Man grows tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers in greenhouse
Yes, you can grow tomatoes in the winter in the Carson Valley. Just ask Allan Hartman, an East Valley resident. The greenhouse in his backyard maintains 1,400 square feet of perpetual summer.
“I’ve had an interest in greenhouses and gardening for 22 years. I was a botany major in college and my dad was a wholesale gardener in western Pennsylvania,” said Hartman.
The 24-foot-by-60-foot greenhouse isn’t made out of traditional glass. Two 6-millimeter thick membranes cover the steel structure. Air is then pumped in between the two membranes.
“The air stabilizes the membranes so that they don’t whip in the wind,” said Mike Jarrett, the contractor who built the greenhouse and a close friend of Hartman’s. “And climate control is maintained through the use of fans, heaters and evaporative coolers when needed.”
– Lots of lettuce. Along one length of the greenhouse, layers of PVC pipe form an intricate waterway. More than 250 heads of lettuce in various stages of development sprout from openings in the pipe. On the concrete slab, peppers, cucumbers and herbs grow from plastic bags containing an inert material used strictly as a root stabilizer. Tomato plants, spreading to almost 7 feet tall and heavy with fruit, thrive is this perfect environment. According to Hartman they are only 4 months old.
“Everything is grown by using hydroponics,” said Hartman. “And everything is natural, using no sprays at all.”
Hydroponics is the method of cultivating plants by using a nutrient rich water solution rather than soil. An elaborate system of timers and pumps keeps the water flowing.
“Nutrients are added to the circulating water,” said Hartman. “Plus I use three different fertilizers. The ingredients are semi-secret, with each company guarding the formula and keeping it under wraps.”
Bottom heat, which is supplied by circulating water through tubing placed under the root system, gives Hartman a large advantage over other growers.
“The bottom heat increases production and cuts growing time by 15 percent,” said Hartman. “With all of the factors that I use, I have a 20 to 30 percent advantage over traditional growers.”
Hartman grows several types of tomatoes. Almost half of the greenhouse is filled with Trust, the most widely planted beefsteak tomato. Another large area is devoted to experimental plants.
“Each plant has a different feature that I wanted to try,” said Hartman. “We’ve eliminated some already, they weren’t satisfactory, and we’ve discovered some that will become regulars.”
The most unusual tomato in the Hartman greenhouse is the Pink Brandywine.
“This tomato is not a hybrid,” said Hartman as he pointed to the ridges in the skin. “It dates back to 1885 and it’s popular in Pennsylvania Dutch country.”
Hartman said that many plants aren’t suitable to greenhouse growing.
“If they are cheap in the market place, it isn’t worth growing them in a greenhouse,” said Hartman. “This summer when we plant the outside garden, then I’ll plant the radishes, tubers and onions. That garden will be exclusively for our own use.”
Hartman and his wife, Elaine, came to the Carson Valley after living in ski resort towns like Park City, Utah. Hartman was a ski instructor for 40 years. An accident ended his skiing 4 years ago.
– Uncle Al. “My nickname, Uncle Al, started back in the 60s,” said Hartman. “The kids at the ski school would run out of money before payday and hit me up for a loan of a couple of bucks. I’d give it to them, and they started calling me Uncle Al.”
After a heart attack last year Hartman thought that the dream for his greenhouse might not become a reality.
“I had five-way bypass surgery, but I was lucky that I only had slight damage to the heart muscle,” said Hartman. “But it was during this time that Elaine talked me out of a larger greenhouse. She thought it would be too much for me. Mike and I are adding 30 feet this summer.”
Currently, Hartman has cultivated a few commercial accounts for his produce under the name of Uncle Al’s Greenhouse. But he wants to share their bounty even further.
“What we really want is local people to drive out and buy some of the stuff,” said Hartman. “It’s a hobby that just got out of hand. But I’m sure having a lot of fun doing it.”
For more information about Uncle Al’s Greenhouse, Hartman can be contacted at 783-9511.