Hello! Please find our Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education report about litchi tomato here. Thanks for reading.
A quick intro to the project…
Conversations between my husband Bryan and I often start with, “I wonder how…,” but it can be hard to afford the resources to pursue curiosity on a working farm. Budgets and time are tight, setting priorities is critical to a successful farm. And this is where the Northeast SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education) program comes in. Farmer grants allow us to explore new possibilities with less risk because through the program, we can get paid for both our time and materials to investigate new possibilities that might be hard to justify without outside support.
In 2017 I was awarded funding to explore the feasibility of growing litchi tomato as a new small fruit for small scale farms. After exploring/evaluating production methods, fruit quality & yield, labor inputs, and weediness potential, the answer is NO! In its current state, litchi tomato is not worth growing as a commercial crop. Without SARE funding, this would have felt like a huge waste of time. Instead, I got paid for my time to figure out that there’s a lot of genetic variability within litchi tomato. Some plants produce easy-to-pick, full succulent fruits with a rich flavor suggestive of raspberries, rose hips, and something tropical. Some plants produce dry, bland fruits. Others don’t release their fruits. The spiny calyxes stay wrapped around the ripe fruit or the plant wants to “hold” the fruit – a clean abscission layer doesn’t develop and the fruits tear when picked.
We also found that litchi tomato can become a localized weed. Litchi tomato is a perennial plant native to Brazil, and has been found to be a weed problem on range land in the southern US where the ground does not freeze. In the Northeast, plants do not survive the winter (though they did survive single-night lows of 24), but their ample seed set and quick growth does allow for the establishment of a seed bank in the soil. While the seedlings are similar in vigor to tomatoes and thus easy to cultivate out, they’d be problematic if established in perennial beds, unkept edges, or pasture.
For the complete report, please go to our website and follow the link (which helps me keep track of outreach numbers), and for more information about what kinds of projects are funded by SARE, visit their page.
Working with Northeast SARE has been great. The application process is straight forward and there is a high acceptance rate for farmer proposals. Maybe most importantly, there’s a really supportive administrative team that’s been helpful in answering questions and understands what it’s like to conduct a research project within a working farm. So farmers, maybe this growing season, keep track of some of your wonderings and think about submitting a grant proposal this fall!