Photo courtesy of Toigo Farm.
Back in 2017, we visited Toigo Organic Farms where Kevin Matthews gave us a tour. We had the opportunity to go back and visit with Mark Toigo and Bram Kyer. Seeing the farm from the perspective of different people, gave us a new view of the farm. One that we thought you’d be interested in reading about.
Our tour, started outside the 5-acre greenhouse looking at a pond constructed to store rainwater collected from the roof. Over 135,000 gallons of water can be collected from an inch of rain from a roof of this size. Collected water is used to irrigate greenhouse crops from October to July. In July, algae in the pond becomes a problem and a well on the farm is used for irrigating.
The greenhouse at Toigo is about 24 feet tall. It is passively ventilated, with not a single fan in the structure. Note the open roof panels. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
A pond is used to capture rainwater from the greenhouse roof and collected water is used for irrigating crops. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
While outside we also saw the area where media used to grow all their greenhouse crops is mixed. They make a custom mix including compost, coconut coir and chips, pine bark, and various organic nutrient sources. Nutrient management consists of including organic nutrient sources in the planting mix, applying organic nutrients sources to planting beds by side-dressing, and fertigation. Crop nutrients are carefully monitored using frequent plant tissue testing.
The area used for blending the custom planting mix. The light brown pile is coconut coir and chips and the dark brown pile is compost. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Nutrients are managed by blending compost into planting bed media, applying organic nutrient sources to the beds, and adding organic fertilizers through the drip line. This employee is sidedressing planting beds with an organic nutrient mix. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Once in the headhouse, we saw large tanks filled with organic liquid fertilizers. Up to 25 different products are used to supply the crop with nutrients. It is challenging keeping nutrients in solution for fertigation – Mark said that they are basically pumping sludge. Some nutrients are continually mechanically mixed, such as calcium, before pumping through a filter and injecting into the drip line. The drip system is also flushed weekly to help prevent clogging. Vinegar, acetic acid, and citric acid are injected to the adjust pH of the nutrient solution. At Toigo, they constantly aim to improve and this is one of the areas Mark would like to refine.
Tanks of custom mixed liquid fertilizers used for fertigation. The yellow arrow is pointing to a tank where calcium fertilizer is continually mixed before injecting into the drip lines. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
During the day, a boiler run by natural gas, is used to heat water that is stored in a large water tank. The tank is pressurized with nitrogen to maintain heat. This water is used to heat the greenhouse and for dehumidification. Dehumidification is used as a tool to prevent diseases. Carbon dioxide is captured from the boiler and pumped into the greenhouse to enrich the air.
Boiler used to heat water. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
This large yellow tank holds heated water that is used to heat the greenhouse and for dehumidification. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Tomatoes-on-the-vine (TOV), heirloom and beefsteak tomatoes, orange and red peppers, and eggplants are grown as one crop per year for about 9.5 months, starting in December.
A tomatoes-on-the-vine crop. Tomato inflorescences are pruned leaving four fruits per cluster to achieve uniform size and ripening. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Heirloom tomatoes were being harvested while we were at the farm. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Various colored peppers trained to a ‘V’ system. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Eggplant trained to a ‘V’ system. Photo: Francesco Di Gioia, Penn State
Once plants are removed in October, the greenhouse is left empty for about a month. During this time, the greenhouse is cleaned out and sterilized. They use high-pressure water, Oxidate, and high temperature to clean out the space. Mark said this plant-free period is critical to stay ahead of diseases.
Thank you to Mark Toigo and Bram Kyer for providing us with this tour!
Toigo Organic Farms, 305 N Old Stonehouse Rd., Carlisle, PA 17015