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Reflective Mulches Boost Fruit Size, Color and Yields

08/01/2011

By Renee Stern, Contributing Editor

Reflective materials that bounce additional sunlight up into tree canopies from the orchard floor can pay off in higher yields, bigger sizes, and better and more evenly colored fruit.

Tests over the past eight years with reflective fabrics placed in drive rows produced similar results in apples, cherries, pears, peaches and nectarines, says Tory Schmidt, a research associate with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission in Wenatchee.

“I was a little surprised at how consistently effective they’ve been at those three qualities,” Schmidt says.

‘Pretty substantial’ results

Results include a “pretty substantial” impact in size, fruit set and yield. Yields in test plots, for example, have run up to 20 percent to 25 percent higher, he says. Mylar foils used in the tests improved only fruit color.

Higher yields, larger fruit and better color “all put money back in the grower’s pocket,” Schmidt says.

While reflective materials so far are more common in Western orchards, the extra light also is crucial for Michigan cherry growers using high tunnel systems with blush varieties.

“We’re already light-limited [without high tunnels] so every little bit helps,” says Greg Lang, professor of horticulture at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Adding to the problem, the plastic used in high tunnels partly blocks ultraviolet light.

And without UV light, only the topmost layer of Rainiers and other high-value blush cherries achieve full color. The rest, he says, stay pale yellow.

Convincing results in blush cherries

Lang hasn’t found funding for a full range of controlled experiments with the reflective materials.

But he’s done enough preliminary work with three types—Extenday reflective fabric, Mylar foil and a white weed barrier fabric—to show convincing results with blush cherries.

The jury is still out for the region’s growers with Bings and other sweet red varieties, or for those not using high tunnels, he says.

Any added expense requires careful consideration.

Choices, choices, choices

Which reflective material to use depends on your objectives for a particular block, says Jonathan Toye, founder and chief executive officer of Extenday USA Inc.

The company, based in Yakima, Wash., offers 10 versions of its reflective fabric, varying in weight, durability, reflectivity and weave construction.

Growers’ objectives also affect how they use the material, when they deploy it and whether they shift it later in the growing season to aid a different crop, Toye says. “Think about it as a management tool,” he says.

Washington Fruit & Produce Co. in Yakima, Wash., has used Extenday since 2005, mainly in Gala apple blocks. There, the company sees not only color improvements but also up to a 10 percent increase in yield, says orchard manager Dan Plath.

“If [color] was the only reason it wouldn’t justify the expense,” he says.

For color alone, Mylar foils suffice, he says. The company chooses that material for its older Fuji and Gala varieties.

“We have to work harder on those to get color, so there’s a lot of room for improvement,” he says. “But the newer generations [of those varieties] are where we’re getting 70 to 80 percent premium [fruit].”

If improving fruit color is your main objective, Schmidt says, you can wait until a few weeks before harvest to install reflective foils or fabrics. Laying out the material at bloom helps increase cell division to ultimately boost fruit size and yield.

Hold off early deployment until after any severe frost forecasts, Plath says.

Reflective materials substantially reduce ground warming from spring sunlight, which can translate into a degree or two drop in nighttime orchard temperatures—a potentially crucial difference for frost protection.

Mylar foils cost less up front, Schmidt says, but are less durable and must be replaced after a single season, increasing disposal costs.

Sturdier materials such as Extenday represent a bigger initial investment, but can be used for five or six years before replacement.

And unlike the foils, they also can stand up to being rolled up and moved to a new location partway through the growing season, he says.

Many growers take advantage of that sturdiness, placing the fabric strips in apple blocks early in the season to boost cell division, then transferring them to cherry orchards before harvest.

After finishing up cherries, they return the fabric to apple orchards to boost fruit color, he says.

“The benefits more than pay for all that moving around,” Schmidt says. Growers get three to four uses each year out of the same product rather than investing in three times as much reflective material.

The Extenday fabrics work best raised slightly from the ground to allow air flow, he says. Shock cords secure the material during use.

Plath recommends doubling up shock cords on the windward side of any block, a lesson learned from hard experience. A wind storm blew fabric strips up into tree rows like sails, breaking trees at bud unions.

But avoid tightening the cords too much, he says. The material needs some give, especially to handle equipment traffic.

Careful handling and storage during the off-season—ideally rolled up under a tarp out of the way—will help increase its life, Schmidt says.

Reflective material can help make “the best blocks better,” he says. But it’s not a rescue product. “It may marginally help shaded, struggling blocks, but there has to be light reaching the ground for it to be effective.”

 

For information regarding American Nettings and Fabric’s mulch, please see Veggie Mulch

Green Tomato Chutney Recipe

I’m not by any means a gardener, but I do love my grandchildren and when they clamored to buy some seeds, I let them pick one packet each. Chloe the eldest picked a packet of mixed flowers, and I reckoned I could cope with them. But the youngest Bethany was going through one of those phases that children go through. She had taken to eating tomatoes, as if they were apples, she couldn’t get enough of them.

Yes, that’s Right. You’ve guessed it. She picked a packet of tomato seeds. Glory be, what was I to do now, as far as I was aware you needed a greenhouse in these northern climes, to grow tomatoes. I tried to talk her out of it, but she was having none of it.

‘You said I could pick my own seeds, Grandad,’ she cried.

‘Yes, but I don’t think you can grow them without a greenhouse.’ I said.

‘Why?’

‘Because, they don’t like the cold.’

‘But it’s not cold, Grandad, it’s nice and warm.’

‘I don’t mean just today, I mean in general.’

‘What’s in general?’

‘It means…em… it’s cold most days.’

‘That’s alright then, we’ll plant them today while it’s warm.’

I gave in then, thinking, we’ll plant the seeds today and she’ll eventually forget all about them.

I paid for the seeds, a pack of plant pots, a bag of compost, and lugged them home on the bus. After getting off the bus the girls ran ahead, leaving me to hump the compost and plant pots. Reaching the house and since my hands were full, I pushed the door open with my foot and was just in time to hear the little one say, ‘And, Grandma, Grandad’s coming with the pots and the compy stuff and we’re going to plant the seeds straight away.’

‘Hold it, hold it,’ I said as I staggered through the door, ‘before Grandad does anything, he’s going to have a nice cup of tea.’

‘Aw, Grandad,’ she said.

But she waited, after a fashion, humming a hawing, until I had a cup of tea, and then she dragged me out into the garden.

Opening the bag of compost I filled six pots for Chloe and let her plant her own flower seeds, then help Bethany with her tomato seeds. Now all we could do was wait.

The weather was mild so it should have been, since it was May and we were far too late for planting tomato seeds. Two weeks went by and the flowers started to show, but there was no sign of the tomatoes. Another two week went by and just when I’d given up. Bethany came racing indoors, all excited.

‘Come and look Grandad, they are growing.’

And sure enough the tomatoes were showing, but I didn’t hold out much hope for the crop. Anyway as soon as the plants were big enough I transplanted them into a couple of grow bags and they took off, like Jack’s magic beanstalk.

.

It’s now the 30th of September, the plants are 5ft high, filled with tomatoes, and are still flowering. Bethany is over the moon and is looking forward to picking her first fruit, or should I say vegetable? But as we slide into October, no way on earth are they going to ripen and to save her disappointment I decided after consultation with the Grand Dame, my mother in-law, to turn them into chutney. See the recipe below. By the way, Chloe’s flowers bloomed, though they are nearly finished now.

Green Tomato Chutney.

Will make 5- 6lb.

Ingredients

4lb green tomatoes

1lb apples

1lb of onions

8oz of raisins

2lb of soft brown sugar

1/2oz of salt

1/2oz of root ginger

1oz of mustard seeds

11/2 pints of malt vinegar

Method

Cut up tomatoes, peel, core, and cut up apples, cut up onions and chop raisins.

Bruise ginger and tie in muslin bag.

Place all ingredients into pan, bring to boil and simmer until vinegar has been absorbed. (Approx 2 hours) At this point you should be able to draw a wooden spoon across the mixture and it will leave an impression.

Remove the bag of ginger, pour chutney into hot dry screw-top jars and place waxed discs on top of each one.

Cover jars with a clean cloth until cold.

Screw on lids (Make sure they are vinegar proof first) label and store in a cool cupboard.

Mmm, I can taste it now.

Growing Tomatoes – How to Avoid Common Problems

One of the most exciting moments in tomato growing is when flowers begin to fade and the first little pea-like fruits appear. Each day they grow a little bigger until they reach their mature size when they start to change colour and become ripe tomatoes. They look almost too good to eat! However, temperatures and humidity have to be right for flowers to set fruit. If flowers fail to set, blossom drop is the result and those pretty little blooms wither and break off at the knuckle. To avoid blossom drop, mist and tap plants daily to help release pollen. If the weather is particularly hot and dry, also water around the base of plants to increase humidity.

Watering can be a tricky business when it comes to tomatoes especially if they are grown in containers. However, correct watering can help avoid blossom end rot, which is caused by a lack of calcium when the fruits are swelling and leaves a dark leathery patch on the underside of the tomatoes. The first aim should be to keep the entire root area moist by giving them a thorough watering once a week (especially when the fruits are swelling) and water moderately in between. The reason is that roots are only able to feed and absorb nutrients (including calcium) from areas of soil that are moist. If half of the soil that your plant is growing in is dry, calcium uptake may also be reduced by half.

One way to keep tomato plants healthy, especially when grown in a confined space such as a greenhouse or where they may be planted close together, is to increase aeration. This may be done by removing old, lower leaves below the first truss to improve air circulation.

Opinion about deleafing varies considerably. Some gardeners will leave most leaves on their plants which helps shield tomatoes from direct sunlight. Too much direct sunlight and heat can cause sun scald, greenback and blotchy ripening. Some growers, especially those who grow in greenhouses, remove all leaves below the truss that is producing ripe fruit. This enables plants resourses to be directed into the fruit rather than having to support lots of leaves. Plants grown in greenhouses do not usually have their fruit in direct sunlight for long periods, so avoid the problems of sun scald etc.

When watering, avoid splashing soil up onto the lowest leaves which may transfer soil infections into a plant through the leaves. Splashing water up onto growing fruit may also create ghost spot which is caused by grey mould soil spores and displays small transparent water-like rings. It’s also a good idea to pull off suckers, side shoots and leaf branches by hand rather than cut them because the blades of knives and scissors can spread disease from one plant to another.

Nick Chenhall has been a keen tomato grower for many years and runs his own tomato growing website. If you would like to find out more about growing tomatoes, please visit: http://www.tomatogrowing.co.uk

Best Tips For Growing Tomatoes In Cold Weather

One of the biggest enemy of a tomato plant is cold weather. That’s why growing tomatoes in cold climates forces us to choose between the two: greenhouse or indoor garden with fluorescent lights. Either way we need to remember both about the light and the temperature. We will discuss all these issues in this article.

If we live in a colder climate and we are fixated on growing tomatoes in cold weather, then we have to do one of 2 things. We either have to fix up a nice place indoors for them with plenty of light, and the proper temperatures, or we have to install a green house outdoors.

Now, when we talk about greenhouses, we don’t have to be talking about the big expensive kind you see at the local garden centers. Because most of us do not have enough resources or space to install one, we should consider smaller alternatives. Small versions however can be built or even kits found on places such as eBay for less than a hundred dollars, complete.

Among the most important benefits of using a greenhouse is the fact that it protects the plants from both wind and low temperatures. This is probably the best scenario as the plants will be able to take advantage of natural light which is best for them. If that’s not possible however, then perhaps you have some extra space inside the house or even the garage where you can set up your tomato garden.

Just make sure that where ever you put them, they have access to plenty of light. Where sunshine is lacking, fluorescent lights can be used in place of it. The longer the lights can stay on, the better off your plants will be. Then once you have your area set up, simply carry on with your gardening the same way you would normally care for your plants.

Further care of your plants should include feeding them and pruning them back. When the leaves have plenty of room to grow and they aren’t all bunched together, they will produce far more fruits than if left to their own devices. Taking good care of your plant regardless whether it’s growing indoors or outdoors will always help it in producing better quality fruits. You need to make sure that your tomato garden will drain well and your plants will not experience floods or droughts. Water them every day and remember that they like to be moist.

Pawel Kalkus is an internet writer and gardener with 15 years of experience in organic vegetable gardening. If you liked this article on growing tomatoes in cold weather go get your free copy of his “7 Best Tomato Growing Tips” ebook here.

Growing Tomatoes Upside-Down

An unusual new way to grow tomatoes, upside-down! There are many benefits of growing tomatoes upside down. One: Better air  circulation and plants have almost no disease problems. Two: the tomatoes stay off the ground preventing rot. Three: No staking up the plants just hang the buckets. Four: Less pests problems.and finally as the season ends you can bring the plants indoors so those green tomatoes in the vines will ripen. For the upside down container, we use 5-gallon buckets with their lids. If you can find the black plastic ones they be better for that they absorb more heat. They can be new or recycled but clean of any harmful materials. Look for the upside down containers in restaurants ,hardware stores or paint stores. Steps in growing tomatoes upside down:Cut a two or three inch hole on the bottom of the container and another hole in the center of the lid. It don’t matter if the holes are round or square. Stand the container upright,place some landscaping fabric to cover the hole so when we turn the container upside down the dirt will stay in the pail. We now fill the container with a good quality potting soil( mix in some compost )tamp the soil lightly.Fill the pail to the brim and before you place the lid back place another piece of landscaping fabric over the soil. With the lid on tight turn the pail upside down,cut a slit in the cloth material and plant your tomatoe seedling in deep( this makes the plant produce more roots from the stem). For the next week or so keep the bucket in a sunny location and well watered. As the plant reaches about a foot tall they are ready to hang up. These containers will be heavy so make sure they have planty of support to hold the weight down. This method of growing tomatoes upside down is becoming popular all over the USA and Canada. Greenhouses use these methods and also they grow peppers upside down.

Get more information on tomatoes

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Growing Tomatoes In a Greenhouse

Growing Tomatoes inside a green house is quite common, especially in Britain. In Britain it is definately sensible to consider this because of the cooler climate. It traps heat giving the tomatoes the warmth they need to survive in colder conditions. Also inside the greenhouse tomatoes can’t be blown off there stems because there is no wind, you just have to make sure that they are watered thoroughly. You should always check the label of your tomatoe seeds, just to check how frequently you should water your tomatoes.

Making sure that the plant is tied up correctly is essential, the last thing you want is the plant to be falling over from the tomatoes weight, U can either use string to tie it to the roof of the greenhouse or you can tie it to a stick which will hold it up.

When you are picking your tomatoes, dont get impatient and collect them before they are fully coloured. By doing this you have just wasted all the time you spent growing them because they haven’t reached there full potential, you definately can’t glue them back to the plant. Make sure they are ready!

You should remove the leaves from under the first truss, and you should remove yellow leaves as the season progresses. You shouldnt over do the de-leafing process, as it may damage your tomatoes.

Remember that good things come to those who wait, so just keep waiting until your tomatoes are ripe and enjoy the rewards of a beautiful mouth watering tomato that you have grown yourself.

Please visit my site Tomato Growing for more information on growing tomatoes.

How to Plant Tomatoes and Care For Tomatoes When Greenhouse Growing

One of the main reasons for using a greenhouse when growing tomatoes is because of the climate you live in. If you cannot guarantee warm sunny weather for your tomatoes then you will need to consider using a greenhouse, this will help you control the climate for the tomato plants and give them a better chance of producing lots of edible fruit.

Clearly planting tomatoes in a greenhouse leaves you with limited options, for most people the greenhouse will be relatively small and probably only a little taller than the height of an average man, unless of course you have the space and money for a large more industrial sized greenhouse, but for the purposes of this article I am going to discuss the smaller option that is, I believe, more prolific in the home gardening environment.

This makes it much more difficult to use the tomato plant hanging option for your plants and in practical terms the only real option you have is to plant using the soil inside the greenhouse or to sit pots on the floor of the greenhouse, either way make sure you have a good mix of mulch, compost and fertilizer.

You will still need to be able to support the fronds of the tomato plant and with limited space a good way of doing this is to knock 3 stakes into the ground at each end of the planned run and to tie gardening string between the stakes. When the plants grow they pass through the strings and then hang over them a little like clothes on a washing line.

If you are inside a greenhouse the plants will be totally dependent on you for their water so you have a choice, invest in a self watering system or use hand watering. If you choose hand watering it is also good practice to leave the water in the greenhouse with the plants to allow it to warm a little before use. Takes a bit of discipline but as long as you refill after watering then leave overnight, that should do the trick and you will not shock the plants with cold water.

The final thing you need to take care of is not letting the greenhouse get too hot and or humid, if it is really sunny for a period you can paint the glass with a whitewash to reflect the sun away and you can open the roof light or door to let some of the heat get away but don’t forget to shut them again at night when it is cool.

Other than these few peculiarities the tomatoes should be treated in much the same as they would be if they were being grown outside, so in addition to proper soil preparation and watering, you need to take steps to keep them disease free, pest free and to give them access to plenty of nutrients via a feeding program.

Visit Home Grown Tomatoes for more tips and advice on tomato growing and to get access to expert advice that could double or triple the size of your crop of tomatoes.

Visit Mircro Irrigation Watering System for an effective way to water your tomatoes.