Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fresh tomatoes in the winter sound mighty good

Fresh, locally-grown vegetables are possible during the winter months, even in climates as chilly as Ohio. Linda Martz of the Mansfield News Journal reports on growing produce in high tunnels, "low-tech but effective shelters meant to protect crops throughout the year ... and without adding heat." Some Ohio farmers are using high tunnels to get an early start on tomatoes, peppers and flowers and other cold-sensitive crops, said Matthew Kleinhenz of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio.

One layer of clear plastic stretched over the frame of a high tunnel creates an environment that's one-half of a USDA cold-hardiness zone warmer than the location of the tunnel, Kleinhenz told Martz. Adding two layers of plastic will warm the temperature by a whole zone. Growing in high tunnels is different from growing in greenhouses. In tunnels, growers must pay close attention to watering, weather conditions (especially sunlight and temperature), natural cycles of insect populations and disease organisms.

The demand for local produce is driving the need for longer growing seasons. Kelly Brown of Owl Creek Produce Auction, near Fredericktown, Ohio, said, "Buyers are beginning to recognize that they can now get (local) tomatoes till Thanksgiving ... The demand is huge, the opportunities are huge." Grocers must be sure of the supply before they can advertise the produce: it must be consistent and in a larger volume. (Read more)

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