Plant Profile: Favorita Cherry Tomatoes
At Growers Supply, we love growing. Our greenhouses and grow rooms are jam packed with dozens of varieties of vegetables and herbs all grown with hydroponic or aquaponic techniques. I mean, if you think about it, it would be kind of weird if we didn’t love growing. We geek out over the tiniest details and are passionate about the success of all growers, large and small.
We want to share our growing experience with you, our avid blog follower. That’s why we’re launching a new series on our blog featuring profiles of our favorite plant varieties. These features will cover all the important points of growing a particular plant variety, from the optimal environment and growing conditions to tips and tricks we’ve learned along the way, to help you grow these plants in your own garden or greenhouse.
Today’s plant profile is on one of our favorites – the aptly named favorita cherry tomato. These plants are prolific growers and have been a staple in our rotation at Technology Center East. Favoritas are an indeterminate tomato variety, meaning that it will continue to grow given the right environment. This variety is very popular among greenhouse tomato growers, as it is resistant to multiple diseases and is very productive; producing delicious, deep-red cherry tomatoes.
Favorita Cherry Tomato (F1) Solanum lycopersicum
Days to Bloom: 58
F2 Fusarium Wilt (Races 1 & 2)
LM Leaf Molds (A-E)
TMV Tobacco Mosaic Virus
We use two methods to grow this variety. The first is in our GT80 TSW NFT channels. (TSW stands for tall side wall and NFT stands for nutrient film technique.) These channels are 9” wide by 4” deep, offering more room for the root mass of these plants. The plants sit in 2” Net Pots filled with Clay Pebbles. The other method is with Dutch buckets in our PolyMax® Micro Dutch Bucket System. The favorita does very well in both systems.
It’s important to note that since favoritas are an indeterminate variety, the plants can produce for up to 16 months. The system you use needs to have enough room for the roots to grow long term. If the channels or containers are too small you’re likely to run into issues, like a lack of oxygen reaching the roots, roots blocking the nutrient flow or the plant becoming root bound. Large NFT channels and Dutch buckets both accommodate the root mass of favorita cherry tomatoes long term.
We grew our most recent favorita tomato crop from January 2014 to September 2014. When we pulled the plants from our NFT system, they were an impressive 22.5’ long. We’ve since started a new crop that will be in full production for our October CEA School next week.
For these plants to be the most productive they require 16 hours of light each day. We alternate three 1,000 watt with four 400 watt Metal Halide Lights to cover 120 sq.ft.
Temperature and Humidity
The ideal temperature range is between 78 and 82 degrees. Humidity should be between 55 to 75 percent.
Although favoritas like the air temperature to be warm, they do best with a water temperature around 70 degrees. This is because cooler water carries more dissolved oxygen. We aim for a dissolved oxygen level between 7.8 and 8.0 mg/L. To achieve a water temperature of 70 degrees, we use a water chiller connected to our nutrient-solution tank.
We mix our own nutrient blend that is a combination of the 16 micro and macro nutrients required for optimal plant growth. Favoritas do well with an abundance of phosphorus (P) and it’s an important nutrient for early high yields. One thing to be wary of is providing too much nitrogen (N). Too much N causes rampant growth and affects the quality of the fruit. The fruits will be too soft and susceptible to rot.
Before the plants reach maturity, we use a dilute nutrient solution to promote vegetative growth. When the plants are ready to flower, we use the full-strength solution.
These plants need a lot of support and grow very quickly. We use Jumbo Tomato Clips, Tomato Roller Hook Assemblies and Flexible Arch Cluster Supports to train our plants to grow the way we want them to. We use the racetrack technique in our greenhouses and grow rooms. In garden applications, plan to trellis at least 8’ to 10’ in most regions.
Pruning and suckering is important for the prolific favorita. Removing suckers will make the plant much more manageable, productive and easier to trellis. You will also want to remove the lower branches as the plant grows. This will encourage nutrients and hormones to go to the top of the plant, promoting faster growth and more fruit.
A note on pruning–wait until the plant has matured and starts producing its first fruit to start pruning. You want each cluster of tomatoes to be supported by two branches of leaves; one above and one below. Once the fruit begins to ripen, remove both sets of branches.
As the plant ages it is more likely to develop multiple “belts” on the same branch. A belt is the part of the plant that produces fruit. If the belts do split, keep it to two belts. Anymore and you will run into problems with the fruit set.
To ensure the belts can support the weight of the fruit, attach Flexible Arch Cluster Supports before the first fruit matures.
With a little bit of wind and some help from Mother Nature’s hardest workers (bees), favorita cherry tomatoes will require minimal help with pollination when grown outdoors. In a greenhouse environment, you will need to help with pollination. There are a couple of ways you can do this, and the first is to use a VegibeeTM Garden Pollinator. Simply “tickle” the flowers to help release pollen. The Vegibee wand vibrates and is meant to simulate a honey bee landing on the flower and collecting pollen. Another method is to pluck the plant support strings to cause vibration. The vibration of the support string will help release pollen. You’ll know if the plants aren’t pollinated correctly as the fruit will set unevenly and each belt may be missing a handful of tomatoes.
Remove the cluster’s tip when they reach 14 flowers. Flowers, not fruit. This will result in larger, more consistent fruit. It’s best to let the fruit fully vine-ripen, however this may not always be possible depending on the end use of the fruit. We sell our produce locally and to employees, so we have the luxury of allowing the fruit to ripen before harvest. If the fruit needs to travel a great distance it’s best to harvest less ripened fruit to ensure it stays fresh longer.
Tips and Tricks
For unknown reasons, in our experience, these plants like to grow away from the light, making them difficult to train. Our growers struggled with getting them to behave, so that we could trellis them properly. Be gentle when adding Jumbo Tomato Clips, so you don’t break the stems.
That’s all for today’s plant profile. Please let us know in the comments if there is any information you would like to know about growing favorita cherry tomatoes, and we’ll be glad to assist. Keep an eye out for more from our plant profile series in the coming weeks!