Improving growth and productivity of early season high tunnel tomatoes with targeted temperature additions
In northern climates where the growing season is shortened by cool spring conditions, high tunnels make it possible to plant and produce tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L.) at least 1 month earlier than in the field. However, limited high-tunnel research has been performed in arid high-elevation regions that experience extreme diurnal temperature fluctuations. High tunnels are designed to be passively heated; therefore, additional protection from frost may be warranted if growers wish to plant significantly earlier than normal. Low tunnels built within a high tunnel reduce the energy requirement by concentrating heat around the plants, particularly when a heat source is placed inside the low tunnel. ‘Sunbrite’ tomatoes were transplanted through black plastic mulch in four high tunnels in North Logan, UT (lat. 41.73° N, long. 111.83° W, 1382 m elevation) on 17 Mar., 30 Mar., and 7 Apr. in 2009 and on 19 Mar., 30 Mar., and 9 Apr. in 2010. Low tunnels were constructed over each row, and three supplemental heat treatments (unheated, soil-warming cables, and soil-warming cables plus 40-W incandescent lights) were tested to improve plant performance. The highest total marketable yield was achieved for earliest planting dates in both 2009 and 2010. In 2009, early-season yield was significantly greater when both the soil + air were heated, but only for the earliest planting date. In 2010, soil heat alone and in conjunction with air heat significantly improved early-season yield. Information gathered in this study on planting dates, yield, and energy costs provides valuable production and economic information to growers in arid high-elevation climates who desire the benefits of growing early-season tomatoes in high tunnels.
Hunter*, B., D. Drost, B.L. Black, J. Frisby, R. Ward. 2012. Improving growth and productivity of early season high tunnel tomatoes with targeted temperature additions. HortScience 47(6): 733-740.