Great Tomato Tasting more than meets eye
PITTSTOWN — While the annual Great Tomato Tasting at Snyder Research Farm draws people from three states and all across New Jersey, not everyone takes advantage of the guided wagon tours off the 390-acre facility, land donated by Clifford and Melda Snyder in 1988 to Rutgers University.
Tractor-led wagon tours take patrons on an escorted tour of the research facility, allowing patrons a bird’s eye view of the many research plots that Snyder Farm is involved with.
As opposed to other years when it’s been oppressively hot and humid, this year’s Great Tomato Tasting, a rain or shine event, was held in the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 28 and was blessed with relatively mild temperatures and mostly overcast skies but no rain.
Snyder Research Farm acting director Peter Nietzsche estimated there were 600 to 800 patrons over the course of the afternoon and early evening at the farm, located off Pittstown Road.
Aside from more than 100 varieties of tomatoes, patrons could also sample hazel nuts, tiger nuts, basil, and melons, while portions of other booths were devoted to catnip and hops research projects going on at the farm.
Upgrades are being made to the water pumping and irrigation systems at Hort Farm 3 in New Brunswick this year, so many other active growing projects have been shifted to Snyder Farm in northwest New Jersey and the RAREC facility in Bridgeton in south Jersey.
“We’re looking at making some improvements to the deer fencing system here in the near future,” Nietzsche said, and the guided wagon tour led by Hunterdon County Master Gardener David Johnson revealed there are 3.5 miles of deer fencing to contain the research growing fields at Snyder Farm.
“The goal here is to promote sustainable farming in New Jersey,” Johnson said during the wagon tour, adding that “farming that is both environmentally and economically sustainable.
The economic part includes introducing plants and crops that are sufficiently valuable so they can be grown on New Jersey soils and farmers can make nice profits.”
Among the research plots this season at Snyder Farm are plots devoted to tiger nuts, native pollinators, basil, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and sweet corn among many other crops.
Johnson noted how retention ponds and swales built into the acreage retain, recycle and purify water for more irrigation efforts during dry spells, he noted the varieties of peaches and apples grown on the farm’s research plots.
More than 20 varieties of peaches and 13 varieties of Asian pears are being grown here, he said.
“Varieties of peaches and apples are evaluated here for hardiness, winter hardiness, fruit appearance, taste, yield, these kinds of things,” he explained.
“There are 3.5 miles of deer fencings around the farm, nine strands,” Johnson said, noting the deer fencing is 5 feet high around the perimeter of the growing fields.
“You’re talking about 30 miles of wire, and every other strand is electrified, and while the fence is only 5 feet high, it tends to keep the deer out, they leave it alone,” he said, adding, “occasionally we do get deer in here, and we do, we get them out quickly.”
As the tour wagon pulled up to a large plot of dwarf apple trees, he noted: “Years ago, apple trees were planted 40 feet apart and it took 15 years to begin getting a crop. Now with these dwarf varieties, they can be planted three and four feet apart and they have the advantages of being easier to tend, pick, spray and prune. You can get fruit two years after you plant.”
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