An increasing number of greenhouse growers in Alberta and British Columbia are growing specialty crops and taking them directly to market.
An increasing number of greenhouse growers in Alberta and British Columbia are growing specialty crops and taking them directly to market, according to TerraLink Horticulture Inc. representative Bradley Breedveld. “By going direct to market,” he explained, “you cut out the middle man and increase profits.”
In Saskatchewan, he observed, the sizes tend to be larger because there is better light than in the two more western provinces. “Sometimes with new varieties,” he said, “the fruit is beautiful but the taste is lacking.” The 72-121, though, has an excellent taste, said Breedveld. The cocktail varieties do very well at farmers markets, he noted. Breedveld, who is based in Abbotsford, B.C., was speaking at last fall’s Saskatchewan Greenhouse Growers Conference and Trade Show in Saskatoon. He provided an overview of new specialty vegetable crops for greenhouse production.
He began with cocktail tomatoes. The principal varieties in the larger (40 to 45 grams) size are Campari and Amorosa. Berlinto, Flavorino and 72-121 are popular in the 35 to 40 gram range.
Cherry tomatoes, he said, can be harvested in either a truss format (the Conchita variety) or loose (Cheramy and Favorita types). The orangy Conchita fruits all ripen at the same time, he noted. The Cheramy tomatoes have a red colour and excellent taste. Breedveld also noted that loose harvests produce better yields than truss picks. The eight- to 10-gram grape tomatoes, Breedveld reported, are gaining a lot of momentum in the marketplace. “They used to be a little on the sour side,” he said, “but new varieties are being developed with higher sugar content.”
He also spoke briefly of the new mini plum tomatoes, noting the mini plum and strawberry varieties have to be priced 15 to 20 per cent higher than cherry tomatoes because they yield, on average, less fruit than their larger cousins. While Heirloom tomatoes are great for farmers markets, the drawback is that they have no genetic protection against viruses that can spread from them to other varieties.
“Be cautious with heirloom varieties,” Breedveld suggested. “Make sure that you deal with seed companies you know when buying heirlooms.” He also mentioned the orange beefsteak tomato (“it looks good on the shelf,” he noted), the Greenback Beefsteak (dark green on the outside, red on the inside), Roterno (high in cancer-fighting lycopene), and the dark purple or black Zebra tomato (tough skin and meat but very sweet).
Turning to peppers, Breedveld first spoke about the supersweet varieties. Because the red or green Palermo Peppers are long and conical, it might be difficult to get consumers to buy them at first, he suggested. But get them to taste them and they become hooked. The Ramero pepper is a shorter supersweet variety that comes in red, yellow or orange colours. Chili peppers, he said, are very labour intensive and not worth growing unless there is a strong market demand. As for mini peppers, Breedveld reported that seed is difficult to acquire. The two companies that carry the seeds have long-term contracts for those seeds.
LOOKING AT CUCUMBERS
Long English cucumbers are easy to grow and easy to sell, Breedveld noted, but cucumbers as a whole are difficult to ship. Mini cucumbers, he said, have to be harvested six days a week and sometimes twice a day in the summer. They are sweeter than English cucumbers and quite popular with children.
In Holland, he noted, mini cucumbers are being marketed in two-pound bags as snack food for kids in school. Also in Holland, he said, the smaller cocktail cucumbers are usually sold in 8″ pots (three plants to a pot) or hanging baskets. Mini eggplants, he noted, look good and are not as bitter as regular eggplant varieties. The plants are long and need to be lowered three to four metres during the course of the summer. The main kinds of mini eggplant are Carmen (purple), Angela (striped), and white.
OTHER CROPS TO CONSIDER
Greenhouse lettuce, Breedveld said, is easy to work with. It can be grown in gutters, using gravity for irrigation, or in ponds. The main issue is ensuring that the plant is getting a steady supply of water.
Breedveld also touched briefly on beans, strawberries, melons (they were tried in B.C. this past year with mixed results), herbs (you get the best results growing them in shade under the tomato and lettuce plants), garnish greens (for the restaurant market), Asian vegetables (a huge market in the Vancouver area), edemame (Japanese beans), and zucchini.
This year’s Saskatchewan Greenhouse Conference will be held Nov. 13 to 15, again in Saskatoon. It is held in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Vegetable Growers Association conference.
Myron Love is a freelance writer and photographer in Manitoba.
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