KINGSVILLE, Ontario — Higher and higher roofs have been part of the evolution of modern greenhouses for years, but high tech equipment for the protected growing environments reaches to satellites and back.
When a cold snap in late January hit, Carl Mastronardi was repeatedly awakened through the night with alarms going off in various zones of his greenhouses at Del Fresco Produce Inc. Before smartphone technology and all its applications, he and other employees would have had to drive out and adjust temperature settings in person.
“Now I can control all of it right here in my hand no matter where I am,” Mastronardi said, using his thumb to scroll through the zones and charts showing current temperatures for his tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
Although he had a restless couple of nights, Mastronardi did not have to leave the comfort of his bedroom to address what could have been a disaster if the temperatures had fallen too low.
With other bits of software, Mastronardi and his growers can adjust irrigation levels and nutrient applications for the plants, which number about 10,000 per acre.
Del Fresco grower Muhammad Javed makes the rounds in the greenhouses every day testing the nutrients with a hand-held device. He sticks a probe into individual plants’ growth mediums, stopping every few feet as he makes his way up and down the countless aisles of green.
“Nutrients have an electrical charge,” Muhammad said. “We test the water to know what adjustments to make.”
The grower can also check the rate at which plants take up water, which can be an indicator for a variety of factors he and Mastronardi watch closely during seedling development.
A few miles away at Mucci Farms, also in Kingsville, a new 30-acre greenhouse is in operation for this season. It is completely planted with tomatoes on the vine, which were between 4 and 5 feet tall the fourth week of January with fruit already as large as ping pong balls.
The new acres are expected to produce between 1,200 and 1,400 cases of tomatoes per acre, per week when they are mature.
“We’ve installed two sets of high-tech curtains,” said Joe Spano, vice president for sales and marketing. “The one we have deployed now helps hold the heat in. It allows light to come through, though.
“The other curtain will be used when it gets hot and there’s too much sun at certain times of the day for the plants. It blocks some of the light to avoid what is basically sunburn of the plants.”