GREG Research Trial of Heirloom and Hybrid Tomato Varieties in High Tunnel Production

Project Leader: Tim Hartlaub, MeadowLark Farms, Strasburg, CO

Technical Advisors:

  • Thaddeus Gourd, CSU Extension Agent, Brighton, CO
  • Debra Guenther, Research Associate, CSU , Fort Collins, CO
  • Laura Pottorff, CSU Cooperative Agent

Project Year: 2005

Project Summary

This research tested and compared three hybrid tomato varieties: Cobra, Amelia, and Buffalo; and two heirloom tomato varieties: Brandywine and Cherokee Purple under a high tunnel. The high tunnel measured 20 by 96 feet with 40% exterior shade cloth. The data collected compared taste in varieties and the individual yield of each variety.

The seedlings were planted on May 16th with a total of 200 seedlings planted in the high tunnel. Red plastic mulch and drip irrigation were used as the production system. Half of the tomato plants were trellised. The trellising was more labor intensive, but more productive. The free roaming tomatoes became unmanageable and a significant amount rotted, due to being in contact with moist plastic or ground. All seedlings were fertilized with a high phosphorus fertilizer through the drip irrigation system.

The first harvest occurred on July 22nd. Direct marketing of the heirloom tomatoes required handing out free samples at the farmer’s market, but in most cases, heirloom tomatoes brought double the price of hybrid tomatoes.

The tomatoes were tested for best taste among five individuals. Brandywine placed near the top, as did Cobra. Amelia placed last. The total marketable yields for the season are as follows: Amelia- 113.75 lbs, Cherokee Purple- 108.25 lbs, Buffalo- 101 lbs, Brandywine- 94.75, and Cobra- 88.25.

The problems encountered in this study were cases of blossom end rot and cracking of all varieties but Cobra with the record heat in July; and the wind pressure on the eastern plains which made construction difficult.

Click here for a link to the full text of the 2005 Annual Report (Word document).

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