Eats For One … or more


Greenhouse Farms Tour Part One  

entered 22. April 2008 by Marcus

Announcement in CUESA Newsletter:
Sun April 20, Greenhouse Grown Farm Tour, 9 am – 6 pm
Spend a day visiting two farms that rely on greenhouses to help grow their crops.We will first visit Bruins Farms in Winters, CA where greenhouses allow Paul, Eva and Bart Bruins to bring their heirloom and hybrid tomatoes to market well before the local field-grown fruits are available. See the tomatoes at several different stages, and learn how the Bruins family produces such perfect-looking tomatoes without using pesticides. CUESA will provide a delicious lunch made from farmers’ market foods.Then enjoy the bus ride through the scenic and fertile Capay Valley, home to numerous small family farms. A representative from Capay Valley Grown will narrate along the way and will tell us about how the farms in this valley work together to market their crops.Our final destination will be Orangewood Farm in Rumsey. Mother-and-daughter team Jackie and Bonny Scott run this nursery that utilizes a greenhouse to grow organic plant starts for home gardeners, including 67 varieties of tomatoes. The Scotts also have citrus and pecan trees, and are working to restore the hills on their property by planting native grasses. Each participant will receive a nursery plant to take home.

The tour is $25 and includes lunch made with farmers’ market ingredients.

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It was chilly and windy in front of the Ferry Building as we waited to board the big Coach 21 bus. The weather report said that that the weather in Winters was about the same as SF. Lucky for us, the weather turned fine in Winters and beyond, so we could wear shirtsleeves in the warm breeze.

I nabbed a second row seat on the bus and no one sat beside me, the better for my comfort, although the 40 seat bus was nearly full. You gotta go to the farms, they won’t come to you, so for the travel time, I took the Chronicle and NY Times sports sections, I’ve experienced the scenery on the Bay Bridge, Route 80 and I-505. I thought about the farmers coming to Market in the wee hours of the morning; it’s quite a weekly commute, but the route is easy and smooth. We were less than a mile off of I-505 when we turned into the Bruins’ farm.

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Paul Bruins gave us the background of Bruins Vegetables. He’s a Chemical Engineer who is retired and is now “doing engineery things” around the farm. His brother Bart (behind him) is “the farmer.” Paul is explaining that growing hothouse tomatoes isn’t all about seeds and dirt and water. They’re getting killed by the cost of gas to heat their greenhouses, so they’re taking steps to make that go away.

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These walnut stumps are part of the solution. The area around Winters has an excellent climate for walnut orchards. Each year, the walnut farmers have a number of downed trees for whatever reason. They harvest the limbs and trunks for lumber, but the stumps are too difficult to cut up. They used to put them in a big pile and burn them, but now the Bruins’ take them as fuel to heat their greenhouses. They can burn them clean at a very high temperature and use the heat generated to heat water for their greenhouse radiant heating.

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Paul is building this kiln, large enough to burn the walnut stumps at very high temperature. The resulting hot water will be pumped to a military surplus bladder that will hold 20,000 gallons at 180 degrees, enough to heat the greenhouses for three days.

The Bruins’ have four greenhouses. They plant each in sequence so that when they’re harvesting in the first, the plants are growing in the second, and being planted in the third, and so on. This takes them through a season, planting in January for market in March and selling through October or November.

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They don’t look so imposing until you peer down the row between to see how deep they are.

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Irrigation water is pumped from onsite wells about once a week, stored in these tanks and piped into the drip irrigation system.

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We’re inside the “second” greenhouse, where the plants are maturing. It’s very warm and humid inside and the plants thrive in these conditions. Not only that, the closed environment keeps out nearly all pests and varmints. The tomatoes are planted in pairs of rows. The dirt row is for walking to tend the plants; the black plastic row is for irrigation. The yellow tape is sticky tape to trap the “white fly,” a very tiny pest that likes to eat tomato leaves. The fly is also attracted to bright yellow and when it goes to the yellow it sticks and stays. The strips are put up where the Bruins’ feel the need to do so. Nice alternative to pesticides.

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Bart’s wife, Eva, the third partner in the business, is explaining that the tomato seedlings are planted in pairs in four-inch pots. One of the seedlings is an heirloom, which is susceptible to root disease; the other is a local variety that resists root disease. The heirloom plant is grafted to the native root at this stage. Bart is holding up the cutting knife, and did the grafting on this example before our very eyes. Slice each stem on the diagonal, slip one into the other and tape with masking tape. Bart and Eva do this, Paul builds kilns.

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Some of the tools of tomato farming are simplicity itself. Bart is holding a “yellow paddle.” He uses it when he goes into an area where the “white flys” are prevalent, but not so numerous as to require yellow tape. The plants grow up a string on a single stem. Periodically, as the plants grow, suckers are picked off and the top of the stem is twisted around the string so it doesn’t fall over. The stick is to tap the top of each plant so that pollen falls from the high blossoms to the lower ones to pollinate the plant. This is done to every plant about every three days. Bottom line, each plant — and there are about 10,000 — gets a lot of individual attention.

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In the “first” greenhouse, the plants have grown as high as one can reach and the fruit is ripe at the bottom of the plants. Note that the plants in this greenhouse are in buckets and not in the earth. Every two years they plant in buckets to give the earth a rest; so this greenhouse is in buckets, the other in the earth.

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In addition to tomatoes, some flowers and herbs thrive in the greenhouses.

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These are European Cucumbers, which grow very fast. You can see a few dangling below the broad leaves.

CUESA provided a fantastic lunch of greens, Rancho Gordo Runner Cellini bean salad, Ricotta cheese and sliced tomato pizza, and Eva’s fresh tomato gazpacho. Afterward, Eva put out flats of Bruins’ tomatoes so that we might remember this visit — at least through dinner.

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Our tour continued on to Orangewood Farm at the top of the Capay Valley. See Part Two.

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