Innovation at Bluegrass Farm

Bluegrass Farm is a beautiful place, faced with hilltop views and wide open sky.

Brad Wright, Leela Ramachandran and their two children run this certified organic vegetable farm near Smiths Falls, innovating as they go.

After four years of growing cold-hardy salad greens from September to June, this year they decided to add heat-loving summer vegetables to their five greenhouses.

"It seemed like a good move." says Leela. "The kids love tomatoes and cucumbers, and I found myself buying the veggies in the grocery store."

"I thought, this is crazy. We're a farm. We should be growing tomatoes and cucumbers ourselves!"

Tomato vines hang from a pulley system suspended by airplane wire. Another innovation they came up with that needed some tweaking. "The vines got so heavy, we had to build wooden supports to hold the wire system up." says Leela.

They've planted a variety of tomatoes, including Cherokee Purple and Tiger Stripe. Leela gives us a handful of tomatoes. The flavour is out of this world. They had just pulled up the cucumber vines, so Dean and I couldn't sample the cukes.

"The heat this year has been a problem." says Brad. "It gets up to 41, 42 degrees celcius in the greenhouses. You can't stay very long in that heat. So we start early in the morning, and move outdoors before noon."

"The heat has been hard on the plants, too. The tomato blossoms actually fell off the plants."

Adapting to the hot temperatures in the greenhouse has been a learning experience, but they found ways around it, including using fans, lattice vents and opening the sides of the greenhouse.

Growing inside all summer has its advantages, though, and the couple are enthusiastic about continuing to use the greenhouses all year round. "We're more vulnerable to the weather outdoors in the field." explains Leela. "And the turnover in the greenhouse is very quick, so the growing season is more efficient."

She turns suddenly to her partner, Brad, and says, "I think we should plant baby chard next. It's small and tender, and it's great for salads and cooking. I think people would love it."

Dean and I agree. Baby chard sounds wonderful.

"We're glad to see the cool weather come." says Brad. "We're getting ready to plant our fall greens."

The couple bought their greenhouses second hand after deciding that was the best way to approach farming. Like a lot of the land around them, the soil on their farm was thin and poor. "Our greenhouses are very sturdy because we actually had to drill into the bedrock to erect the frames. We never worry about a windstorm."

The four of us, plus baby Ellis, move to the barn, where Brad and Leela have been processing garlic. A wall of drying garlic fills the barn with a pleasant green smell.

Dean is eager to bring the braided garlic into Foodsmiths.

When most farms are winding down production, Bluegrass is ramping up. Fresh, local salad greens will last well into the fall and winter at Foodsmiths, with maybe a few surprises to add to our produce dept, thanks to the innovation at Bluegrass Farm.

September 13, 2018 by Fran Arthurs

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