Greenhouse tomato production requires attention to detail

News Release Distributed 03/03/10

BOSSIER CITY, La. – Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse requires attention to detail, said Dr. H.Y. Hanna, a researcher in charge of the greenhouse tomato project at the LSU AgCenter Red River Research Station.

A record audience of 94 attended Hanna’s 14th annual Greenhouse Tomato Seminar on Feb. 26.

Among the topics were cutting costs without reducing yield, a new root media recycling method that saves money, research tips that produce results, productive greenhouse varieties and growing your own vegetables in a hobby greenhouse.

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 recycling for 14 years. “I like perlite because you can recycle it,” he said.

The crew at the Red River Research Station uses a heavy duty nozzle mounted on the steel wand of a hot water pressure washer to stir and disinfect the perlite, Hanna said.

He advised not leaving misshapen fruit on a plant. “If your plant could talk, they’d really appreciate it,” Hanna said. “It takes nutrients from your plant.”

The tomato program employees use mirrors under the fruit clusters for easier viewing to spot misshapen fruit for removal.

Hanna said his research has found that heating costs can be reduced when using a constructed interplant bottom-heated greenhouse, using diesel fuel, rather than suspended heaters, using natural gas.

Heating the root system means reducing heating the foliage, said Hanna. “The root system is out of sight and many people don’t pay attention to it,” Hanna said. “If you have a strong root system, you have a strong plant.”

Hanna called soil-less media, bumblebee pollination, inverted gutters, harvesting rainwater and grafting tomatoes major innovations in growing greenhouse tomatoes. He said the future is growing under light-emitting diodes. “It’s a big research project right now in Canada,” Hanna said.

Tomatoes could then be grown in basements, he said.

Participants were able to practice grafting (fusing two plants together) after the program. Tools needed for grafting are razor blades, clips, a box, clear plastic bags, a shaded area and water.

Hanna said grafted plants grow stronger.

Hanna said other crops can be grown in a greenhouse and offered the following suggestions:

Squash and zucchini – buy the vining type if you are growing in a hobby greenhouse.

Cantaloupe – grow up a trellis. Don’t worry; the trellis will hold the fruit.

Eggplant – feed it right, and you’ll get a tremendous yield.

Hanna’s spring crop of greenhouse tomatoes are available to the public in five-pound boxes for $10 at the Red River Research Station at 262 Research Station Drive in Bossier City. Proceeds go toward more research.

Roger Hinson, LSU AgCenter economist, said the latest estimates indicate there are 20 commercial greenhouse tomato producers in Louisiana who had a total of about 130,000 square feet in production, with sales of more than $1 million at an average price per pound of $1.50.

Mary Ann Van Osdell
1/4/2011 1:07:17 AM
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