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Early Results from Hoop House Tomato Study

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Recently, we concluded harvesting the first tomato crop in our new hoop house. This was our first experience with this growing system. Not everything went as planned, but generally speaking I'm pleased with the results.

The hoop house contains four beds. The middle two beds measure 3' x 60'. The outer two beds measure 3' x 68'. Plants were set April 9 on 2' spacings for a total of 128 plants. Three varieties were selected for our trial, "Summer Flavor 4000" and "Sunny" occupied the outer beds, one variety per bed.

"Celebrity" occupied the middle two beds. Excluding a preplant fertilizer application, all nutrients were supplied via the drip system. The house was covered with a 55% shade cloth May 21. We sprayed twice for fruitworm and once for mites.

As expected, the first harvest occurred earlier than any previously grown crop of field tomatoes have at the Noble Research Institute. We began harvesting May 31, about 2 weeks earlier than this year's early planting of field grown tomatoes.

We had originally targeted late March for planting but due to problems in finishing the house, planting was delayed until April 9. Consequently, we're targeting an earlier harvest in 1997. Peak harvest for all three varieties occurred the 2nd week of July (Table 1). "Summer Flavor 4000" proved to be the earliest variety with fruit maturing a few days ahead of the other two varieties.

A brief summary of the results appear in Table 2. A total of 1273 lbs. of marketable fruit was harvested. Celebrity exhibited the greatest average marketable yield per plant (10.56 lbs.) and the greatest average market fruit weight (7 oz). Total average yield was greatest with "Summer Flavor 4000" (16.9 lbs./plant).

However, roughly half of the fruit harvested were culled due to radial cracking. The large amount of fruit cracking proved to the most disappointing aspect of the study. Consequently, in the future our efforts will be targeted at reducing the amount of fruit cracking through better water management.