Clif Notes

Dry Farmed Tomatoes

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, April 23, 2013

By Drew Erickson, Assistant Farm Manager

The first thing I ever grew was a potato, a simple process my grandfather taught me. Put a slice of potato with a few eyes on it in some light soil, cover it with some more light soil and watch it grow. When the plants started to die back we dug them up to find a gold mine of spuds.

He never said it directly, but I’m sure my grandfather was teaching me that growing your own food isn’t rocket science. With a little hard work and a little know how you can grow some amazing veggies to share with your family and friends - an important lesson for a child of a generation raised on food anonymously sourced from the local grocery store. In his garden on a quarter acre in the Oakland Hills grandpa had a variety of fruit trees, a few rows of vegetables, and my favorite part, a raspberry patch. I am often reminded of this garden now that I work on a farm where we grow many of the same trees and vegetables that he grew..

While I will always remember my grandfather’s keep it simple attitude there is always room for innovation, and farming is no exception. In our continuous effort to stay on the cutting edge of organic farming we are planting a crop of dry farm tomatoes. The idea is to grow a tomato with the most concentrated amount of sugar by starving it of water. On the plus side we will be saving water and growing great flavored tomatoes. The down side -more labor intensive to plant, decreased crop yield, and not the simplest crop to grow. Not rocket science, just hard work and a little know how.

The process began a few weeks ago when we turned our cover crop in on a portion of field. The first step was to prepare the soil to a depth of two feet using the double turn method where the farmer removes 12 inches of soil and blends it with well composted manure. The next step is to turn the soil another 12 inches deeper. Finally you add the first 12 inches back to the hole rich with amendments.

Once the soil had been prepared it was time to plant the tomatoes. We encourage the plants to root deep in the soil by growing them in our greenhouse to around a foot tall. At planting time we removed all but the uppermost leaves and planted the root wad and stem as deep as possible so that the resulting plant is only four to five inches tall.

The plants were watered in deep on Sunday and will continue to receive drip irrigation once a week until fruit begins to appear. At that point we will cut the irrigation off, cross our fingers and hope that the roots have made it deep enough for the plant to survive.

In the next few days we will be setting up a support system of trellises and pinching of any early flowers that appear to encourage the plants to put energy into growth rather that fruit production.
Keep your fingers crossed with us and stay tuned for updates on our dry farmed tomatoes and other edible projects we are working on here at the Clif Family Farm. We hope to have these tomatoes available through our CSA program this summer.

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