Pondering High Tunnel Tomatoes

I’m still trying to figure out how to use our new high tunnel in next years growing plan.

We put up the high tunnel in late October, on ground from which we’d just recently harvested sweet potatoes. We’d had 5 inches of rain from Hurricane Matthew and there was no time to prepare the soil (red clay) properly. Unsure how to proceed, I laid out beds and worked them with a wheel hoe. Then I spread a little compost and, figuring I had nothing to lose but some seeds, sowed the beds with radishes, kale, turnips, spinach and lettuce.

I’ve been pleased that this happened:


We’ve already been enjoying the kale thinnings, and it looks like we’ll be able to start harvesting radishes and lettuce very soon.


Even with the advantages of the hoop house, things grow more slowly in the short days of December, so I’m having to learn to be patient. We offered lettuce to our customers this week and have a lot of orders for delivery on Tuesday. I may have to tell them I was wrong about when the lettuce would be ready. We’ll see.

Once these crops are done, my tentative plan is to plant tomatoes and green beans in the tunnel. Unsure of when to plant, I think I’ll put them out a month earlier than my normal plantings–early April instead of early May.

I think most people plant early determinate tomatoes in hoop houses. But I don’t really want to do that. For those who don’t know, determinate tomatoes set their fruit all at once (more or less). That makes them good for commercial farming and for homesteaders who want to can a lot of tomatoes all at once. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to fruit until they’re killed by frost or blight. They produce more tomatoes but take a much longer time to do it. The tastiest tomatoes, in my opinion, are the big old heirloom indeterminates.

We used to grow several varieties of tomato every year. But our favorites, and our best sellers at the market, are always German Johnson and Romas.




German Johnson

So last year the plan was to cut down to just those two varieties. At the last minute though I planted Marglobes as well, still hoping to have success with a determinate tomato that didn’t have to be staked or caged. Once again though the experiment was not successful. When I was growing up we planted Marglobes and never staked them. But each time I’ve tried it we’ve lost most of the fruit. Aside from that, few people want them at the market these days. They’re just not as popular as they once were. So for now, no more Marglobes.

Back to the hoop house issue. I’m tempted to plant our German Johnsons as usual–except inside the hoop house. My understanding is that folks tend to shy away from the big prolific indeterminates inside high tunnels, because in that environment the plants just get too big and crowded. And because they can grow 20 feet tall or more, a lot of pruning and heavy duty trellising is necessary. Notwithstanding these concerns, my tentative plan is to put in German Johnsons and trellis them with the Florida Weave method. I’ll take out the tops if necessary.

As I said, it’s all new to me. I’m thinking of it as an experiment. If it turns out that German Johnsons are not well-suited for the high tunnel, then I’ll continue planting them outside and use the high tunnel for other things, but probably not early determinate tomatoes.

Of course all this is predicated on our staying in the vegetable business. If we decide not to continue with that, I’ll just use the high tunnel for our personal garden, which I expect would be fun and easy.

In the meantime, any thoughts on tomatoes and high tunnels would be appreciated.