Some background on our decision to grow tomatoes in a high tunnel.
It occurred to me while writing this that I should point out that what we are doing is not original. There are many, many people growing tomatoes – and many other fruits and vegetables – in high tunnels using this trellising technique. I have to thank Tony Kleese, presently of Earthwise Organics, http://www.earthwiseorganics.com, whose sustainable agriculture classes throughout the Southeast got us started. Tony teaches his sustainable agriculture classes throughout the community college system in North Carolina and other places (including the Caribbean,) and I highly recommend them. His curriculum includes horticultural/agricultural lessons with a heavy dose of market analysis and budgeting. I spent many hours in Tony’s classes and followed up on some advice to get in touch with Jim Letendre of Sunny Slope Greenhouses near Siler City, North Carolina. Jim Letendre and Dave Denson, both now retired, are my mentors when it comes to greenhouse tomato production and Jim has given huge amounts of free advice, encouragement, and friendship. This little blog on our endeavors will surely pale in comparison to Debby Roos’s work on the Sunny Slope method.
Two years ago, Tony Kleese introduced me to Steve Moore who was a presenter in Tony’s classes. His Powerpoint presentation on high tunnels is very informative, and his real-world knowledge is complete.
All you have to do is shake his hand (paw) and you know he spends a lot of time in the field. Steve’s preferred high tunnel is an Atlas 35′ x 96′ Super Arch. We constructed our tunnel in January – something I don’t recommend- in snow, wind, and rain. Wind is a true enemy when one is attempting to put on a 5,000 square foot sheet of plastic.
Around March 15th, the plants arrived – 600 ‘Big Beef’ organic seedlings grafted onto ‘Estimino’ rootstock. Because of the bad weather during tunnel construction, we were unable to plant them immediately. Though unavoidable, this was a crucial first-year error since we missed at least a month of fruit production before the hot weather when the indeterminate tomato varieties stop setting fruit. Once the tunnel was dry enough, we applied 100 units N of organic fertilizer and enough lime to raise our ph a full point. Once the fertilizer and lime were diced in, I used the International 140 to “hill up” 7 beds intended to hold 84 plants per bed on 2′ centers in 2 alternating rows.
It’s at this point that we install the tomato seedlings and, as they grow, we will begin pruning, suckering, and clipping.