Canada is vigorously developing a greenhouse vegetable industry with state-of-the-art technologies for producing high-quality tomatoes, sweet peppers and cucumbers to readily supply its fresh produce market. This is both a hedge against crop shortfalls in growing regions to the south and protection from rising prices caused by warming trends, natural disasters and increasing costs for energy and shipping. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs calculates that North America’s largest concentration of greenhouse vegetable production is in Ontario.
Tomatoes are the main vegetable grown in Canadian hydroponic greenhouses. The largest-producing provinces are Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec. Greenhouse tomatoes command higher prices than field-grown tomatoes because they are picked when ripe and sold directly to consumers while field-grown tomatoes are picked green and shipped to ripen in stores. The greenhouse vegetables are grown in a controlled and protected environment where variations in weather, pests and other interferences in tomato development are not factors. They are pollinated by bees--hives are placed throughout the greenhouses--and the rest of the insect activity in the greenhouse is “integrated pest management''--harmful bugs are eaten by beneficial bugs so no pesticides are used.
Hothouse, or greenhouse, cucumbers are grown hydroponically in water enriched by nutrients. This is the principal method for Canadian greenhouse growing and it is one reason why the vegetables can be controlled for uniform size and quality. Computer systems monitor continuously for irrigation, humidity, light, temperature and levels of nutrients. Cucumbers require a warmer environment than tomatoes so they are grown in areas where milder temperatures keep energy costs to maintain the greenhouses low. Timed to be a spring or early summer crop, they are grown near major markets, decreasing the amount of time from harvest to consumer and lowering shipping costs. Two or three crops per year are possible—each plant can produce 20 to 30 pounds of cucumbers during the four-month harvest season.
Sweet peppers are grown in warmer areas of Canada to reduce greenhouse energy costs. The varieties most often produced by commercial growers are sweet bell peppers--red, green, yellow and orange--and the principal areas for pepper production are British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. The peppers are not genetically engineered but their life cycle is completely controlled for light, temperature, humidity and nutrients in the hydroponic solutions that are their growing medium. They tend to be uniform, healthy-looking crops because they are not subjected to acid rain, manure run-off, air-borne pesticides or harmful ultraviolet rays. Computer systems control the picking and sorting of the peppers to standardize weight, size and color. The crops are harvested for the fresh vegetable market and sold directly to consumers.