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Greenhouse Tomato Production Practices

Greenhouse Tomato Production Practices

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Published by: Wyoming Native Plant Society on Oct 31, 2010
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01/11/2013

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 HortFacts 9-02
Greenhouse Tomato Production Practices
Robert G. Anderson, Extension Horticulture SpecialistTomatoes have been grown ingreenhouses for nearly 100 years. For thisreason, there are many techniques for growingtomatoes in a greenhouse and there is morewritten about greenhouse tomatoes than anyother greenhouse crop. Additionally,hydroponics was developed for greenhousetomato production, so there can be manycomplicated steps to the production of tomatofruit in a greenhouse. There is no single BESTway to grow greenhouse tomatoes; manyways are successful. An individual grower must experience tomato production, in order to determine the best and economictechniques in his or her greenhouse. This publication is a general summary of greenhouse tomato practices. It is highlyrecommended that the reader obtain the publications listed below to get a morethorough viewof greenhousetomato production,hydroponics andthe productionof other vegetables inthe greenhouse.
Light and Temperature Control
--Tomatoes are a warm season vegetable crop.They grow best under conditions of high lightand warm temperatures (summer conditions).Low light in a fall or winter greenhouse, whenit is less than 15% of summer light levels,greatly reduces fruit yield when heating costsare highest (Table1). For thisreason, it isdifficult torecommend that agreenhouse operator should grow and harvestfruit from December 15 to February 15. Evenwith the problem of low light and high energycosts, winter greenhouse tomatoes arecommon in southern Canada and Europe.These greenhouses may use expensivesupplementary HID lighting (street lamps)and are able to sell their tomatoes at very high prices because their market is willing to pay ahigh price for high quality winter tomatoes.Greenhouse tomatoes are not very common inthe U.S. or Kentucky, because consumersseem unwilling to pay a high price for winter tomatoes. If you have a market willing to payfor greenhouse tomatoes, then tomatoes may be a successful crop in your winter greenhouse.
 
Table 1. Relative percentages of heat costsand percent of light, compared to summer months, for fall, winter and spring months inKentucky.Percent of sunlightcompared tomid-summer Percent of annualheating costsSeptember 90 0October 41 3 November 32 15December 14 26January 14 28February 27 18March 50 8April 65 2July 100 0Many greenhouses have been built inKentucky to grow tobacco transplants. Basedon many years of experience from manygrowers and farmers, tomato production ismost successful in the spring. Excellent light,moderate heating costs and good pricesannually demonstrate this is the best time for greenhouse tomato production. Yet, tobaccogrowers have tobacco transplants in their greenhouse in the spring.Low winter light and high heatingcosts create a problem for winter greenhousetomato production. Trials were completed atthe University of Kentucky and on Kentuckyfarms in 1995 and 1996 to evaluate latesummer and fall production for greenhousetomatoes. Total fruit yields were 8 to 10 lbs. per plant in the UK trials, but farmers wereonly able to sell 4 to 5 lbs. per plant. Most of these farmers did not continue to growtomatoes because they simply did not earnenough for their effort. Review HortFacts 10-02, Kentucky Greenhouse Tomato Trials, tosee the results of these growing media andtomato variety trials for fall production.Tomato plants grow best when thenight temperature is maintained at 60-62
o
F.Temperatures below 60
o
will prevent normal pollination and fruit development. This isespecially true for standard greenhousevarieties, so the grower must be sure thatthermostats control heaters properly. In warmor hot outdoor conditions, tomatogreenhouses must be ventilated to keeptemperatures below 90
o
F. High temperaturesnot only effect the leaves and fruit, butincreased soil temperatures also reduce rootgrowth.
Greenhouse tomatoes grown in Kentuckytobacco greenhouses.
2
 
Plant Support
-- Plants must be tied or clipped with tomato clips to a string or twinesuspended from a strong overhead cable. Thisstarts as soon as they are about 10 inches highand continuesthroughout production. Aseparate supportsystem must be built inside thegreenhouse f  pipe, etc. tosupport the croYou mustremember thateach plant mayweigh 10 to 15 pounds whenit is loadedwith fruit sothe supportsystem must be quite strong. Kentuckyfarmers have used different ways to supporttomatoes in tobacco greenhouses (see previous photos). Typical greenhousestructures are usually NOT strong enough tosupport a tomato crop, consult the greenhousemanufacturer for details; greenhousesdesigned to support a tomato crop areavailable from some manufacturers. Activelygrowing tomatoes will have to be clipped tothe support string or twined around the stringevery 6-10 days.3nitrate is not compatible with other fertilizersin the concentrated form. With two fertilizers,the irrigation system has two injectors, eachto inject a specific amount of each type of fertilizer at each watering.rom p .
Water, Fertilizer and Growing Media
--Tomato production requires that plantnutrition be monitored carefully andregularly. Tomatoes require a well drainedgrowing medium, regular watering andregular applications of fertilizer. Theapplication of water is typically done with atrickle irrigation system composed of distribution lines with drip tubes or spraystakes. Drip tubes or spray stakes are placedat the base of each plant. Tomato plants use agreat deal of water, especially in warmweather, so the use of a time clock to controlthe irrigationsystem is highlyrecommended andrelativelyinexpensive.Many typesof fertilizer have been used for tomatoes.Generally, thefertilizer ismoderate innitrogen and highin phosphorus, potassium,calcium andmagnesium. A grower must be sure thatcalcium and magnesium are included in thefertilizer program. Normal plant and fruitgrowth requires these nutrients to be presentin the correct amounts. A number of companies - Cropking Inc., Hydro-Gardens,Inc., Totalgro Plant Foods are listed below -have excellent fertilizer mixes for tomatoes.The fertilizer typically comes in two parts,calcium nitrate and a complete fertilizer (without calcium). This is because calcium
Figure 2 A pump typefertilizer injector used toadd concentratedfertilizer to the irrigationwater.Figure 1 Tomato clips areused to tie the tomato stemto a string suspended fromthesuortstructure.Figure 3 A tomato greenhouse with plants grownin the soil.

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