The crop was at a standstill at Easter. “The growers are waiting. They have pruned the vines, and there is nothing else to do until they break buds.”

Jones is hoping for another good crop this year. “Last year’s wasn’t a record crop, but it was a good one. We had a little more rain than we needed, and fruit rot was apparent in some varieties. But we still did quite well.”

Ryan Patterson of Broadway, N.C., has a way of dealing with the cold winter. He grows his tomatoes in a greenhouse and can provide heat as needed.

But a little different management was required this season.

“We can keep the vines warm and provide enough fertilizer and water to meet the crop’s needs,” said Patterson. “But we can’t make up for the lack of sunshine, and that is what happened this year.”

The season got off to a good start but then there was a lot of cloudy weather.

“It slowed things down. When the sun doesn’t shine, the pollination isn’t as good, and flowers may not open.”

By the beginning of March, Patterson said his tomatoes were turning out reasonably well. “But we ended up with smaller fruit and some that were off shaped.”

It can affect shelf life, but as of early April, this year’s tomatoes were holding up fine at the grocery stores he sells to. He guarantees them to hold for 14 days.

Patterson sells his tomatoes in higher-end grocery stores and to an organization called the “Sandhills Farm to Table” cooperative. It runs a CSA program, in which subscribers buy a box of fruit and vegetables each week during the season.

Sometimes late in the season, he will sell some tomatoes to strawberry producers who are selling direct to the public.

He also grows a few cucumbers in the greenhouse. “We sell most of them from a (self-serve) box out on Dad’s front lawn, mostly for local customers. They fit in well with our tomatoes.”

It costs Patterson substantially less now to heat his tomatoes thanks to the biomass- fired boiler/burners he began using for the greenhouses and also his tobacco flue-curing barns starting in 2010 (“How to cut the high cost of curing tobacco,” March 2, 2012).

“The boilers have cut the fuel needs dramatically,” he said. “We pay a fraction of what heating with LP gas or natural gas would cost.”

He sources most of his chips from companies that refurbish wood pallets or that build sweet potato boxes. “They have scraps left over and turn them into chips. Chips are reasonable now.”

The boilers have made an equally significant improvement in the cost of curing tobacco. “We have been able to cure a barn for $58 a barn.” That is substantially less than were we spending before. It was a big upfront cost but we will probably payback in three years.”

chrisbickers@gmail.com

 

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