Tomato Introduction

Tomato production in an open field

Tomato production in a greenhouse

Tomato production in a high tunnel

Tomato production in a high tunnel

Tomato Plant Characteristics

  • The tomato is a warm season vegetable crop that is sensitive to frost and is killed by freezing temperatures
    • Tomatoes do not set fruit when night temperatures are consistently below 50°F and will not develop properly when temperatures exceed 95°F
  • Tomatoes can have either a determinate or indeterminate growth habit
    • Determinate vines reach heights of 3-4′, and harvest is concentrated
    • Indeterminate vines continue to produce additional vines and flower clusters throughout the growing season; they reach 5-7′ in height and harvest, once begun, will continue until frost
  • Tomato plants do not need a specific day length in order to flower
    • Flowers are self pollinating, but facilitated pollination by mechanical shaking, wind, or insects will result in optimal pollination
    • For most tomato cultivars, the period between flowering and harvest is approximately 45 days

Tomatoes in High Tunnels

  • Although many vegetable crops can be grown successfully in high tunnels, tomatoes are particularly well adapted to this type of culture because they can be trained to grow vertically
  • High tunnels offer a level of protection from damaging winds and injuring frosts that enhance early maturity, and produce a better-quality product
    • Reduced wind-abrasion injuries result in fewer points of entry for insect and disease
    • Protection by the structure reduces evapotranspiration from plants and soil
  • High tunnel production is a middle ground between tomato plants grown in the open field and tomato production in greenhouses

Economic Importance/Marketing

  • Earliness and season extension are primary advantages of producing tomatoes in high tunnels over field production
  • Early season tomatoes reward growers with premium prices since it is difficult to consistently harvest field tomatoes before July in the Central Great Plains
    • Tomatoes grown in high tunnels can typically be harvested 3 to 4 weeks earlier than from field planting.
    • Earlier harvest is due to a combination of planting earlier, and faster maturity compared to field grown tomatoes; increased soil temperatures hastens root growth which contributes to an earlier harvest
  • Late season tomatoes can be harvested an additional 3 weeks in the fall
  • While late season tomatoes do not command the premium price of early season tomatoes, the additional harvest period does contribute to increased income for the grower



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The listserv is a great place to learn what growers are doing with high tunnels, what crops and varieties do best, and what practices have been successful on local farms.

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