Toigo Organic Farms sign. Photo: Bill Lamont
Heirloom and hybrid tomatoes are marketed wholesale to grocery stores in Washington, D.C. as individual fruit and tomatoes on the vine (TOV) with TOV making up the majority of the crop. Crops are certified by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). We met with Kevin Matthews who has a variety of roles with the company including as assistant grower and project manager. We toured the third crop grown at the facility which was started in early December 2016 and will grow until about the second week of November 2017.
The Toigo greenhouse is from the Netherlands and uses cutting edge technology. The roof is made from diffused glass which lets 97% of sunlight through and fractures it to avoid excessive radiation from damaging plants. This is compared to standard greenhouse glass which transmits about 85% of sunlight. In addition, Kevin was evaluating 2 LED lamps to determine if the technology is a good fit for the operation because as he said LED lights are effective, but expensive. Cooling is accomplished by an automated system that opens ceiling panels: up to 50% of the roof can be opened at one time.
Two types of LED lamps in the greenhouse: the square one near the roof (yellow arrow) provides full spectrum light and the pink strip at the top of the plant canopy (white arrow) provides red and blue light. Photo: Elsa Sánchez
Rainwater captured on the roof of the facility is directed to a large tank. It is then heated during the day by a natural gas-fired boiler. At night this water is used to heat the greenhouse. Excess rainwater from the roof is diverted into a 750 gallon pond to supply water for future irrigation needs. Drainage pipes have been installed below the planting beds to recycle water back through the irrigation system. Air is enriched with carbon dioxide (CO2) to a maximum concentration of 2500 ppm using CO2 generated from the boiler heating irrigation water.
During the day water from the yellow tank is heated by the boiler. Carbon dioxide produced by the boiler is used to enrich tomatoes in the greenhouse. Photo: Elsa Sánchez
Carbon dioxide is added to the greenhouse atmosphere through plastic tubes. Photo: Bill Lamont
To prepare the greenhouse for growing crops, a plastic membrane is placed on the ground. An 8 inch layer on organic matter is placed in rows on the membrane to support plant roots. White-on-black plastic with pre-punched planting holes is then placed over rows. Between rows, white landscape fabric serves to manage weeds. Weeds are also managed by hand weeding and applying vinegar.
Four-week-old grafted tomato plants are set at a population of 3.2 plants per square meter. Vines are trained to 2 stems. Once stems reach a height of 15 feet, they are dropped and leaned. Training also includes removing suckers and supporting fruit clusters with truss supports and j-hooks. Leaves are pruned to expose the bottom 3 fruit clusters. Biodegradable plant clips are used at Toigo. Once a cropping cycle is complete, vines with clips and trellis strings are composted. Once vines break down, strings are raked from the compost pile.
Truss supports (black plastic) and j-hooks (white plastic) support fruit clusters. Photo: Bill Lamont
Nutrients are supplied by adding amendments to the planting rows and also through the drip irrigation system. Irrigation water is heated in the winter and cooled in the summer to be within 5 to 10 °F of soil temperatures to avoid shocking plants. Tissue testing is conducted weekly to keep up with plant nutrient needs.
White-on-black plastic mulch is lifted to add amendments including peanut meal and blood meal. Photo: Elsa Sánchez
For TOV sales, each flower cluster is thinned so that 4 to 5 fruit will develop. Heirlooms are sold as individual fruit. Bumble bees pollinate the crop. New boxes are brought in every 2 weeks and kept for 12 weeks.
One of the two banks of bee boxes that are placed strategically in the greenhouse. Photo: Bill Lamont
Peppers and eggplants are grown along the end walls as a way to maximize space because they do not require dropping.
Sweet specialty peppers growing along one end wall of the greenhouse. Photo: Elsa Sánchez
Pests are managed using integrated pest management tactics. Insect pests are managed with an aggressive biocontrol program. Releases of natural enemies occur weekly. Habitat plants are used to support natural enemies. Eggplant plants are placed at the ends of tomato rows to serve as indicator plants. Diseases are managed with a combination of cultural tactics and pesticides, when needed. The crop is scouted frequently.
Predatory wasps cards to manage whiteflies. Photo: Tom Ford
Mullen banker plants support Dicyphus hesperus, a general predator of insect pests. Photo: Tom Ford
Eggplant at the end of each tomato row is used as an early indicator of pest problems. Photo: Tom Ford
Large yellow sticky cards and long strips of sticky tape are part of the pest scouting plan. Photo: Elsa Sánchez
Twenty to 30 employees, depending on the time of the year, maintain the crop. While we were there tomatoes were being dropped, suckers were being removed, and harvest was occurring. Four million pounds will be harvested from this single tomato crop.
Tomato vines just dropped and leaned for the first time. Photo: Elsa Sánchez
Just harvested fruit for TOV sale. Photo: Tom Ford
Harvested fruit for individual sale. Photo: Bill Lamont
Thank you to Kevin Matthews for inviting us and providing us with a tour of Toigo Organic Farms!
Toigo Organic Farms
305 N Old Stonehouse Rd
Carlisle, PA 17015