The Ways of Farming
(2014 season--epic outdoor tomato year)
There certainly is not a tried and true way of farming. Even on your own property, one way may work one year and the next it fails completely. An uncountable number of factors affect plants' performance, it can be overwhelming.
Throughout the season, I take notes on what works, what doesn't and connect with other farmers about problems and ideas. Of course, during the growing season, time is constrained so many of these conversations are cut short and put on the back burner until winter. Luckily we have several outlets (conferences, UMaine Extension and seed companies) that help tremendously. I try and go to at least one conference every winter. Farmer conferences are pretty awesome. As you can imagine, we eat well, complain about the season's failures and brag about successes. Our conferences are unique in that they are set up to allow several hours of conversational/idea exchanging time between growers rather than just going from session to session, having "experts" talk at us. The biggest issue is that we are all movers and not used to sitting in one place for long periods of time, so our conferences are short; 2 hours - 2 days tops!
A hot topic lately has been growing in hoop houses. The seed companies and extension service, as well as growers, are seasonally (all 4 seasons) testing different ideas (crops, crop varieties, planting dates, etc) to try and maximize hoop house growing. Several things make hoop house growing extremely appealing and in many ways can maximize profit and yield. I put mine up specifically for two reasons 1) to grow winter spinach and 2) to grow summer tomatoes. One appeal to growing tomatoes indoors is that it prevents excess moisture from reaching the leaves and therefore reduces disease pressure. Airflow is important and one way to control that is through pruning and trellising. That is exactly what I was experimenting with this year. Traditionally, I have done what is called the "basket weave". Twine is wrapped around support stakes and then on each side of the plant, so it's sandwiched between 2 pieces of twine. This is repeated every foot or so as the plant grows vertically. You can see this method in the PYO cherry tomato garden. (And in the above photo). I've done this method for over 17 years, so I am used to it. I do minimal pruning. The hardest part is pounding in the stakes and then removing them at the end of the season. Sometimes they break, bend or fall over and that can be a huge mess. Sometimes, harvesting through all the excess vegetative matter can be a hassle too.
Another method, which I tried this year, is to "clip" the stem of the plant to a twine which is attached to the roof of the greenhouse. The clips are reusable (or you can buy compostable ones too) and you continue to clip the plant as it grows vertically. There is less set up and material needed in this method, the time sink is the heavy pruning. As you can see in the photo, harvesting is easier because the fruit is easier to reach. Studies indicate that the yield is greater too since the plant is putting less energy into vegetative growth. Although I haven't seen much difference in yield between the two trellising methods this season, I did note that the clipped tomatoes ripened earlier.
My verdict? I'm not sold on one over the other yet. I did note that some varieties were harder to clip than others, so I will continue to basket weave those. So I'll try both methods again next year and continue my experiments. And continue taste testing of course too!
This Week's Bounty: lettuce, cabbage, beet, potato, beans, leeks, radish, tomato, melons, zukes, cukes?