Neighbours talking over the garden gate has long been a tradition. They share gardening tips, complain about the weather and pests yet are ever eager to discuss their gardens. That is what I had in mind when creating this blog. So stop by my garden gate to find out the latest happenings in my garden.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Gnome
"All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child." ~ Madame Marie Curie"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Large Scale Tomato Harvesting

Tomatoes are big business in our area and are now being harvested daily upto a frost. I thought this would be a rather interesting entry for those who have never seen tomato harvesting on a large scale. The following pictures are from a relative's farm. The pictures were taken on Saturday. It was a cool, damp, on and off rainy day but the harvesting continued.

Tomato Harvester

Although some tomatoes are still hand picked on many farms, the vast majority are harvested using a harvester. A large tractor, in this case a John Deer (a blatant plug for certain family members), pulls the harvester behind it. Here it is either red (International Harvester) or green (John Deer) for tractors and believe me there are some strong preferances. The harvester stradles the tomato row then is pulled along the row. At the same time a tomato wagon is pulled alongside the harvester. Inside the harvester six to eight workers will quickly sort the tomatoes removing any clumps of dirt or green tomatoes as the tomatoes move along a conveyor belt to be deposited into the tomato wagon. Believe it or not in an area where jobs are scarce, migrant workers form the good portion of the agricultural workforce here. Farm children learn early how to help on the farms and everyone in the family lends a hand when it comes to harvesting. Unfortunately many living in surrounding towns do not want to work on the farms even if they are unemployed.

There is a hamper shown in the picture as well. This is the hamper size I process about ten of each year. I do stand corrected as I thought each hamper was almost a bushel. However a family member corrected me when we were figuring out how many cans of tomatoes would be in one wagon load. A hamper is 5/8 of a bushel and holds 30 lbs of tomatoes. One hamper will yield approximately fourteen quarts of whole tomatoes.

Row of Tomatoes

Rows and rows of tomatoes are a wonderful sight! Our relative has several hundred acres some planted with tomatoes. The acreage is divided amongst several farms so there is a lot of travel time involved in harvesting. The tomatoes are sprayed with ethylene before harvesting so they ripen all at the same time.

A tomato field does not necessarily have the smell of fresh tomatoes! It is a mix fresh tomatoes, rotting tomatoes, mud and any other "country" that tend to waft by including the smells of machinery and vehicles. There are other smells as well especially when the sun is shining in full force!

When you first get to the field at the crack of dawn, there is a pleasant quietness but then people start arriving, trucks are started up along with the machinery and the busy chattering of the day starting. Harvesting is not quiet either especially on the harvestor. Other sounds fill the air. Inside the tractor the CB radio is on to keep things in sync. Quite often there is shouting along with arm waving. And so it goes through the day into the last minutes of light for the day.

Tomatoes on Conveyor

Tomatoes move into the harvester then onto a conveyor belt that deposits them into the tomato wago. Tomato wagons are a very common sight this time of year. As the tomatoes move along the conveyor they are quickly and I mean quickly sorted as already mentioned. I think the worst part of harvesting is riding on the harvester because I have motion sickeness. The last time I rode on one was back just after we got married. Funds were tight and I was determined to help out. What makes the experience worse is the harvester itself is moving and the conveyor belt is moving so you get a double whammy! For those who can tolerate the harvester it is a relatively easy job as farm jobs go. The harvester is covered to provide shade for the workers something that is much appreciated in the hot or rainy weather. Right now we are having cold, damp weather so rubber gloves are almost a must as the moving air will make your hands feel like they are freezing. Even the tomatoes in my garden have been very cold to the touch when picking the last few days and the weather has made no attempt to warm up.

Loading into Wagon

The tomatoes are loaded into the tomato wagon by the conveyor belt. The wagons are huge! They are also leaky and smelly. If I'm not mistaken each wagon holds 40 tonnes of tomatoes. The tomatoes are never nice and clean like those in a home garden. If it has rained recently or is raining when harvesting the tomatoes will be muddy. Watching the tomatoes being loading is rather interesting. Each wagon is loaded so it is higher in the middle then lower in the sides forming a hill of tomatoes at the top of the wagon. As a result of this practice it is also common to see tomatoes along the sides of the road en route to where the tomatoes are taken.

Wagon Load

The full tomato wagons are then lined up waiting to be hooked to another wagon, a tractor or a semi-truck for their final destination. The picture shows how the wagons are loaded then lined up for transportation. There is little space between the wagons. It is quite common to have several of these tomato wagons lined up waiting for transport. There are two processing plants within an 80 km distance of many of the tomato growers here. Mode of transporting the tomatoes will depend on where the farm is located in relation to the processing plant. Those with a shorter distance to travel will use tractors while those further from the plants will use semis.

Tomato Trains

The wagons are often trained together to lessen the amount of trips needed so are a fairly common sight here. For those not in rural areas, tractors move slow so caution must always be used on the rural roads during harvest season. The semi-trucks are able to transport at a higher speed but care is still needed when driving.

My husband helps occasionally by driving a few loads to the plants when needed. This is rather difficult as my husband works all day but helping family is important so we do what we can. I like to ride with him. The plants are very interesting places to see. It is usually at night when we arrive and sometimes it takes awhile to unload. Each semi-truck lines-up behind the last waiting for their turn to be weighed. The tomatoes are then sampled for grading and the wagon is unloaded. The driver gets the weigh slip which includes the grading that determines the price the farmer will get for the tomatoes.

Now for me, it is more of a photo shoot opportunity. I love riding along especially on a night run. It is a chance for me to get some really nice pictures of things a lot of folk never get the opportunity to see and it is another chance to bond with my husband. It is also a learning opportunity. Many folk have little knowledge of where the food they eat comes from. More importantly it is sensory overload as I watch the bussel of plant workers, smell the most amazing smell of tomatoes cooking sometimes mingled with other smells, and hear an constant multitude of sounds.


The tomatoes harvested from this field were a plum tomato hybrid T900. The flesh is thick and meaty with very little seed. The flavour is deep with an nice aromatic smell. The destination for these tomatoes will be most of the tomato products sold in the stores such as ketchup, soups, paste, whole and stewed, and just about every tomato product sold. I'll be using these to make a few sauces, ketchup, salsas, soup and paste.

I hope this entry provides a little more insight as to tomato farming.

Happy Gardening

Garden Gnome


  1. Thank you for this tomato journey!
    Very interesting and informative.

  2. Thank-you Heidi. A lot of people don't get to see large scale opperations so I thought I would share. I'm glad you found it interesting and informative.

  3. Nin Ran1:03 PM

    What is your Email Adress, because our microsoft outlook does not work and that is the only way of contacting you via email. I do not know any other way to contact you, I would like addition information on the T-900, Thank you.

  4. Nin ran, I don't have a direct link to my email on my blogs due to spam issues so contacting me through one or more of my blogs is likely the best way.

    Let's see T-900's are a hybrid tomato that is a very meaty paste tomato and are grown commercially for a specific company. They have a very deep, rich colour and flavour. I grow a few plants for my own personal use and I can several hampers each year. Other than that I really don't have a lot of information on the T-900's. Sorry I can't help more.


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