Tomatoes are a staple in many households, regardless of the time of year. But in a climate like Iowa’s, the luxury of ripe, locally grown tomatoes is usually relegated to the summer months. With hydroponic production, however, tomatoes and other plants can be grown indoors without the need for soil. For consumers, this means access to locally grown produce for a longer period of time – and the possibility of that perfect, ripe tomato even as winter sets in.
At Northwest Greenhouse and Floral, in Boone, Mike Salama and his family retrofitted part of their 30,000-square-foot greenhouse and have been raising tomatoes, basil and lettuce hydroponically for the last two years, in addition to a wide range of bedding plants and potted flowers grown by traditional methods. Mike will share the details of this new enterprise at a Practical Farmers of Iowa field day on Sunday, May 18, from 4-6 p.m., in Boone. The greenhouse is located at 204 South Division St.
The event – "Greenhouse Hydroponic Tomatoes and Ornamentals" – is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by Boone County Soil and Water Conservation District and Wheatsfield Cooperative. Participants will get to tour Northwest Greenhouse and Floral and learn about greenhouse production, hydroponic vegetable production and growing potted and bedded plants. In addition, Joe Salama, Mike’s father, will speak about the history of the business, and greenhouse grower and horticulturalist Russ Nupnau will share some insights into what’s involved with raising plants in a greenhouse setting.
"At Northwest Greenhouse, we use a buffer known as coconut coir as the growing media for hydroponic production," Mike says, explaining that plants grown hydroponically can be raised in everything from water to a range of non-soil-based substrates. "We can control irrigation and the flow of air to lower fungal disease, and we don’t have to deal with deer, rabbits or other tomato-loving animals that eat field tomatoes."
Tomato production starts at the greenhouse in early December, when the previous year’s plants come to an end and new plants are seeded. "We transplant these plants into their hydroponic home around the end of February, and once they fruit, we’ll have fruiting tomatoes until around Dec. 1."
Mike explains that he doesn’t push the tomatoes to produce through the coldest parts of winter because the cost of raising the plants would be too high to pass on to consumers. "It’s too cold and there’s not enough light or energy to make it worthwhile," he says. "So we just stop tomato production and sanitize everything to prepare for the new crop."
Directions: From U.S. 30, head north on S. Story Street (at the stop signs on the highway). Drive for about 1 mile, then turn left onto Park Avenue. After about seven-tenths of a mile, turn right onto South Division Street; the greenhouse is about a half-mile on the left.
Northwest Greenhouse and Floral is a family-run, full-service florist and greenhouse that has been serving Boone and surrounding communities with fresh, locally grown flowers, house plants, vegetables and bedding plants for nearly 40 years.
Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2014 field day season features more than 35 field days around Iowa. All field days are open to the public, and most are free to attend. The guide will be available in print and on the Practical Farmers website at the end of May.
Practical Farmers’ 2014 field days are supported by several sustaining and major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; BlueStem Organic Feed Mill; Calcium Products; Center for Rural Affairs; Featherman Equipment Company; Gateway Market and Café; Grain Millers, Inc.; Grassland Oregon; Iowa Beef Center; Iowa Farm Service Agency (USDA); Iowa Farmers Union; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy; Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Iowa Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE); Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (ICASH); ISU Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Klinkenborg Aerial Spraying and Seeding, Inc.; Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Midwest Insurance Corporation; MOSA Organic Certification; Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES); National Wildlife Federation; Organic Valley – Organic Prairie – CROPP Cooperative; The Nature Conservancy in Iowa; Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture; and Welter Seed and Honey Company.