London — Up in Yorkshire, where folks are not given to idle boasting, they claim to be growing the world's first electric tomatoes. And they are growing them in the world's largest greenhouse, without soil.
The project is at Camblesforth, in the shadow of a large coal-fired electric power station that makes the miracle possible.
Surplus heat from the power station, instead of being drained away in the form of hot water, is being piped into a greenhouse covering 20 acres. Inside, the heat is used to keep temperatures at just the right level for healthy tomato growth.
The result? Tomato plants that are 30 feet long, bearing up to 35 trusses of tomatoes each.
Sponsors of the project say it is the first substantial commercial application of reject power-station heat for use in horticulture.
The cleverness of the project does not stop with the use of energy from an installation that would otherwise waste it. The tomato plants are not grown in soil but are germinated in water, then spaced out in troughs so that their roots are bathed in a steady flow of liquid nutrients.
It has cost L3 million ($5.8 million) to get the Camblesforth scheme in operation.
Managers of the glasshouse say there is no reason why power stations elsewhere should not be used to provide the heat for similar schemes, so long as there is usable flat ground available nearby. Tomato plants, in fact, are only a beginning, they feel.
The same principle can be used, the managers say, for growing "electric" aubergines, peppers, and cucumbers. And there's a further application as well. The power station heat also can be used to nurture the tiny predators which horticulturists use for ensuring that their plants are not damaged by insect pests.
Thus, there's the prospect of growing tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables without a need for chemical insec ticides.