A visit to an organic tomato tunnel
Prince de Bretagne organic tomatoes have been available for a long time, so why is there so few of them available from an area perfect for tomato production? That’s exactly the question that Daniel Nicolas, a producer in the Côtes d’Armor, asked himself: “I’m not the only one; there are several of us who have started growing them. Myself, I was already an organic grower and it means this year will see my first tomato harvest certified AB (organic)”.
The Côtes d’Armor is well known for tomatoes grown in its natural soils: “It’s a crop often grown in conventional agriculture, protected by tunnels, after Primeur early potatoes in the spring,” explains Daniel. “We plant them in April and 10 days later we cut the tops off which encourages the growth of lateral branches. We then select the four best branches and remove the ‘greedy’ others. These four branches are those that produce the flowering stems and then the fruits”.
It’s a jungle
Tomatoes are very vigorous plants, producing lots of leaves, a fact that is plain to see at the start of July: “It’s a jungle in there,” says Daniel. “I’ve decided to slow down the removal of the leaves because of the heat; the leaves help keep it shady and cool. Normally, the crop would be much clearer. The four stems are held up with wires and we keep them well spaced at the start of the growing period to provide plenty of light and draw them closer together later to make harvesting easier.”
It’s a proven method then that Daniel is applying for his first year of organic production. But he would like to go further: “I think in organics it would be ideal to keep one stem per plant, meaning a shorter production period, and thus spreading out plantations,” he says. “We will do some trials, we’ll make progress !”
Progress is the watch word for the entire Prince de Bretagne organic network: “To help us, there are producers who are already experts and who we talk with regularly,” says Daniel. “Then there is the technical support of our cooperatives and the varieties established by our trial station.”
Towards new covered crops
The basic essential for organic farming is the soil and, naturally, tomatoes are a crop that is part of this principle. “Crop rotations help to preserve and enrich the soils,” explains Daniel. “To make the most of this, I am looking for new covered crops for all seasons. This could be salads, courgettes or cucumbers, for example. Choices must be made according to the demands made by our clients to our shippers”.
In the meantime, Daniel’s tomatoes are slowly growing bigger and starting to ripen. “Come on harvest!” he says; “We will start around July 15. We harvest the tomatoes one by one, going between the rows and picking only those that are ripe.”