Record crowd attends 13th annual greenhouse tomato seminar

Hanna Y. Hanna, Picha, David H., Van Osdell, Mary Ann  |  3/4/2009 10:49:17 PM

H.Y. Hanna, in front at right, taught a four-hour seminar on growing tomatoes at the Red River Research Station in Bossier City. (Photo by Mary Ann Van Osdell) (Click on image for larger photo.)

Jolinda Redling, left, and Veronica Czarzasty learn to graft tomato plants at the LSU AgCenter Greenhouse Tomato Seminar Feb. 27. (Photo by Mary Ann Van Osdell)

News Release Distributed 03/04/09

A record crowd of 86 people attended the 13th annual Greenhouse Tomato Seminar Feb. 27 at the LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station in Bossier City.

Dr. H.Y. Hanna, an LSU AgCenter researcher at the station, who is in charge of the greenhouse tomato project, taught the four-hour seminar, which covered grafting tomatoes, new varieties, growing media, successful cultural practices and pollinating techniques.

“The crowd was bigger because more people are interested in growing their own vegetables,” Hanna said. “Some of it has to do with the economy, and some with concerns for the safety of food in the marketplace.”

The usual size crowd is 50-60 people, he said.

“If you begin with the wrong tomato variety, it’s the recipe for bankruptcy or going out of business,” Hanna said. “If you can produce a fruit of two to three pounds, you’ll be a star, a hero. You’ll never sell a tomato twice unless it is good quality.”

Hanna studies the sugars, acids, sodium and potassium in his crop, explaining that the correct percentage of sodium improves taste, and potassium is responsible for improvement in color and shelf life. Three varieties he’s studying for yield, fruit weight, quality and shelf life are Trust, Quest and Geronimo.

“Quest is a shiny fruit and lasts long,” Hanna said.

He presented data from three root media – perlite, pine bark and rock wool. Although pine bark is the least expensive, Hanna suggested growers try perlite, which he has been using for 13 years. “I like perlite because you can recycle it, and it has an edge in marketable yield.”

He advised not leaving scarred fruit on a plant. “If you do, it takes energy from the healthy fruit. It is mismanagement to leave bad fruit on a plant.”

He uses mirrors under the fruit so it’s easier to spot scarred fruit.

The expenses of heating, cooling and labor to operate a 30-foot-by-96-foot greenhouse from January to July are about $8,000, Hanna said. Other costs include fertilizer, root media, seeds, water, twine and marketing boxes.

This year’s seminar included a workshop on how to graft tomato plants. There were also sessions on how to raise popular vegetables in a home garden and a hobby greenhouse.

Dr. David Picha, LSU AgCenter horticulture researcher, said tomatoes should be handled gently like eggs. “They should be handled extremely delicately, and wear gloves.”

Hanna’s spring crop of greenhouse tomatoes will be available to the public in five-pound boxes for $10 in mid-March at the Red River Research Station at 262 Research Station Drive. Call (318) 741-7430 for the exact date. The money from sales goes to funding more research on tomato production.

Mary Ann Van Osdell

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