When you think about how to grow tomato plants, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Maybe spring time, warmer temperatures, the sun? All of that makes sense. However, with the ideal tools and knowledge, we can now grow tomato plants even in the harshest winters. I’m Danielle Ferreira and I will explain to you how we can grow through the winter time at NatureFresh™ Farms in Ohio!
Everything starts with the perfect conditions for the plants to grow at their best. The best growing practices include:
- choosing good performing varieties;
- monitoring the climate inside the greenhouse very closely to keep temperature, air flow, and humidity at the ideal levels for growing;
- keeping pests and diseases away from the plants using many of our biological and sustainable methods;
- Using high-quality fertilizer and frequently checking the levels of the nutrients in our irrigation system, to make sure we are supplying exactly what the plants need at any given moment;
- Supplying enough light to support the growth levels desired for the plants to continue to produce many tomatoes!
All of that is possible in our greenhouses, due to a lot of hard work from our amazing team and the technology that allows us to even have our own “sun” in the greenhouse! How does that work? Well, there are many different types of light that could be used to supplement the lack of sunlight during the winter time in Ohio. The best option for us is to use high-pressure sodium (HPS) lights . The HPS grow lights are very good because they also deliver a lot of heat, helping to keep the greenhouse warm as well as saving energy on extra heat input. HPS lighting is also a great option for inducing better flowering and fruit formation in our tomato plants, helping the plants to achieve higher quality in production.
Currently, in our greenhouses in Ohio, we have 23,142 grow lights on our 45 acres. Does that sound like a lot? If you ask the plants, they would probably tell you it is perfect! And the perfection comes from calculations done using green mathematics concepts. The amount of light that should be supplied to the plants comes from calculations done based on the stage of growth of the plants. Years of research and experience in this field allow growers to know exactly how much light one cluster of tomatoes needs every day to fully develop. Different varieties of tomatoes require different amounts of light, such as grape tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, cherry tomatoes and so on. Using the specific tomato variety that is being cultivated and how many clusters the plant has, we know when we should turn on our grow lights and for how long we will keep them on. This gives consistency in growing, even when there is very little light coming from outside, in the greenhouse the tomato plants are getting precisely what they need.
Light is crucial for the plant development. The plants produce their own food, and for that, they need a combination of different factors, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and water. Those elements will enter the plants and through a process called photosynthesis, the light will activate reactions in structures inside the plant cell. The structures are the chloroplasts, and the final result will be energy for the plant in the form of glucose and oxygen released to the atmosphere for us!
For the remainder of this growing season we will reduce the use of grow lights because the sunlight is getting stronger outside, the days are getting longer and we can rely more on the weather to provide the very necessary light for our tomato plants. But as soon as we are heading towards the winter again, we will have no problems… grow lights on and production at full speed will continue! So, you will always have very tasty tomatoes regardless of the weather.
Here at NatureFresh™ Farms, we are able to keep the plants happy all year long. And why is that important for you? It is a guarantee that we will continue to produce consistently high-quality tomatoes, full of flavor, nutrients and ready for every meal, at all times!