel
The Tomato Magazine
By Judson Reid and Helene Dillard
In New York State’s Finger Lakes
region, greenhouse tomato production
has increased dramatically over the last five years. Most of this growth is
the result of an influx of Mennonite and Amish growers seeking alternative
horticultural production methods. However, heating a greenhouse through a New
York winter requires high-energy input and can be cost prohibitive. An alternative
to a fully heated greenhouse is the hoop house or high tunnel. Unlike greenhouses,
these structures have no supplemental heat or automated ventilation. High tunnels
can be moved, which offers an advantage for rotating into fresh soil for tomato
culture, to avoid pest and disease build-up, as well as nutrient depletion.
No Electricity Required
The high tunnel is an appropriate fit for Mennonite and Amish growers. There
is no electricity required, in fact no automation at all. Temperature manipulation
and ventilation are all done manually, which capitalizes on the abundant
labor available on these farms. High tunnels also appear to decrease the
need for fungicide applications when compared to field grown tomatoes.
Until this trial determinant, field varieties were grown in high tunnels.
Working with cooperating grower Howard Hoover, we decided to investigate
varieties would perform better than determinate field types in an unheated
high tunnel at a Penn Yan, NY farm. We submitted a proposal to the USDA’s
Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NE-SARE),
and received approval. The projects goals were to:
• Compare 4 tomato varieties in an unheated high tunnel by measuring yield
in total weight, total number of fruit, and mean fruit weight.
• Compare vertical to horizontal trellising.
• Observe disease and insect pest trends in the high tunnel, and manage them
in a sustainable manner.
• Share our information with other growers in the region.
Performed Well in
Unheated High Tunnels
The results were exciting. We found that indeterminate varieties that had previously
only been grown in heated greenhouses would perform well in an unheated high
tunnel. The indeterminate varieties yielded more consistently over time than
the determinate variety in our trial. This may be an advantage or disadvantage
depending on market windows. If a grower prefers a heavy flush of fruit prior
to availability of field grown tomatoes, the determinate variety may be preferable.
Alternatively if the grower desires a long, sustained harvest, the indeterminate
types may be superior.
The high tunnel may decrease pesticide inputs. For example, no pesticides were
used in this trial. Minor levels of foliar diseases occurred in the high tunnel,
but none approached an economic threshold. An interesting development was widespread
late blight (Phytophthora infestans) in field grown tomatoes throughout the
region. The disease was present in the farmer’s home garden 30 feet from
the high tunnel, yet no late blight was observed within the tunnel.
The warm, dry environment is also great for working together with family. When
it is raining outside and fieldwork has to be put on hold, children and parents
can be together in the hoop house to pull weeds, trellis, prune and harvest.
Tomato fruit maturity in high tunnels appears to coincide well with profitable
price windows at produce auctions found among Mennonite and Amish communities.
Our high tunnel tomato trial was a success, not only because our data showed
clear differences between varieties, but also because we were able to share
this information with other greenhouse tomato growers throughout the Finger
Lakes. At a high tunnel twilight meeting convened in early August, over 40
tomato growers from the region observed our treatments and yields.
The information above is from only one year of data. Fortunately NE-SARE has
funded the project for a second year to include three high tunnels. Included
in the 2005 trial will be a colored bell pepper trial in which biological disease
control strategies will be examined, and a certified organic high tunnel will
be studied where heirloom tomatoes are produced.
Editor’s Note: Judson Reid is an area vegetable specialist
with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, Penn Yan, N.Y. He can be reached
firstname.lastname@example.org; Helene Dillard is a professor, Department of Plant
Pathology, and director, Cornell Cooperative Extension, NYSAES, Cornell
University, Geneva, N.Y.
© 2005 Columbia Publishing
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