There is a clever technique for farming tomatoes which I first saw used in the commercial greenhouses in Almería. I call it the infinite tomato technique and love it because it’s beautifully simple and very effective.
The greenhouses are tall. In fact the taller the better for some uses. The factor limiting the total height is often the wind: to build the greenhouse more than 5 meters tall you would need a stronger structure, and thus the greenhouse would be more expensive. Do not forget we are talking business here. In Almería, most greenhouses are between 4 and 5 meters tall.
To grow infinite tomatoes you need a wire at the top of the greenhouse, aligned with the rows of tomatoes. There you hang a lot of “rollers”, each one holding a bobbin of string used to guide the plants. Why a bobbin? Wait for it…
As the plant grows, the farmer twines it around the guide and cuts away any lateral growing tip, leaving only the main stem with no branches. After 3 months, the top of the plant almost reaches the rollers.
At this time you can see every stage of the plant present at different heights: at the top you have the growing tip, producing more leaves and flowers, a bit lower, the flowers start falling and show the immature tomatoes.
Sorry, I could not resist to show you a detail of the previous picture: the humble bumblebee doing its job; someone has to pollinate those flowers…
As we go down we see larger tomatoes, and closer to the ground you have the mature ones, ready to be harvested. The farmer took out all the leaves around those, because they are old, do not help the plant and are more likely to develop diseases.
Now it is when the rollers start being helpful. By letting go a bit of string, you lower the whole plant which now has space to keep growing and developing more fruits, but what happens with the now empty stems? You do not want a tangle of them at the ground; they are fragile and would make work more difficult. You just move the rollers a bit, all of the row in the same direction. The plants will tilt a bit.
Keep doing this all the harvest season, which can be fairly long at Almería, and you will end up with long stems rolled around the substrate bags. The plants keep growing and producing month after month until the farmer decides it is time to finish the cycle which is when the traditional tomato season starts, the prices lower and it is not economical to keep the greenhouse at work. During summer the greenhouses get maintained, upgraded and readied for next season.
I tried to replicate this technique in my amateur setup, but failed miserably because of an obvious reason: an indoor tent is about 2 meters tall, which is not enough by a lot. Very soon the tips of my plants were above the led lamp, and later pushing against the ceiling. I lowered the guides, but not so much as to put the oldest tomatoes on the floor. I had to cut the tips to avoid them growing more and allowed some lateral branches to develop. It has worked until now, but with so many branches it is getting a bit crowded. For the next time I need a better technique, or maybe to grow “determinate” seeds which will produce plants that do not grow more than a certain height. Any advice?