The Life of a GTF Tomato

  • Seed Selection—there are thousands of tomato varieties in this world, and we need the tomatoes that grow well and sell in this area. Joelene spends countless hours meeting with seed company representatives and other farmers talking about which varieties they think are best. Then she has to use her twenty years of growing experience on GTF land to choose what’s best for us, taking into consideration what sells well at markets and wholesale.
  • Seed Timing & Grafting—We seed tomatoes about every other week from January through April. We have to have successions of dozens of different varieties of tomatoes, some in hoop houses, some outside. Plus nearly all of our tomatoes destined for hoop houses must be grafted, so we have to match the timing of rootstock and scion tomatoes which grow at different rates but must have the same stem girth at the time of grafting.
  • Flat Preparation—We make our own propagation soil mix for all the transplants we grow. To do that we have to make our own compost (a very complex piece of the puzzle), and then sift it all by hand, mixing it in a cement mixer with peat moss, perlite or pumice, and our own special mixture of micro ingredients and mycorrhizal fungi. The greenhouse crew makes soil nearly all day twice a week about January—April.
    • Tomato Seeding—We seed all of our tomatoes by hand, and the flats sit on hot tables to improve germination. For grafted tomatoes, twice the number of plants must be seeded.
    • The Grafting Chamber—After many years, Joelene has finished our grafting chamber to be a deluxe resort where tomatoes can form graft unions, a place where they can have just the right amount of light, heat, and moisture. Two people graft two to three days a week for at least two months. This takes precision razor cuts, sanitation, steady hands, and many years of practice.
    • Up-potting—After the tomatoes have sealed their grafts and the graft clip pops off, it’s time to up-pot all the seedlings into larger pots, which the tomatoes grow up in for another couple weeks.
    • Succession Planning & Disease Rotation—We graft nearly all the tomatoes destined for hoop houses. This is because we don’t have quite enough houses to rotate our hot weather crops as much as we’d like, so there is more disease build up in that soil. Many of the diseases that inflict tomatoes are soil born, so that’s why we graft disease-resistant rootstock with heirloom tomato scion material. We have more land outside of hoop houses and can do a better disease rotation, so grafting isn’t as important for outdoor tomatoes.
  • House Preparation
    • Install snow protection in the winter so we don’t lose any houses to snow. Remove them in the spring.
    • Soil testing—Check for all the macro and micro nutrients, add fertility and other various amendments. It’s actually quite a bit more complicated than that, especially including mid-growth applications.
    • Till the ground and form the beds.
    • Lay out drip tape and hook up irrigation, including trench digging, pressure calculations and pipe repairs.
    • Lay plastic over the drip tape and cover edges with soil to hold in place.
    • Sterilize trellising wires and install in the houses.
  • Tomato Transplanting—All the up-potted tomatoes must be loaded onto flatbed trucks and driven out to their planting destination. For many of the things we grow we use a partially mechanized transplanting method (tractor attachments that allow people to either sit or lay down while they plant), but all of our tomatoes get transplanted by hand. It’s a whole lot of bending over, at first in the cold and muddy spring, and later in the blistering hot summer.
  • Tomato Trellising—We have metal hooks with twine hanging down from the greenhouse ceiling. The strings are attached to the tomato plants planted below, and the plants grow up the strings as the season progresses.
  • Tomato Pruning—We prune nearly all of our indeterminate tomatoes to have two main leaders, one to twine around each string hanging down from the trellis. For about ten weeks out of the year a four-person crew works about three full days a week pruning and trellising tomatoes. Trellising entails twining the new tomato growth around the strings as the plants grow. Pruning involves careful pinching and clipping of branches and suckers. Anyone who’s spent much time pruning tomatoes knows the feeling of having green sticky tomato gunk all over your arms and hair and face. We prune largely to decrease disease pressure allowing more air flow through the houses.
  • Greenhouse Shading—In the summer months it can get way too hot inside a long hoop house, so we have to provide the plants some shade. If we had all the dollars we would just buy shade cloth, but we don’t , so we have designed a mud cannon to shoot mud all over the outside of our greenhouses, thus shading our tomato plants. Before the cannon was invented, it took a crew of four people standing (barely) on the back of a flatbed throwing mud up onto the houses one Nancy’s yogurt scoop at a time while driving forward in a jerky fashion.
  • Weeding—This is the one thing that doesn’t take too much time with tomatoes, as they are planted in plastic mulch. The plastic we use is a special plastic designed to prevent weed germination, but also designed to allow lots of heat to come through. This extra heat on the root system is what really drives up our yields.
  • Pest & Disease Monitoring—The plants have to be constantly monitored to see how they’re doing, see if we need to address any pest or disease issues, or if we need to apply mud or go through and do another prune. This is a duty shared by many who are at the farm all the time. We all watch and observe and share our concerns.
  • Tomato Irrigation—Irrigation is a very delicate dance. Water too much and you get disease and dilute fruit; water too little and you’ll have stunted plants and decreased yields. And those are but a few of the problems that can arise from improper irrigation. Joelene lives at the farm and gets up with the sun every day. She spends her entire day turning water on and off all around the farm until it’s dark out, and it’s light out for a long time in the summer! She has to use decades of knowledge about farming to decide which crops need what, taking into account what the weather’s been doing for the past few weeks and what it’s projected to do. Only so much water can be drawn from individual pumps at a time, so crops have to be prioritized, and a huge mental map must exist.
  • Tomato Harvest—Our field crew of about fifteen people harvests tomatoes nearly every day for almost four months straight. It’s a lot harder than it sounds to judge when a tomato is at the perfect time to pick, especially because every variety is different, every microclimate is different, every hoop house is different, and all of our eyes are different. You don’t want it too ripe or else it won’t make it to market, but you don’t want it so green that it won’t finish ripening. And aside from that, the simple mechanics of getting your body into a greenhouse packed with tomato plants taller than you, while holding a flat of thirty pounds of tomatoes while it’s crazy humid and reaching 90 degrees outside—that’s difficult.
  • Tomato Grading—Once in the packing shed, all of our tomatoes get graded by a crew of 2-3 people. Every single tomato gets picked up, felt, looked at, and put back down into its final destination. Tomato grading takes a trained eye and hand, and is broken down into the following categories:
    • Grocery Store Order—get packed into nice boxes and delivered all over Corvallis and Portland.
    • Restaurant Order—get packed into nice boxes and delivered all over Corvallis and Portland.
    • Farmers’ Markets—get packed into yellow flats and sent to markets.
    • #2’s—get sold discounted by the box or get roasted by our food processing crew and used in our salsa, in our restaurant (pizza sauce) and sold wholesale to other restaurants.
    • Compost—another place where the whole cycle begins again.
  • Heirloom Tomatoes—Heirlooms are so huge and delicate that they have to be cradled to stay protected. When harvested, we put them in foam-lined yellow flats in a single layer, so they take up a lot of space on pallets.
  • Marketing Tomatoes—Every year the giant selection of tomato varieties we grow changes to match changes in growing conditions and market demand. This information has to get compiled by our office and given out to our marketeers and our customers, which takes a good deal of time as well.
  • Cleaning Tomato Houses—At the end of the season we have to remove all of the dead tomato plants from the trellis strings. The plants get loaded onto a flatbed and get taken to our compost pile. The strings must be cleaned of all plant material, wrapped up in an organized fashion, and unhooked from the greenhouse ceiling. Then all the plastic must be carefully pulled out of the soil and thrown away. The drip tape must be gathered together and moved out of the way for the winter, and then the whole cycle starts over again.

Though tomatoes are one of our most labor-intensive crops to produce, many of the things we grow take nearly as much work and time, such as leeks and strawberries.

This blog post was written by Laura Bennett.

Tetsukabuto Squash

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We’d like to introduce you to the Tetsukabuto Squash, commonly called a Japanese pumpkin. Although we are now out of butternut, we have PLENTY of Tetsukabuto to go around. The nearly round, dark green fruit has a deep yellow flesh that is so sweet and nutty and smooth and creamy, it’s like custard. It is well-suited for any pumpkin or winter squash recipe, but is especially delicious simply baked and served by itself.

Get your own Tetsukabuto at any of the farmers’ markets we attend, or call us to make a special order.

Parsley: Italian or Moss?

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Parsley we often think of as a useless herb, aside from the hint of healthy green added to our plate. The reason parsley makes our food look so healthy is because parsley is actually very healthy for us. But you don’t get healthier by looking at parsley, now do you?

Parsley contains two major components that are particularly healthy for us: volatile oils and flavonoids. Volatile oils tend to inhibit tumor formation, and the flavonoids act as antioxidants. This dark green herb is also a great source of Vitamins A and C.

Throughout the year, our farm offers two varieties of parsley as well as parsley root. But what is the difference between parsley variants? Why would we choose one over the other?

The name parsley comes from the Greek work for “rock celery,” and it is in fact related to celery. Parsley hails from the Mediterranean and comes in over thirty varieties. Its main categories are flat-leaf (also called Italian) and curly. Here at GTF we grow both types: Italian parsley and Moss parsley (which is a type of curly parsley). The main difference between them is that the flat-leaf parsley usually has a more robust flavor. Curly parsley can be flavorless or more bitter, depending on the plant. Both types can be used for cooking. Simply taste the parsley first in order to get a feel for its flavor, then decide how you’d like to use it.

Instead of throwing out the stems, which have stronger flavor than the leaves, use them in a bouquet garni, add them to soup stocks, or add when cooking beans.

When buying parsley: Choose a bunch that has bright green leaves and shows no signs of wilting.

To store parsley: Wash fresh parsley, making sure to shake off excess moisture. Wrap it in paper towels, followed by wrapping it in a plastic bag. A fresh bunch of parsley can be refrigerated in this way for up to one week.

Parsley Recipes:

Tabbouleh or Quinoa Tabbouleh

Moroccan Potato Salad

11 Ways to Cook with Fresh Parsley

 

References:

Wikipedia

the kitchn

 

Swiss Chard: Benefits and Recipes

Defying its name, Swiss chard originated in Sicily and is a staple in the Mediterranean diet. Chard is chock-full of phytonutrients, including beta-carotene, and contains high amounts Vitamins C and E. This delightful green is beneficial for your eyes, immune system, heart, bones, and most notably, for regulating blood sugar in your body. Both the leaves and stems are edible and can be sauteed or steamed. Similar to beets and spinach, chard has a bitter, pungent, and slightly salty taste.

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Here are a few tasty recipes to try:

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Onions

Mini Muffin Frittatas

Swiss Chard, Potato, and Chickpea Stew

Frisee Endive: Benefits & Recipes

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Frisee is a bitter leafy green that is a member of the endive/chicory family. It has finely curled leaves. The center leaves have a distinctive yellow coloring as they have not been exposed to much sunlight.

After rinsing, frisee can be stored in a plastic bag or storage container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 weeks. It is best served with an acidic dressing to balance out the bitterness.

Health Benefits:

  • Low in calories, plus plenty of fiber.
  • High inulin and fiber content help reduce glucose and LDL-cholesterol levels in diabetic and obese patients.
  • Rich in Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene, which both have antioxidant properties. These vitamins are necessary for healthy mucus membranes, skin, and eyesight. They are also prophylactics against lung and oral cancers. Endive also contains Vitamin E and Calcium.
  • High in Folic Acid and B-complex vitamins.
  • Good source for the minerals manganese, copper, iron, and potassium.
  • Helps cleanse the liver and gall bladder.


Recipes:

Classic Frisee Salad with Poached Egg and Bacon
        – from The Kitchen Garden blog

  • 1 head frisee
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small squares
  • 4 fresh farm eggs

Wash the frisee in cold water, discarding the tough outer leaves. Soak the washed leaves in ice water for 10 minutes. (This causes the leaves to become extra crisp.)  Drain and dry the leaves, and place in a salad bowl.  Meanwhile, fry the bacon cubes in a hot skillet until crispy and drain on paper towels.  Poach the eggs in very gently simmering boiling water until set but still liquid, about 4-5 minutes.  It helps to break each egg into a tea cup and gently slide it in. It also helps to add a shot of vinegar to the water to help them stay cohesive.

Mustard Vinaigrette dressing

  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp finely sliced shallot (optional)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil

Mix together all ingredients except oil in a small bowl.  Whisk in olive oil until an emulsion forms. Toss the frisee, bacon, and dressing together until well-coated, and serve in 4 seperate bowls, garnished with a poached egg and a sprinkle of fresh pepper.  Note: many versioins of this recipe call for croutons.  See following recipe for crouton criteria.


More recipes…

Frisee and Endive Salad with Warm Brussels Sprouts and Toasted Pecans

Crique Ardechoise et Frisee

 

References

The Kitchen Garden

Nutrition and You

Health Benefits Times