What’s New at Our Farm in Dexter: A Peek Inside the Greenhouse

By Marcy Harris

It’s almost everyone’s favorite time of year at Zingerman’s Roadhouse! Wait for it… wait for it…. Tomato season!!

We’ve marked our calendars, and are counting down the days to our plump, juicy, jewel-toned tomatoes. At the Roadhouse Farm, there are about 20 different heirloom varieties just about to go into the ground, and on Earth Day 2017, I got the exclusive VIP pass with Farmer Mark Baerwolf to view the seedlings.

Farmer Mark germinates these babies in the Roadhouse Farm greenhouse. As I walk into the brightly-lit room with him, I am immediately hit with that warm, leafy tomato aroma. I wish I could bottle it and wear it as perfume. Our sweet basil wafts over as well, and just as I am about to bury my face in a row of it, Mark leads me to the tomato plants.



Check out those stems!

It is 80 degrees in the greenhouse, a good temperature for the seeds to germinate. Even in their small rows, they are remarkable. Tomato plants are resilient, and at 8 weeks they are holding their vibrant green well. Farmer Mark will plant them in the hoop house soon. In the meantime, he is taking good care of them to make sure they will have a smooth transition.






One of the most important things he has done for the tomato plants is that he keeps them in larger, biodegradable containers called cow pots, which are made from compostable cow manure. If they were planted in small, plastic plug containers, the roots would grow in a circular pattern and the plants would struggle to establish their roots in the ground when transplanted. By starting off in the cow pots, however, the plants will experience less disruption to the growth cycle. They will have developed hardy roots that will branch out for nutrients in the dirt.


The warm temperature will be maintained in the hoop house where they will be planted. Right now, there are beautiful, leafy lettuces in the hoop house that we are featuring on our Roadhouse specials. Soon, they will be replaced with tomato plants.

This lettuce is called Winter Density, and it has excellent flavor and texture.
We will also use these two varieties, Alkindus Red Butterhead and Red Sweet Crisp, on our specials at the Roadhouse.












Plants like to be petted, too!

While Mark is waiting to put them in the ground, he has to make sure the tomato plants do not get leggy. He uses a brushing technique, running his hand across the tops of the plants. “At first I thought it was way too much babying, but now I have a technique down. It acts as like a physical wind, keeping them more compact. It actually works.” Tomato plants need support right away if they are too leggy in the ground, because otherwise the wind will beat them up. Also, the plants need to focus on their root development to be successful.
Even though we like to admire what is growing on top, it’s more important to think about what’s going on underneath the soil.


We’ve got these in planters at the Roadhouse, too. Look for them around our patio, and enjoy them in our Basil Gimlet!


I am dreaming about Caprese salad, and Farmer Mark must have read my mind. He takes me back to the basil I was about to dive into earlier, pulls off a couple leaves and crushes them in his hand, releasing the pungent oils. Between the aromas of the basil and the tomatoes I am about to swoon. In a few weeks, the basil will be ready for our house-made pesto at the Roadhouse.





Waiting for their turn in the spotlight…

On our way out, Mark points out rows of trays growing in a germination chamber over baseboard heaters. Our peppers! They are tiny, not nearly as ready as the tomatoes. The Carmens we use for our roasted peppers will go in the ground about a week after the tomatoes. We have Jimmy Nardello peppers shyly hiding under the dirt, which Ari asked Mark to grow this year. They are a sweet Italian roasting pepper, and they are very good fried. I can’t wait to try them!

The Jimmy Nardellos are hiding!
Baby Carmen pepper plants! They’re so tiny!



Stayed tuned for an update next month on the transplant of our tomatoes, coming soon to a farm near you.