Sometimes the only way to win is not to play…
When it was built three years ago, the company’s first 24-acre greenhouse in Madison was already the largest building in Maine. This second connected greenhouse, completed last year, brought the total area under glass to some 42 acres, or roughly the size of 32 football fields. Even in the depths of winter, a million tomatoes ripen indoors to harvest each week, snipped from their vines by workers in T-shirts and shorts.
“It’s medium sized,” said Tim de Kok, one of the company’s head growers. At his last job, Mr. de Kok managed a 40-acre chunk of a 318-acre monster in Arizona. The center of Canada’s greenhouse industry, the area around Leamington, Ontario, has some 1,600 covered acres, roughly equivalent to putting Manhattan, south of Houston Street, under glass.
“In the U.S., it’s hard to be competitive without a 20-acre minimum block,” Ms. Cook said.
The plants here at Backyard Farms number about 550,000. Each consists of two plants — the vines of new varieties, constantly tweaked for flavor, color, freshness and myriad other traits; and the roots of another, grafted together at a thickly scarred “V” near the base.
One half grows down into a sterile dirt-substitute made from fibers spun out of volcanic basalt, absorbing a custom hydroponic cocktail mixed by Mr. de Kok. The other half stretches toward the glass ceiling, growing a foot every week along a nine-foot length of twine. When the plants reach the top, workers reel more twine from the spool, shift the entire row horizontally and band each vine to its neighbor so that by the end of a plant’s life it might grow parallel to the concrete floor for as many as 20 or 30 feet, a dozen vines tangled together like garden hoses, before each makes its own graceful turn upward.
And while no one would mistake a Backyard Beauty for a tomato picked from a backyard in late summer — it is not as tender and its flavor is not as complex — it is juicier and has much more flavor than what you’d find in your deli sandwich.
“They don’t make a tomato that my grandmother would have liked,” Mr. Papadopoulos said. “They make a tomato that my son would like or my daughter would like.”
Of course, it also reminded me that I haven’t yet ordered either the elite gourmet boutique tomato seedlings or the grow-light kit that would let me start seeds in a household with two south-facing sunny windows and three cats.
Anybody else planning their summer gardens — or even starting them yet?