LEAMINGTON, Ontario — Despite a snowy winter, greenhouse growers in Ontario expect an on-time start to their greenhouse vegetable season.

“It’s about the same as last year, but compared to usual, I’d say it’s a little late,” said Ron Lapos, president of Kingsville-based Special Edition Marketing.

Weather had been pretty mild until January until, like the U.S., Ontario got its fair share of snow.

“The last few weeks it’s been real cold, but up until then it hasn’t been bad,” Lapos said in early January.

Cucumbers are grown year-round in and around Leamington, although at a much lower production level during the winter.

Many growers take some time off in December and January to get going for the next spring.
Double Diamond Acres Ltd. cleaned up and got its transplants in around Dec. 10, said Chris Mastronardi, sales manager.

The company ships a full range of Ontario greenhouse produce: beefsteak, cluster and specialty tomatoes, bell peppers and seedless cucumbers.

“We had unusually good weather until December,” Mastronardi said. “December was average, and so far January’s been pretty average.”

Grower-owned Westmoreland Sales has Ontario cucumbers year-round, and Dino Dilaudo, sales manager, said things are on par with years past. The company should be into tomatoes and peppers by March.

The company brought a few new growers on board this year, so its acreage on peppers and cluster tomatoes should be up a bit, Dilaudo said.

Double Diamond should start harvesting cucumbers in mid-February, tomatoes by March 10 and peppers by March 15, Mastronardi said.

Cucumbers are a main item for Jem-D International, which should start harvesting by Feb. 1, with tomatoes and peppers coming on by March 1.

“It’s been cloudy, not a bad December but not a lot of sun” said Kyle Moynahan, salesman for Jem-D International.

For Cornies Farms Ltd., Kingsville, low light means smaller, and sometimes curvier, English seedless cucumbers.

The grower produces only English seedless cucumbers year-round, with the exception of a few weeks in December to transition.

“There’s not a lot of production right now, but there’s not a lot of movement, either,” said James Cornies, owner. “December was pretty dark. There were higher temperatures but low light, and light is what we need.”

When cucumbers don’t get the light they need, some end up smaller or discolored, and some end up curling into a “C” shape, instead of staying straight.

“This time of year, with shorter days, typically the fruit is smaller,” said Tom Coufal, salesman for Lakeside Produce. “It could be 10 degrees and sunny. They just need the light.”

Mucci International Marketing Inc. is the marketer for the vast majority of Cornies Farms cucumbers.

The Kingsville-based company should be into Ontario peppers and beefsteak and cluster tomatoes by mid-March, said Joe Spano, sales manager.

Lakeside Produce has English cucumbers out of Ontario year-round, and mini cucumbers about 10 months of the year, supplemented with Mexican produce in the winter.

The company plans to be into cluster, beefsteak and on-the-vine tomatoes by March 15, and bell peppers by the first of April, Coufal said.

Del Fresco Produce, Kingsville, is one of the first to get its cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes into the ground, said Carl Mastronardi, president.

The company started cucumber production in late January, taking a break only because it propagates all of its own cucumber plants.

“Our company has been around since the 1960s, and we’re one of the first to propagate our own,” Carl Mastronardi said. “We stopped in the 90s when we started getting big, but we found out quality was really suffering, so we started growing our own.”

Carl Mastronardi said less than a handful of Ontario growers propagate their own plants now.
For Del Fresco, light levels in December were actually a little better than normal.

“Our plants look really good right now,” he said early January. “January hasn’t been so good, but that’s not going to affect things too much.”

The company is planning for harvest about four to five days earlier than normal.

Neighbors to the south

Greenhouse produce grown in Mexico, the U.S. and even the Dominican Republic can be supplemental to the Canadian season, but it can also be considered competitive.

“The harvest cycle isn’t what it was five or ten years ago because of competition, so sometimes it doesn’t pay to come in as early as we used to,” Lapos said. “We would love to get tomatoes year round, but it just doesn’t work. Same with peppers.”

For some, though, foreign competition isn’t enough to keep them from growing in Ontario all winter long.

“We’re a little bit early on cukes, about a month,” said Mark Slater, co-owner of Erie James Ltd. “Customers have been demanding local over imports.”

The company was set to be in full swing on cucumbers by Feb. 1, with tomatoes and peppers coming on by April.

With a bigger grower base this year, Erie James should see an expansion on cluster tomatoes and baby seedless cucumbers, Slater said.

“Some went in with peppers early December, and it’s been beneficial for those who went in early so far,” said Matt Mastronardi, vice president of sales and marketing for Pure Hot House Foods Inc.

For those who don’t try for greenhouse produce in the dead of winter in Canada, import programs help them keep customers.

“We have a Mexican program during the months we’re out of Ontario,” said Dave Pereira, director of sales for Mor Gro Farms Inc. “It’s hugely important to keep our customers every day.”

The company started planting Jan. 17, and plans to begin its harvest the third week of March on beefsteak and on-the-vine tomatoes.

Mor Gro also markets colored peppers, English cucumbers and mini cucumbers.

Florida freeze effects

Freezes in Florida that caused shortages of tomatoes coming from the state caused some instability in the tomato market in January and early February, but aren’t affecting the greenhouse tomato planting schedule at Jem-D, Moynahan said.

“We had a short-term tightening causing increased retail prices. The higher retail prices have now slowed movement and more supply has become available, causing current downward pressure on pricing,” Moynahan said Feb. 1. “We are seeing indicators that tomato supply may tighten again in the upcoming weeks.”