[Market-farming] heirloom tomatoes

Steven Rogers singingpigfarm at earthlink.net
Sat Feb 12 11:18:32 EST 2005


I have been growing heirloom tomatoes on a commercial scale since 1990. I grow 18
varieties of heirlooms/year and I always trial 2 hybrids /year. I put in 50 plants of each
variety. They are planted in rows 6feet on center with the plants spaced 6 feet apart in
the row. I let them sprawl on the ground. I spent many years staking and pruning. 
The old timers would shake their heads and cluck their tongues at me for staking/pruning..
4 years ago i went to wide spacing and no support and they have performed well
for me. We have drought conditions here in the summer so there is no problem
of disease spread by soil splashing on the leaves. For budgeting/forecasting
purposes I use 20#/plant of unblemished saleable fruit. I have had production as
high as 60#/plant but that was an exceptional year. The heirlooms have very vigorous
root systems and with 6'X6' spacing they are able to gather water/nutrients from
a large area without competing. The varieties I grow put out fruit in the 1-2lb range. 
I do have a few every year over 3 lbs which is fun for the bragging rights.
The flavor, different colors and juciness sells the fruit. I wholesale them to restaurants
for $1.50/lb but they sell in farmers markets for 2X that price.
I buy all of my tomato seed from 2 sources: Totally Tomatoes and Seed Saver Exchange.
They bothe have seed in larger, gorwer sized quantites and they have huge
selections of heirlooms.
To minimize blemishes and extend the shelf life, I pick the whole field 2-3 times per week.
I pick everything from the ones with just a starburst of color on the blossom end to the ones dead 
ripe. I put them in bixes in the barn and they ripen within 2-3 days. Once the startburst hits, that tomato
is going to ripen. The first fruit are always the ugliest. They set in less than ideal weather conditions
which causes cat-facing and misshapen fruits.
I only fertilize at planting time. I use my own mix of organic fertilizer. Our soils are naturally high
in magnesium and low in calcium so I mix limstone and gypsum in the fertilizer. It has
a low "N" and a high "P" to promote blossoming. I lime and gypsum my fields as part of
a regular soil fertility program, so the lime/gypsum in the fert at planting time along with
consistent irrigation eliminates any blossom end rot problems for me. Of course,
you should walk you field and look for problems and take necessary action.
Varieties I plant every year include: Mortgage lifter, Aunt Ruby's German Green,
Tasty Evergreen, Hillbilly, Dr. Wyche's yellow,Black Krim, Pruden's Purple,
Crnkovic,Great White Beefsteak.
Good growing!


Steven Rogers
singingpigfarm at earthlink.net
EarthLink Revolves Around You.
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