The first thing to hit your senses, after they have warmed up, is the unreal sense of standing among rich, verdant vines dotted with tomatoes. A few seconds later, if the fans that keep 62-degree air circulating are stilled, you hear a faint buzzing. There are bees here. Bumblebees, to be specific.
“They are specially raised for greenhouses,” Ryan Patterson said. “When we first tried with regular bees, they kept pounding themselves against the plastic coating. These guys just do what bees are supposed to do.”
Ryan, now president of the North Carolina Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association, admits that growing tomatoes in winter has been a learning experience. The first attempts with regular tomatoes were disastrous.
A lack of sunlight, both because of the plastic sheeting and because daylight is so much shorter in winter, stunted those plants.
Now, the family plants a hybrid designed specifically for winter light. Each seed costs about 50 cents – an exorbitant amount to regular summer gardeners, but well worth the investment for the Pattersons. After being planted in a mulch of shredded coconut and fed through drip irrigation, each surviving plant will produce 25 pounds of tomatoes.
“It’s interesting, but if you plant these seeds outdoors with regular tomatoes, they won’t produce,” he said.
“It’s all about the daylight hours. They’ll grow but won’t flower.”
The first tomatoes were ready for picking some time in mid-February. As the vines continue to thrive, a series of wires overhead help support them.
In the 110 or so days it takes for them to produce, the vines can easily grow to verdant anacondas longer than 20 feet.<< previous 1 2 3 4 next >>