2002 Heirloom Tomato Demonstration
2002 HEIRLOOM TOMATO DEMONSTRATION
Fair Oaks Horticulture Center
The 2-acre Fair Oaks Horticulture Center (FOHC) consists of community garden plots, a demonstration orchard, a table grape vineyard, a berry patch area and an additional area approximately 30’ by 50’ that is reserved each year for vegetable tests or demonstrations. This area is where an heirloom tomato demonstration was planted in 2002 (What are Heirloom Tomatoes?). The Master Gardeners hold workshops throughout the year for the public. The annual Harvest Day is the biggest event of the year at the FOHC and is held on the first Saturday of August each year. Go to “2003 Workshops” to access the schedule of workshops.
After reading an article in July 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle about the heirloom tomatoes Santa Clara Master Gardeners were growing, the Harvest Day Committee decided that heirloom tomatoes might be of interest here in the Sacramento area. The public has been exposed to heirloom tomatoes in specialty markets, and grocery stores and local nurseries sell heirloom plants in the spring. The idea of growing heirloom tomatoes was enthusiastically endorsed by a team of volunteer Master Gardeners. The team consisted of Master Gardeners Jim Carson, Laura Cerles-Rogers, Cathy Coulter, Phil Damewood, Rose Gong, John Gregory, Bill Hollins, Diane Johnson, Dick Krause, Theresa Luza, Larry Masuoka, Gail Pothour, Luke Shenoy, Nikki Smith, Art Svejda and Dave Vaughan. Overseeing the project was Sacramento Master Gardener Coordinator, Judy McClure, and Farm Advisor, Chuck Ingels. Adding insight and providing the heirloom tomato plants were Santa Clara Master Gardener Coordinator Nancy Garrison and Santa Clara Master Gardeners, Dot Maley and Mickey Neff. Steve Zien, an organic horticulture specialist and owner of Living Resources Company was a consultant on the project.
For the demonstration we used 5 rows, each 5 feet across and 30 feet long. Two plants of each variety were planted side by side and 2 1/2 feet apart in the 5-foot wide row. Each variety was spaced 4 feet apart down the row. Each 30-foot row was able to accommodate 7 varieties, or 14 plants, for a total of 35 varieties and 70 plants in the 5 rows. (See Map for layout.) The Santa Clara Master Gardeners provided seedlings. Using recommendations from the Santa Clara Master Gardeners, Gail Pothour and Phil Damewood selected 35 varieties that would do well in our summer heat and would give a range of types, shapes, and colors. Please see List of varieties planted.
A soil test showed the soil (imported subsoil) to be very deficient in several nutrients, so the following organic fertilizers were added: gypsum, blood meal, kelp meal, cottonseed meal, feather meal, sulfate of potash, soft rock phosphate and fish emulsion. A cover crop of peas, bell beans and vetch was sown in fall of 2001 and tilled March 2002. Fifteen yards of compost from the City of Folsom were purchased and added to the site.
TOMATO SUPPORT SYSTEM
Since this was a demonstration, the committee wanted to test a couple of ways to support tomatoes. We placed 7 foot steel stakes every 6 feet on both sides of each row, and we placed 2 rolls of concrete reinforcement wire for support. We attached the reinforcement wire to the stakes starting at the bottom of the wire 1 foot above the ground. That moved the top of the wire up to 7 feet in height. There was enough wire for 3 rows, and for the last 2 rows sisal twine stung between steel stakes as the tomatoes grew was used.
Thoughts on trellising--- the concrete reinforcement wire works very well for tomatoes. It keeps the tomatoes growing upward and makes it easy for harvesting. For the home gardener there is an initial expense, but if they can be stored they will last for years. There were problems with keeping the tomatoes up off the ground where the sisal twine strung between the steel stakes was used. They were also harder to pick.
Overhead sprinklers were used until the transplants were established. Then we switched to drip irrigation: on each bed we used 2 rows of ½ inch tubing with in-line 1 gallon/hr emitters every 12 inches. Typically, the plot was watered for 3 hours every 5 days. The watering needs were hard to gauge, as there were many temperature swings throughout the growing season. Watering was done more or less depending on the weather forecast for the future 3 to 4 days. If 100 degree plus weather was forecasted, the area was watered for 3 ½ hours, and if upper 80’s or low 90’s were predicted, it was watered for 2 ½ hours. With 4 1-gallon emitters per plant, the amount of water applied per plant therefore ranged from 10 to 14 gallon per plant. We used a soil moisture meter and a soil tube to check the moisture in the root zone to guide with the watering needs of the plants.
Thoughts on irrigation – once the plants were established the drip irrigation was effective and a real time saver. Weather fluctuations made using the drip on a timer nearly impossible.
Monthly meetings were held in a room provided by Fair Oaks Park District. Certain duties were divided. Master Gardeners volunteered to take the lead on specific duties. At the first meeting, the committee wanted to get an understanding of what heirloom tomatoes are and the their history. Cathy Coulter volunteered to tackle the assignment and at the next meeting presented her findings on heirloom tomatoes. Go to “What is an heirloom tomato” for Cathy’s findings.
Tomatoes were harvested from July 5th to September 14th once a week - except for the end of July when harvesting was done twice a week for a couple of weeks due to the heavy harvest. Two-person teams harvested, counted and weighed each variety. The number of fruit, total weight and individual fruit weight can be found by accessing Heirloom Tomato 2002 Results. It is clear to see that the smaller the fruit size (cherry tomatoes), the greater the number of fruit per plant (or vice versa). However, there is no clear relationship between size or fruit number with the total yield per plant.
The Harvest Day Committee accomplished the goal of learning more about growing tomatoes and educating the public about growing heirloom tomatoes in Sacramento. There was great interest from the public at Harvest Day 2002 in tasting all the different varieties. Because of this project, participants were able to answer many questions from the public while giving tours of the demonstration area. An informative pictorial storyboard of the 9-month project was constructed by Art Svejda. The demonstration garden proved heirloom tomatoes grow well in Sacramento and with their superior taste and a multitude of shapes and colors; they are worth a try in the backyard garden.
Heirloom Tomato Coordinator