The cultivation of tomatoes

The tomato seed

Making the right choices with regard to tomato variety and seed enhancement is of crucial importance to a tomato grower. The extent to which a plant is resistant to pests and diseases and how many tomatoes it produces depends on the quality of the seed.

To guarantee a perfect product, Agro Care collaborates closely with the seed enhancement companies that produce the seed used by the organisation.

Every year, the tomato varieties and the planting of the available acreage are reconsidered, in which the decisions are based on a number of issues (commercial developments, agreements with customers, developments in the variety, etc.).

The plants

After the tomato seeds have sprouted, the grower transfers them to the greenhouses, where they continue to grow until the plants attain a length of approximately 1 metre.

They are then moved to the Agro Care greenhouses, where they are distributed across the greenhouse.

In the greenhouses

Once the plants have been moved to the right location in the greenhouse, each plant is attached to a thin wire suspended from the top of the greenhouse. During the course of the next eight months or so, they will continue to grow – and flourish – along this wire.

After six weeks, the first bunches will begin to show colour, and two weeks after that the first tomatoes will be ready for harvesting.

The growth cycle of a tomato plant

If you would let a tomato plant grow entirely untended, it will grow into a wild bush with a rampant growth of tomatoes. This is not only unpractical in a greenhouse, but it would be impossible to monitor the quality and flavour of the tomatoes. To prevent this, the plants are guided upwards along a long wire and all tendrils are cut off.

Harvesting tomatoes

From the moment the first bunches are harvested, each plant will yield approximately one bunch of tomatoes every week for the duration of its life cycle. The harvesters, equipped with harvesting carts containing crates, move along the rows of tomato plants to cut the ripe bunches of tomatoes off the plants.

The harvested products are collected in sheds at the various sites where they are picked up several times a day by Greenpack for transportation to Maasdijk. At Greenpack (the packaging partner of Agro Care and four other tomato growers) the tomatoes are generally packaged on the day of arrival in one of the many types of packaging available.

Other steps in the tomato growing process include:

A tomato plant grows 25 centimetres a per week until it has reached a height of 15 metres at the end of its life cycle. The wire along which the plant is guided is regularly unrolled from the spool on which it is suspended to ensure that the tomatoes to be harvested can easily be reached by the pickers and the plant doesn’t become too tall for the greenhouse.

Once the bunch starts to turn the right colour the leaves surrounding the fruit are cut away. As a result, only the stem of the plant will remain after the bunches have been harvested. One of the benefits of this is that the plant will not be susceptible to diseases caused by leaf remnants.

A tomato plant can produce enormously long bunches of tomatoes. Despite the commercial possibilities that this could bring, Agro Care chooses to leave only a specific number of fruit on the bunch. As a result, the plant will not have to direct too much of its energy towards ripening all the tomatoes, and the tomatoes left on the bunch will be bursting with flavour. Also, the bunches will be more uniform.

Towards the end of its life cycle, a tomato plant will start to yield less fruit. At a given moment, the crown will be removed from every plant in the greenhouse (decrowning) so that the plant will no longer need to direct its energy into growing taller. The energy can then be spent on ripening its last bunches.

Once the very last tomatoes have been harvested all plant residue, the rockwoool mats, wires and all other cultivation material are removed from the greenhouse and taken to a recycling company. The greenhouse is thoroughly cleaned and the entire process can start again.