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By Arie Vandergiessen Chief Operating Officer Backyard Farms
The Tomato Magazine
There is a revolution happening in the U.S., and it is connected to buying
locally grown produce. Whether at family meals or in restaurants,
Americans are enjoying the delicious taste of local dairy, vegetables
Some produce, such as tomatoes, historically en available locally only
during the summer months, now have wider distribution and are now available
year-round. This is largely due to advancements in greenhouse technology.
Keeping tomatoes on the vine until they are fully ripened is half the
battle. One of the technologies that helps accomplish this is automatic
grow lamps. They combat low light levels in the greenhouses during fall
and winter months, when less than 15 percent of the light found during
the summer is available. Poor lighting can greatly reduce fruit yield.
Low intensity photoperiodic light is also used during the
night to break the darkness period and induce plant responses representative
of summer. This is especially important in New England greenhouses, where
winter can bring extremely cold and low light conditions.
Because temperatures below 70° F prevent normal pollination and fruit
development, many heat technologies, such as thermal blankets and heated
gutters, are employed by todays greenhouses. Thermal blankets reduce
heat loss during cold weather, and heated gutters funnel rainwater to
the tomatoes year-round. Greenhouses also use a heat capture system that
stores thermal energy for night-time use since tomato plants grow best
when the night temperature is maintained at 60°-62° F. All of
these heating methods maintain ideal growing conditions and are environmentally-friendly.
Irrigation technology provides tomatoes with a consistent water supply.
The application of water is typically done with a trickle irrigation system
composed of distribution lines with drip tubes or spray stakes which are
placed at the base of each plant. Tomato plants use a great deal of water,
especially in warm weather, so the use of a time clock to control the
irrigation system is crucial. Some farms strive to protect the environment
and minimize water consumption through a water recycling system. Any additional
water not used in this process is held in irrigation ponds for future
use. This method helps the plants and protects the environment by conserving
Pest management is another important concern in modern greenhouses. An
integrated pest management system which utilizes naturally occurring biological
controls and beneficial insects to ensure that its growing processes are
environmentally-friendly is integral to the success of any large greenhouse.
One insect that is far from being a pest is the bee. Bees are extremely
important in the greenhouse because every tomato starts with the native
bumblebees that receive their food from tomato pollen, and in turn, fertilize
the plants flowers. Tomato flowers must be pollinated seven days
a week in order to ensure proper fruit development. Traditionally, flower
clusters are shaken manually with a tomato flower pollinator as soon as
the yellow petals open, but bumblebees are available from insect companies
for pollination as well. Using bees for pollination ensures a higher yield
and the production of more delicious fruit.
With its state-of-the-art greenhouse in Madison, Maine, Backyard Farms
uses a combination of all of these technologies to grow its tomatoes.
The company has 11,000 specialized 1,000-watt lights, controlled by computer
to mimic what the sun would provide under ideal conditions for photosynthesis.
These lights supplement natural sunlight by allowing tomatoes to receive
the same amount of light year-round, regardless of the weather outside.
Backyard Farms also uses temperature-stable transit to keep the plants
at 55º F during travel the ideal temperature for maximum freshness
and flavor. Local growers, like Backyard Farms, have the advantage of
complete control over the transit temperature, so tomatoes are never over-refrigerated
or left in the sun like those that travel long distances. And for irrigation,
Backyard Farms has the advantage of size. Its 24-acre greenhouse allows
it to recycle water by capturing all of the rain that falls on the greenhouse
roof for use in the irrigation process.
Despite all these high-tech innovations, the farms greenhouse tomatoes
taste just like those grown in your backyard garden. Hydroponically grown
produce actually arrives at retail outlets in better shape than field
grown produce because it is developed in highly controlled conditions.
The tomatoes are generally cleaner, handled less and packaged better than
field grown products. The great quality and high demand for these tomatoes
ensures even more greenhouse advancements in the future.
© 2008 Columbia Publishing
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