Polygreens Podcast

052: Hydroponically Grown Tomatoes Part 1

December 10, 2021 Joe Swartz & Nick Greens Season 1 Episode 52
Polygreens Podcast
052: Hydroponically Grown Tomatoes Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Joe and Nick will explain about hydroponically grown tomatoes one of the most common methods used for tomato farming, the Dutch Bucket method.

More about Joe Swartz:
Website: https://amhydro.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/HydroConsultant

More about Nick Greens:
Website: https://www.nickgreens.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/InfoGreen

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Polygreens Podcast Episode 52

[00:00:00] Joe Swartz: Welcome everyone to another episode of the poly greens podcast. I'm Joe sorts, Ram hydro, along with my friend and colleague Nick greens and the Nick greens grow team. And here we are. And your number two. Can you believe it, Nick?
[00:00:12] Nick Greens: No. Oh, wow. Yeah, let's let's start this year off. Good. And, uh, I think you said it, you said it well on the text.
Let's let's do, uh, let's do an episode about a. How about tomatoes, hydroponically, grown tomatoes. 
[00:00:25] Joe Swartz: you know, I've been, I've been getting a lot of emails and people reaching out on social media and, and they really like, um, hearing about different crop production techniques. You know, the guests are great and we have plenty more guests coming up, but.
Uh, the most questions by far all relate to growing issues, growing culinary, herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, you name it. So, so today what we're going to do is we're going to dig in a little bit deeper. We're going to start walking you through some different production techniques and technologies for some of your [00:01:00] favorite crops, maybe some oddball crops you haven't even thought of.
So today we're going to, we're going to dive right in. I'm going to start talking about growing hydroponic tomatoes. Now. When I first got in the business way back when, back in the early 1980s, there were a fair number of, uh, hydroponic, uh, smaller to mid scale hydroponic growing facilities all around, uh, where I am and, uh, they've kind of gone away.
And what we've seen now with hydroponically grown tomatoes, being really the number one crop being grown in controlled environment ag here in north America in such huge volumes. Really big growers out there, putting out some amazing product. Some growers have started to steer away from that. They, they feel that, you know why I'm not going to try to compete with some of the big operations.
And, and I understand that, but, and are you 
[00:01:47] Nick Greens: speaking of like mighty vines and stuff like that in the Midwest too, 
[00:01:51] Joe Swartz: as well? Mastered already sunset Mucci farms. I mean, these are huge farms and all amazing growers Hollings out on the [00:02:00] west coast. Uh, amazing growers. Phenomenal crops. And so when you go to the grocery stores, now you see them all over.
They have tremendous shelf presence and, and again, really excellent quality. So many people tend to look away then to other crops. And I think that's a mistake sometimes because really one of the great. Opportunities in controlled environment. Ag is small scale, localized agriculture. So if I, you know, and I've grown tomatoes for years, we haven't grown them here at our farm for a number of years in Massachusetts.
But if I were to go back into tomato production, I'm not looking to try to compete with MasterCard's. What I'm looking to do is on a local scale. Whether we're talking farm stands through our CSA program, ordering online, where we're selling product to the local community. We have the opportunity to grow really high quality [00:03:00] specialty tomatoes, and we're able to harvest them really at the peak of freshness.
I mean, obviously the large scale producers that are shipping out great distances. That's one of the things they don't have the opportunity really to do because the shipping is still a, an issue. And so. The grower has an opportunity. So for growers out there, if you are growing. Uh, again, selling, um, right from your farm, whether you're selling at a farmer's market, wherever, wherever you have an opportunity where your product is getting into the hands of consumers very quickly, you have tremendous opportunity for some of the fruiting crops that a lot of growers have started to steer away from it.
Tomatoes really are, are, are the best in terms of. Everyone has, you know, one of those tomato stories, they just love, you know, the tomatoes they grew in their backyard, or they just love the tomatoes they got from this grower at the farmer's market. And that's really a great opportunity for you, local growers to shine.
And so we're going to get into today some of [00:04:00] the cultural practices to growing high quality tomatoes. And again, it's with the understanding that what you're looking to do is satisfy a local specialty market. Where you are growing the highest quality pro, uh, possible, and the freshest, there is nothing like harvesting a tomato, whether it's in your garden and the greenhouse or wherever that's dead ripe on the vine.
You know, most commercial growers have to harvest, uh, with some immaturity, uh, some green, some pink, um, not to flood. Uh, rightness and there's a loss of quality there and to a certain degree, possibly loss of nutritional value as well. So, so again, great opportunity to, um, to develop and cultivate markets and, and just to show you, um, The power of tomatoes, especially for people who really enjoy their tomatoes.
I had a relative that lived for a number of years in Anchorage, Alaska, and they [00:05:00] came up to visit one summer and I brought them a box of tomatoes from the greenhouse, and they took them back with them and they had neighbors. And these are people, you know, with good disposable income. They went nuts and they were asking me to.
Them tomatoes. They said you didn't care what it would cost. Uh, they would pay anything we wanted because they just couldn't get high quality, fresh tomatoes. And they really, when someone loves a tomato, they will pay whatever they want, whatever you want for them. And, um, and we, you know, we, it didn't make sense for us logistically to try to do that, but it, it illustrates the power of.
High quality crop. I know growers all over the U S and Canada who sell fresh picked tomatoes, picked completely ripe from their greenhouse this morning. And they're selling them today at the farmer's market. And people just love them. And so when you are looking at your crop selection, especially if you're doing vine crops, tomatoes, peppers, [00:06:00] cucumbers, don't overlook this opportunity.
So we're going to do. We're going to talk about, um, really from start to finish and we will in future episodes, we're going to talk about peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, specialty crops, like Lucas sponges. Actually, we just finished up a crop, um, for anybody watching on YouTube. Uh, I have in my hands right here, I have a lupus.
That we just finished. These are, uh, grown there. They're very similar to cucumbers in terms of their productivity. And they look a lot like giant cucumbers on steroids and they grow really well in the vine crop system. So when we're talking to send 
[00:06:38] Nick Greens: me one for a, I like to take a bath with it 
[00:06:40] Joe Swartz: sometimes certainly.
Well, I still have people look at them and go. These come from the ocean don't they know they're gourds and we grow them in the greenhouse. So, um, the, the, the two systems that we talk about really vine crop systems, where we're growing the sorting large fruiting crops, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, et cetera.
And then the leaf [00:07:00] crop systems for lettuce, culinary, herbs, baby greens, et cetera. And those two systems you can really grow. Anything within those two systems for the most part. And so when we talk about vine crops, obviously tonight, Taylor, we're going to focus on tomatoes, but you can do any of those other vine crops.
And we'll do shows where we talk more specifically about Cuca. Peppers, et cetera. And, uh, and the great opportunities that are there as well. So, uh, again, we, we listen, we appreciate all the input and we listened to you. So when people say, I want to know more about growing tomatoes and we're going to turn well, I think 
[00:07:39] Nick Greens: a good way to start is this talk about, uh, uh, The method, right?
Let's talk about the method, the different methods. And, uh, I would like to know your, your favorite too. Like that's I think a, the audience too, as well, want to know your favorite? Okay. So we've got, uh, aeroponics, we've got none NFT, which is nutrient film technique. It's not [00:08:00] NFT where you can buy it and, uh, hold it as an asset.
Please don't confuse that. And now I would Google. If you press NFT, you don't get nutrient film technique. No. 
[00:08:11] Joe Swartz: It's appointing, 
[00:08:12] Nick Greens: isn't it? Yeah. It's gone away. There's no way that you have to, you have to actually put nutrient film technique now. Um, okay. So then you've got ebb and flow, right? Then you've got the hydroponic, the drip system where, where you drip either probably holding in a Rockwell cube or something, or some other type of a medium.
And then you've got the deep water culture, right. Which is, I hardly ever see the deep water culture in the biz. I don't know about you, but I hardly ever see. 
[00:08:42] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah. There's a couple of different ways to grow. Um, everyone's got their favorite. So for me, uh, w when we look at tomatoes or peppers or cucumbers, these are large frame fruit and crops in otherwise the, the crops themselves, the plants themselves are physically very large.
They tend to be [00:09:00] quite heavy when they're loaded with fruit. They grow for a long period of time. The, you know, anywhere from six months to 15, 16 months, they, um, they go through several stages. If you growing a head of lettuce, that lettuce is in its vegetative state. The whole time it's trying to produce green biomass plant material.
When we look at tomato, We have a vegetative state, we have a reproductive or a generative state. So now we have to shift them over to fruiting. So there's a lot of different things going on there. So when we look at what type of system we want to use, we've got to look at some of those factors. One of course is the ability to deliver water and nutrients in the most effective way to offer physical support for the plants.
We don't just plant our tomatoes. Grow all over the ground. We train them specifically up on a trellising system, which we'll talk about. And so the plants have to be physically managed and supported. Um, and then the ability to control the environment around them. That means to, to [00:10:00] properly move air, to, to actually physically work in the crop.
These are crops that require specific maintenance, uh, techniques like, 
[00:10:08] Nick Greens: and you've been in a greenhouse and the peak of the peak of noon. Uh, when the sun is super, super hot, I don't care. What kind of van system you have in your tomato house? The tomatoes love that warm and God, when you're in between the canopy, man, you try to go as low as possible.
The lower you go, the cooler 
[00:10:28] Joe Swartz: gets and the tomato. Yeah. The tomato greenhouse is always a good place to hide too. In the tomato vines are 10 feet above your head and you. Tucked away somewhere. It's a, it's a good place. Now. I didn't say that don't ever repeat. 
[00:10:42] Nick Greens: It's good. It's a good scouting moment to at, at all the 40 foot long stems on, uh, you know 
[00:10:49] Joe Swartz: yeah.
When we talk about pruning, that's going to be another factor. So anyway, so all of those, those factors go into our selection of, of a growing system. So for [00:11:00] me personally, and I think from a sustainability. Um, as standpoint, as well as effectiveness, we want to start with a recirculating system. So any types of the older school drained away systems, where you have maybe a plant growing either in soil or into some type of soil mix where nutrients and water are dripped in through a drip.
So. And then drain out to waste that those are those days are over. Um, obviously from an environmental standpoint, that's not a good way to grow, but it's also not a good way to manage your water, your nutrients and your growth. So, so we want to start with looking at some type of system where we can apply nutrients and water and biologicals, and we want to be able to recover them.
So. In most commercial tomato operations, we have two, two different types of systems. One is a container system, most commonly known as a Dutch bucket system. So this is a, a container, uh, looks very much like a pale and basically it contains a growing media. And we're going to talk about growing [00:12:00] media in a second.
And in that medium, because the tomato plants are very large crops. They have extensive root systems. You don't want to just, you know, there, they have been, uh, I've seen NFT tomato systems. I've seen aeroponic tomato systems and they're a value to both. But I think a media based system tends to produce higher quality crops.
Um, the, the growing media that you use, we can talk about cocoa fiber 
[00:12:27] Nick Greens: or root production on the Dutch bucket with a, with a medium and there as 
[00:12:31] Joe Swartz: well. Yeah. And the fact that you can't see the roots tends to lead people to sometimes not pay as much attention to the roots. Well, one of 
[00:12:39] Nick Greens: those plants out of that Dutch bucket, you see everything's entangled already.
You won't even see the, the, the, the medium no more because. 
[00:12:48] Joe Swartz: Yeah, and our robust root system, that's the foundation of water and nutrient absorption. So if you're skimping on your root systems while you're, you're losing out in terms of quality and [00:13:00] yield. So again, we always want to focus on what the plants need.
So the Dutch bucket system, and now, and now the bucket systems are designed. To be recirculating. So they have, um, the growing media, they have drip irrigation where water and nutrients are basically applied through a drip irrigation system to the top of the growing media, nutrients in water. And 
[00:13:22] Nick Greens: that can also be measured out by scales and they, these days as well, right.
There's could be scales under the Dutch buckets as well, where they're measuring and calculating exactly on how much water you use. 
[00:13:34] Joe Swartz: Yep. Yeah. There's a, how much water nutrients to add is always a hot topic. Um, and so, yeah, there's, there's different mechanisms for, uh, applying irrigation, whereas kind of the old school method is just to, you know, intuitively apply as much water as you are as much nutrient solution as you feel, but we definitely have much more sophisticated ways.
Obviously the weight of the growing medium is a [00:14:00] great way to determine what its moisture content is. And when we talk about irrigation, we'll talk about a couple of those strategies and even on a small scale makes sense for people. So we want to keep in mind that. When we look, we talk about a lot of the higher level of technology.
Even if you don't have advanced equipment, a lot of the concepts of why we use certain technologies are valid regardless of your scale. So all of the things that we talk about, we're going to talk about high levels of automation and sophistication all the way down to very basic hand, uh, techniques. And again, it's all focused on what the plants need.
So, so the, the. Type of technology that you, you we use is, is in some ways irrelevant, but more is the process that we're following. Can 
[00:14:46] Nick Greens: you the, the, the thing and just keep it, uh, the Dutch bucket system, and then we'll go through the whole process with that, and then, 
[00:14:53] Joe Swartz: sure. Yeah. So the, so the bucket system, obviously, um, as water and nutrients and beneficial microbes are [00:15:00] added to the, to the growing media, uh, you want to have access flowing back out.
So we have the collection system within the, the Dutch bucket system. That's reclaiming the water and nutrients. And then the nutrient is, is filtered treated if need be adjusted, if need be, and then, uh, oxygenated and reused. So again, from a sustainability standard, As far as water usage, um, in terms of overall root health, uh, effectiveness of your irrigation and water.
And would you say 
[00:15:30] Nick Greens: 80% and 95% of the water's being reclaimed? Or is it less than that? Cause I know that there's some claims all over the internet. If you do search or you try to do research. Some people claim 95%, you know, more water efficient. Like what does that mean? I mean, what, what does that mean?
That's what I kind of, I guess what the question I'm asking 
[00:15:53] Joe Swartz: based on the age of the plants and the climate that they're growing and the plants are going to be using tomato plants are notorious. They're, they're very [00:16:00] heavy feeders. They use a lot of water and nutrients. So a lot of that goes right into the plant and the, the, the concept of the recirculating system basically means.
We're not losing any water and nutrients back out into the environment. We're not leaching. Uh, there's no overflow, no runoff. So basically whatever the plant doesn't use goes back in the system and gets reused again. So it's again, just like an NFT system, 
[00:16:25] Nick Greens: a sustainable system, then that kind of. 
[00:16:28] Joe Swartz: In terms of protecting the environment because we're not putting any material back in the environment, it's all staying contained within the system.
But then also from a conservation standpoint, we're using substantially less water, you know, outdoors. When we irrigate most of that water that we irrigate tends to. Leach down into the soil before being caught by the crops or sometimes runoff. There's a lot more evaporation, uh, whether we're sharing 
[00:16:54] Nick Greens: aspiring to from the tomatoes got try to go in there in the morning and see the transpire all over the [00:17:00] place.
Sometimes it's raining inside there. 
[00:17:04] Joe Swartz: Well, the plants and that's where we have to talk about proper environmental management, 
[00:17:10] Nick Greens: because I've been in system tomatoes house, but it was raining. 
[00:17:14] Joe Swartz: Okay. I hope you talked to them about fixing their environment. Well, 
[00:17:16] Nick Greens: they, they didn't have no, no, no vent. Nothing, you know, where's the vent, what vent.
[00:17:24] Joe Swartz: Yikes. So, um, yeah, so, so basically everything that the plants need and are using, we're managing much more effectively in a system like this. And of course, because we're not irrigating or, you know, using rainwater where water is going all over the ground. We're we're very selectively applying that water, a nutrient solution, right where the plants need it.
So we'd also go have the evaporation, a lot of whether it's rainwater or irrigation, water outside, a lot of that actually, uh, evaporates as well. So it's going back into the environment. And so, you know, the Earth's closed [00:18:00] loop system is still capturing it, but if you're paying for water or you're paying for equipment to apply water, It's being lost.
So, and again, in a controlled environment system, we can really manage that. And that's a really effective system. It's simple. The buckets are very easy to clean. We use what we call smart pots, which are a fiber pot that fits 
[00:18:19] Nick Greens: inside and material of the, a lot of the medium re-used as well. A lot of the perlite and a rock wall as well.
Right. The rock will, could be reading as well. Yeah, 
[00:18:29] Joe Swartz: absolutely. A Rockwell has become, especially because especially in Canada have been used so much. Disposal had become a problem. So as we start looking at, I guess I didn't meant 
[00:18:37] Nick Greens: rock women, uh, hydrogen. Okay. What other term do they have? Is 
[00:18:45] Joe Swartz: there, I mean, Coco fiber and coconut fiber is, or core is probably the most commonly used and especially the course or grades, uh, some growers use straight Coco fiber, some use a mix of Coco fiber.
Vermiculite. [00:19:00] And then when we started talking about root production, we're going to talk about some of them, some do a mix, 
[00:19:04] Nick Greens: some will put a clay pellets on the bottom, Earl light on the top, or a mixture of perlite with the clay pellets. And I've seen multiple different versions, uh, growers do differently.
[00:19:18] Joe Swartz: Yeah. So the, the, the hydroponic system to produce the tomatoes in terms of irrigation and nutrient management and a close up system is essentially the plant growing in an inert, growing medium, being irrigated with a small drip irrigation. Structure. And then all the water nutrients being recaptured and reused, and that's, that's the basis of any of those systems.
And so the Dutch bucket system is probably the simplest and most common, especially on a small scale, uh, being used. It's very versatile. You can grow a number of different crops. I grew the Lucas 
[00:19:53] Nick Greens: sponges in that that'd be categorized as the hydroponic drip system, I guess that would think that [00:20:00] would be labeled as that as well.
Right. Because it's technically both. Dutch bucket hydroponic trip system. 
[00:20:07] Joe Swartz: Yep. Yeah. I mean, there are still some growers using a drip system where they're just dripping into cocoa, right into cocoa. That's either just leaching out or going wherever. So the bucket system allows us to contain it, but again, it is a, it is just a drip system.
Very, very simple. Uh, most of the best systems are all quite simple. I know some 
[00:20:26] Nick Greens: growers they're just constantly dripping small amount of drops where they keep it almost almost as always dry dish, you know, like they never get it past 30% or humid, you know, 30% saturation inside this, inside the. 
[00:20:42] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah.
Cause for rude health, there's a number of things going on there. 
[00:20:46] Nick Greens: Yeah. But then are the plant nerd nerds, you know, the guys that are like, they watched their plant every second. 
[00:20:52] Joe Swartz: That's good. And, and, and I've seen growers with great success with a couple of, you know, very different types of techniques. [00:21:00] But again, when you're focusing on the actual function and the needs of the.
There are many different ways to meet that in some cases. And so, so there's, that's, that's why, you know, that's where the art and the science of hydroponics really shines. And, and, and there are certain fundamentals we can never get away from, but some of the techniques that we can use can be quite different and still equally effective.
And it could 
[00:21:22] Nick Greens: be anything you can apply that technique to soil growing, you know, outdoors as well. 
[00:21:29] Joe Swartz: Absolutely. Yeah. Hopefully people have, uh, have listened to us and kind of gotten that common theme over the past year. 
[00:21:36] Nick Greens: That's how I really started to understand hydroponics. When I studied a lot of soil girl.
Yeah. And worked with the original soil growers that these soil growers were even knowing what their bug life was. And we tie talked about this many times, you know, those are the type of soil growers I learned from where they're like monitoring their bug life. They're like, yo, we don't have enough, uh, [00:22:00] butterflies around lately.
Something's going up? Like, what do you mean we did, you, you notice 
[00:22:04] Joe Swartz: that. The watch and the ecosystems, 
[00:22:08] Nick Greens: but that's the out there growers though, you know, 
[00:22:11] Joe Swartz: well, growing is growing and if we're growing indoors without soil, then we have to make sure that we're providing exactly what plants are getting from the soil.
And so you're right. That growers who are managing effective soil production, they're doing exactly the same types of things that we need to be. 
[00:22:28] Nick Greens: Correct, but to the water, you know, like they're just feeding the soil, you know, and the soil would do what it needs to do to the 
[00:22:34] Joe Swartz: plants. Yep. Yeah. And you know, that's, that's an argument in the organic community right now.
They're saying that well, field organic production feeds the soil where hydroponics does it. Well, what hydroponics really does is it feeds the rooting environment. It feeds the roots and the environment within it, which is essentially the same feeding the 
[00:22:52] Nick Greens: water, which the waters. To the root system. So it's kind of the same technique if you word it that way.[00:23:00] 
[00:23:00] Joe Swartz: I, yeah, I really, I really believe having grown in both soil, uh, you know, where I, I grew up in and, and in hydroponics for controlled environment ag, one of the things that I've really seen is it, it is the same. It's not this artificial while we're just mixing up some kind of inert material and spraying it on the plants.
What we're doing is we're creating the exact same EcoSys. Living breathing ecosystem within the root zone, utilizing a nutrient solution, rather than the presence of soil where we may be adding things or, or managing, it's just, it's a different way to do it. But the process is exactly the. Because we're not looking to provide anything different than what plans are getting into.
So most of 
[00:23:43] Nick Greens: that organic fertilizers we can use in hydroponic growing. So I don't understand, I don't understand what people are talking about. We're using the same foods. You know, the only difference like I said is they're feeding the soil. We're feeding the wall. 
[00:23:59] Joe Swartz: So [00:24:00] everyone's got their own ideas and a lot of us are very strong with our opinions.
And so certainly we're always going to never come to a full consensus, but it is good to have the discussions and to talk about that. And I've had some, some amazing discussions with people I disagree with and, uh, we've been able to at least understand that really we're, we're looking at the same outcome and.
And so to that, to that point. So the, the Dutch bucket system, uh, 
[00:24:25] Nick Greens: to the feeding said the feeding side, right? We, we, we know a medium, we chose, we know we're using Dutch bucket system now, now what are, what are we going to do with, uh, how do I feed them all at the same time? Or is there spurred certain roles that need to be fed?
What is a recommendation for somebody that's got a big greenhouse turned out to Dutch bucket? 
[00:24:47] Joe Swartz: Sure. Okay. Now, and just one quick point is that the Dutch bucket system large-scale facilities, they tend to sometimes use a very similar system called the gutter system, which has a large gutter, which is a, basically a one piece [00:25:00] gutter that runs the length of the greenhouse.
And then, um, a containment vessel. Usually it's a bag with growing media is set on top of that gutter system. And then it's irrigated exactly the same way and the gutter. Collects the nutrients in exactly the same way and it recirculates. So the only difference between a Dutch bucket system and a gutter system really is what's holding the plant roots.
So in a bucket system, the roots are contained within the growing media, in that bucket in a, uh, a gutter system, there is a, a bag or some other type of containers. Usually it's 
[00:25:34] Nick Greens: Rockwell right about, I want to say 90% of the, the gutter systems that I seen were all using Rockwell. 
[00:25:40] Joe Swartz: Well, the most of, most of what I've seen now is actually a Coco fiber, same slabs though.
They look very much like Ross. So their Coco fiber 
[00:25:49] Nick Greens: slaps. Yeah. Oh yeah. Wow. I heard Pam. Who's starting to hit the market as well too. 
[00:25:56] Joe Swartz: I haven't seen a lot of that yet. I'm very interested to see how some of 
[00:25:58] Nick Greens: that I heard [00:26:00] the standability on the bamboo surpasses all of the other mediums. So that's kind of really, really interesting there.
[00:26:06] Joe Swartz: Yeah. It is the growing medium in the. The hanging gutter system is generally in these lay flat bags are long plastic bags filled with grow medium. And unless you cut one opener or look into it, a lot of times, it's difficult to tell you if you look at these lay flat bags, the Rockwell bags and the cocoa bags and the perlite bags all look very similar.
So you have to kind of go in a little deeper, but I wanted to touch on that, that that's a different type of system. Does exactly the same function on a larger scale. It may be more cost-effective where you see these multi acre ranges. They're all grown that way. And again, closed loop hydroponic recirculating system using an inert growing media.
So the same thing, just a different way to get there. So if we're going to talk about the production, let's back way up here and let's start at the very beginning. Let's talk about. [00:27:00] Selecting our seeds and looking at what we're trying to grow. Cause I always, I always have people coming in, so not just any 
[00:27:05] Nick Greens: seed will work.
My grandpa had these heirloom seeds. Joe, is there a way that I can have my grandpa's seeds, a B, B in the grocery stores? 
[00:27:16] Joe Swartz: You certainly can. And I know growers that are always developing heirloom variety seeds in production, in their, um, in their, their facilities. One of the challenges is, is that like with all of a controlled environment ag now the real exciting developments in genetics.
So we have certain crops and varieties that will do very well in a greenhouse environment in terms of quality disease, resistance productivity. Um, if anybody watching on YouTube, I've got a nice cluster of. Large beefsteak tomatoes hanging behind my head. Nick is in front of a very large hanging gutter system, a real high quality tomatoes on it.
And, and at the end of the day, that's what we're trying to do. So, so we can [00:28:00] grow anything we can grow. Uh, I've grown heirloom, I've grown Brandywine and Cherokee tomatoes. They challenged with that. That'd be 
[00:28:07] Nick Greens: consistent and you want to serve the community consistently. Then you want to buy a specific. 
[00:28:15] Joe Swartz: Yeah.
So, so you have to look at a couple things. So one is what's your end product is obviously if you're growing tomatoes, people think of the large beefsteak tomatoes and that's great. And there are a lot of varieties that are specific to greenhouse production that are very productive, producing, high quality, fruit, large uniform fruit people want LAR for beef steak.
People want low. You know, blemish free, good color, good size and shape, uh, tomatoes. And as a grower, you want ones that are very productive, uh, produce good flavored tomatoes, have disease resistance. Um, and in many cases, longevity, some variety. Do very well after awhile. So those are, those are factors as a grower, you have to look at.
And so [00:29:00] once you make those determinations, you have to stop and also look at well, what other types of tomatoes are grown? Are we growing cherry tomatoes? I love growing Sungold cherry tomatoes and our markets love them. So, um, you have to look at varieties for the dead, not only the varieties, but the types plum tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, the clustered tomato.
Um, those are all different types of tomatoes and fortunately there's a lot of great classic 
[00:29:23] Nick Greens: piece of steak, right? 
[00:29:24] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah. And there's a lot of a, company's doing great jobs with, uh, developing varieties. I mean, they're, there's new ones coming 
[00:29:32] Nick Greens: out every year. Right. There's constantly coming out with new ones that resist even better than the last year ones.
[00:29:39] Joe Swartz: We were growing trust, tomatoes way back in the day when it was a new experimental variety and trust became kind of the standard in the industry for beef steak tomatoes for a very long time. And, you know, it's, it's already been surpassed by other varieties now. So, so yeah, so always growing varieties that you know, will perform a [00:30:00] certain way, but then always trialing new, new things.
[00:30:03] Nick Greens: was some varieties have like N 95. What's that are just like, uh, they'll have a letter and a number. Oh yeah. Yeah. I always wondered, I was wondered like, was this the 95? Try that it, that, you know 
[00:30:19] Joe Swartz: yup. And, and all the varieties, they give them names and we've done a lot of trial at our farm for different seed companies and they always have some elaborate number.
You know, this variety is a X 9 5 5 1 2 3, uh, the, the work on it. And then they decide to go to market with. Fred and it's exactly 
[00:30:40] Nick Greens: what we know it is. 
[00:30:43] Joe Swartz: Yeah. Yeah. So, so the, the naming and the identification, um, is different and some seeds, you know, are, um, you know, there, there still are some open pollinated, which the heirloom or legacy varieties, and of course, most everything now is, um, grown and hybridized through advanced [00:31:00] breeding.
And, um, you know, it's really. Uh, great. Uh, you know, the, the, there's never been a better time for 
[00:31:06] Nick Greens: pellets, pellet, pelletized or not. 
[00:31:10] Joe Swartz: So with tomatoes, um, I prefer to use the raw seed. Tomato seeds are a little different than some lettuce seeds because of their size. If I'm a rough 
[00:31:18] Nick Greens: handler with seeds and I like, 
[00:31:20] Joe Swartz: you're going to always have your, your seeds pelleted for sure.
[00:31:23] Nick Greens: Cause then I can handle them on my hands and I can have my kids plant my seeds for me and my grandkids plant my seeds for me. 
[00:31:31] Joe Swartz: Yeah, that is not a recommendation for someone with 10 acres though, because you'd 
[00:31:35] Nick Greens: be, yeah. You don't want your kids running your farm. Nope, no, no slave labor 
[00:31:40] Joe Swartz: please. And again, the number of seeds would be astronomical.
So deciding on what your end crop is, and then developing a plan for. Genetics to use. Um, you know, it was really very important now and we'll, we're going to do a show on some alternative techniques and grafting as one. So instead [00:32:00] of raising your own seedling plants, some growers opt to purchase, see helium purchase seedlings from other nurseries, which is totally valid.
And we can talk about that and then sell growers will graph. So instead of just simply. Planting a seed and growing a ceiling of a certain variety and then planting it out and growing the plant outright, they will actually use rootstock from one type of tomato and they will graft it onto the plant of another type of tomato.
And they'll, they'll do that. It's exactly the same. Yeah. So certain rootstock tomatoes, there's certain varieties that have very strong roots that are very disease resistant, but they don't produce a lot of tomatoes and they can graph that to a variety that produces high yields of really good quality tomatoes.
And suddenly you have a tomato plant. That is very productive, but also has some of the qualities that you wanted in the rootstock, like disease resistance or nutrient absorption. So, so grafting, not, not a technique that I would recommend for a 
[00:32:58] Nick Greens: smallest, can I [00:33:00] take a pepper plan and put it on a rootstock of a 
[00:33:03] Joe Swartz: tomato?
I figured you'd ask something like that. I haven't seen it done yet. 
[00:33:06] Nick Greens: Effectively. We do some Frankenstein. Vegetables is yeah. You know, the audience is going to want to hear that. 
[00:33:12] Joe Swartz: No, what I'm going to recommend is I'm going to recommend everybody go out and try it and send us your photographs of your results.
And we'll put it out on social media please, 
[00:33:21] Nick Greens: and tell it tomato. It needs to be a pair. Let me know if it, if it happened. 
[00:33:26] Joe Swartz: Excellent. So, um, so certainly once we selected our seeds, we want to start with germination and, you know, people, they ask a lot of questions about. Tomato production in the greenhouse.
What are the temperatures that we want to use? What type of relative humidity, et cetera. And I always want to step them back and say, well, let's talk about germination because without strong germination, without strong seedling or propagation production, without any of those things, you're never going to have high quality high yielding crops, especially with something like a tomato, which grows for a very long time.[00:34:00] 
Any. Uh, imperfection in the growing process, any damage to the crop, any, um, environmental condition or nutritional information condition that's outside. The realm is going to affect that crop for months to come. And the plant may never fully recover. So everything you do from day one is critically important.
[00:34:22] Nick Greens: right. Like I, I know people that are like, I want no leaves on my tomato plant. I want it all focused on the fruit and I'm like, There's a bulk bill. You can't do that. Like there's a certain amount. You have to leave all the suckers. Yes. I can see remove all the suckers. Is that the proper term for, for, for what I'm saying?
[00:34:42] Joe Swartz: You know, growing up on a farm tobacco and tomatoes, always suckering them was a job at 
[00:34:47] Nick Greens: removing. Okay. So I'm not saying it wrong. Okay. Yeah, no, no. 
[00:34:51] Joe Swartz: I'm managing the crop is right. So, so we have to start with germination, proper germination temperatures. Every crop has kind of an ideal. Uh, germination. So, [00:35:00] so for tomato plants, again, we've already started to talk about growing media.
So we have to look at our propagation media, which has to be very compatible. So if we're growing in Rockwall, we don't really want to start our seedlings in perlite. And then. Plant them over at some point into a different media. We always want to start with the same. So let's just say for the sake of argument, we're growing Coco fiber.
So we have Coco fiber propagation blocks and there's some really great products out there. I really like the Jiffy, uh, four by fours, four inch square propagation cube. So we want to start our tomato seedlings and we want to start them right away. With a hundred percent relative humidity, proper temperatures, 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and we want to get really robust, quick interview them.
[00:35:46] Nick Greens: is cooler months like this time. There's also heating pads that you can put under Nate with the thermostat. Please do not use a heating pad without a thermostat and know your grandma's old heating pad that she used for her [00:36:00] back is not the same heating pad I'm talking. You could look for a horticulturist heating pad.
[00:36:06] Joe Swartz: If your mom is mad because you stole her electric blanket for your grade, it's going to be a big problem. Yeah. So at germination, you, the temperature is critically important and I'll tell you why. So if you let's say for the sake of example, you just want to put it in your greenhouse. Your greenhouse is kind of cold, or you want to put it in a warehouse and.
The temperature has, let's say 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit that is less than optimal. So a couple things are gonna happen. Germination is going to become slow and irregular, if it's too hot or too cold, it can even go into what's called thermal dormancy. So they may not germinate at all. But certainly if anything that you do that slows down the germination process already, right there, even under perfect conditions you have.
Microbes anaerobic, especially, um, uh, fungal and bacterial pathogens that are waiting to attack that seedling. So you may have Pythium or a few cerium [00:37:00] and those are generally, uh, uh, diseases that will thrive at really excessively high or excessively low temperatures and low oxygen. So we want to make sure when we're germinating, we have maximum oxygenation and ideal temperatures for that crop because we want.
Sealing to germinate as quickly as possible, be as healthy and robust as possible. 
[00:37:19] Nick Greens: And if you're looking for things to move fast, I always say consistency with temperature is key. That's why you having one of those heating pad with the thermostat. You know, the fancier, those thermostats are the better. If you can spend a little bit coin on a really nice one, please spend it.
It's really worth. And 
[00:37:40] Joe Swartz: bottom heat is, is really effective. So we want to make sure that those tomato seedlings are started and they are often running. Um, and again, and those optimum environments, that's a great time to add to your growing medium, beneficial microbes. They're different over the counter products that you can get that, um, try, go Derma and streptomyces and things like that.[00:38:00] 
Really really important to get them started early. So they're colonizing the root zone and they're providing benefits as opposed to just kind of leaving things to chance. So D 
[00:38:08] Nick Greens: do you seeing the airplanes, Joe, 
[00:38:11] Joe Swartz: you know, opera, if I sang to them that they would play some led 
[00:38:15] Nick Greens: Zeppelin for them? I think, right.
I love playing a little 
[00:38:18] Joe Swartz: music. Yeah. But, uh, no singing for the, um, so those are the environment we want it perfect from day one. It's no different than raising. The, you know, the, the, the environment and everything around it is critically important. So things like your ceiling production and your germination should never be an afterthought.
This should be job number one. So, so we want to provide a good environment. And then basically as emergence happens, we want to begin to expose them to light, but maintaining high levels of humidity, good temperatures all the way through. And once we're now producing a small seedling plant, We want to, again, make sure that we start [00:39:00] feeding right away with an appropriate nutrient solution.
So this means using a nutrient formula that's designed specifically for tomatoes and for the vegetative portion. So this tomato now is not focused on producing fruit. Tomato is basically forming its leaves and its shoots and its root systems. So that's what it's focusing on. Just like a head of lettuce, it's focusing on the vegetative portion.
So our nutrient solution needs to be designed that way for, uh, in terms of strength. When I talk with lettuce growers, people sometimes will ask me if we grow the lettuce seedlings at a certain nutrient level, a certain EDC, and then increase that concentration as the plants get larger. And I always say no, because basically all the plants are using less nutrient there.
You still want to have the same available nutrients available for absorption because basically again, the lettuce had is growing its whole life in that vegetative state. When we're looking at tomatoes. This early [00:40:00] stage is the vegetative state. So we want to feed accordingly, but, but we're going to later when we start producing fruit, we're going to change some of that and the 
[00:40:07] Nick Greens: environment.
No, because, so what happens with the humidity as I goes from, okay. So I'm at, I'm at max humidity for my ceiling germination stage at what. Is it not a seedling and doesn't need the humidity. And that's the most ask the question. 
[00:40:25] Joe Swartz: Yeah. So basically once the root system begins to form, uh, if the environment and nutrition are, are on where they're supposed to be, basically the plant is becoming self-sufficient.
So it is absorbing all of its water and nutrients through its root system. So you want to encourage that root development, so, right, right there, right away, as soon as you're exposing the plant. To, to sunlight or to some type of light source. Now we want to basically start driving that plant, utilizing the proper temperatures in, in relative humidity.
So for example, uh, as soon as we expose our tomato ceilings to light, we want to grow them at [00:41:00] about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, more, more or less. And when we're growing at 75 for proper vapor pressure deficit for proper transpiration, 65 to 70% relative humidity is. Pretty much where we want it to be, and we want to start moving the air.
So now we've taken them out of the germination chamber and they're into the gross space, whether they're in the greenhouse or a propagation house, or what have you, you are now raising baby plants. And so now you are suddenly shifting over to properly managing your irrigator. Your nutrients and your physical environment.
So temperature, air, movement, everything we've talked about in the greenhouse light, all very, very important. 
[00:41:38] Nick Greens: And from the ceiling stage to the, to the, to the vegetative stage, there should be more spacing throughout the more big, the bigger the plants are getting the more room they need to, uh, It grow wider or else they'll start growing 
[00:41:52] Joe Swartz: more narrow.
Right, exactly. Excellent point. So what we always want to think about is our tomato seedlings. We [00:42:00] want nice short, wide plant. So basically you want your tomato seedling to be more like a Sumo wrestler than a basketball player. We don't want tall stringy ceilings.