At Jericho Settlers Farm we are committed to year-round growing of fresh organic vegetables for your table. This means we have a lot of hoophouses, most of which are unheated, to grow salad greens during the winter and to coddle our tomato plants during the summer. Still, without a heat source we really can't push the tomato envelope too far, especially in a cold spring like this one. So this past season we invested in a larger hoohouse that is well-insulated and holds a lot of solar heat due to its shear size. In addition we installed a biomass furnace that burns wood pellets or corn to heat water, which is pumped into in-ground lines to heat the soil in the hoophouse. This allows us to start growing tomatoes at the end of March, with anticipated harvest in June. This project is particularly exciting for us because it came to fruition with the help of several great partners, including The Farmhouse Group, Vermont's Working Lands Enterprise initiative and Efficiency Vermont. It's a cool private/public partnership to bring Vermont closer to feeding itself, no matter the weather!
It takes more than some added heat to grow early tomatoes. It also takes bumble bees. We have a hive of these handy pollinators living right in the hoophouse, so they can pollinate the early tomato flowers in April, when the native outside bees are still hibernating. Bumble bees are particularly good at pollinating tomatoes. The tomato flower needs a lot of buzzing to vibrate the pollen off the anthers and onto the stigma inside the flower to achieve fertilization and fruit development. We love working alongside the bees in the tomato crop.