Editor’s note: Steve Bogash, horticulture educator for Penn State University, presented this topic at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Pennsylvania in February.
In order to grow high yields of tomatoes of 20-plus pounds per plant, Steve Bogash, regional horticulture educator for Penn State University says growers must be “willing to focus on production details.”
Fruit cracks, radial cracking, yellow shoulder, blossom-end rot, and shoulder cracks are tomato defects that create severe losses of marketable fruit. Bogash suggests several “cultural practices that growers can implement to dramatically decrease these problems. Proper irrigation management, careful attention to balancing specific nutrients, and the use of either plastic or organic mulches have all been proven in field trials to significantly increase fruit quality.”
High tunnels and shelters provide growers with some control over weather. Bogash says implementing these has “been shown in trials to be ‘unusually effective’ at increasing fruit quality through reducing rain splash on fruit and even improving light quality when using ‘diffusion-type’ plastic films.” He notes that fruit cracking often follows rain, in larger fruit.
“Keeping rain off the foliage all but eliminates a number of fungal and bacterial diseases by keeping the leaves dry and preventing rain drop splashing-caused movement of plant disease spores. Spider mites, aphids, thrips, Fulvia leaf mold and powdery mildew remain common pest challenges for shelter-grown tomato plants,” he said.
In order to produce the greatest quantity of the highest quality, Bogash suggests tomatoes (peppers too) growers must:
- Pay careful attention to soil preparation prior to planting. In the case of soilless media, the selection of the appropriate media has long-term consequences for the management of plant nutrition.
- Select only those varieties that perform well and meet individual grower market requirements.
- Understand their water resources thoroughly as pH and alkalinity have direct implications in water treatment and the selection of nutrients.
- Use moisture sensing soil appliances such as tensiometers in order to meet plant demands as growing conditions change.
- Be prepared to test both the soil and plant tissue as part of a concerted program to meet changing plant demands.
- Have a well-designed, easy to maintain, well maintained, nutrient injection system.
- Be prepared to apply nutrients on a regular basis to meet plant demands. This includes foliarly applied nutrients.
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