How to grow tomatoes, peppers, melons in midwinter

Frost-tender tomatoes, peppers, and melons can be grown in a Skaife truck farm in a climate where winter temperatures dip below freezing: December-January: Seeds are sown directly into the Skaife mesh containers in a greenhouse.

January-February: Seedlings are gradually spaced out by lifting each mesh container out of one perforated drainage tube and placing it in another.

February-March: The plants remain in the greenhouse, grow to production size, and begin to set fruit. Tomato plants are 4 to 6 feet tall, peppers about half that size. Melons, sown somewhat later, are about 5 feet long and trained up a stake.

April: Plants are moved into their final growing bed or ''harvest box'' - a plastic-covered cold frame, which wards off night frosts but otherwise provides an outdoor environment for the plants. The nutrient solution in this box is warmed for optimum growing temperatures.

According to Skaife's ''sat-a-lighting'' concept, peppers are placed in the harvest box at conventional spacing. Tomatoes are placed between the peppers, with the 4- to 6-foot-long stems laid flat across paths on each side of the growing box to trellises. Melons are also squeezed into the growing bed and trained to grow through and under the tomato trellises.

At Honeyacre Farm, a 4-by-100-foot harvest box supports the feeder roots of 1 ,000 mature plants - 400 pepper plants directly above the box, and 600 tomato and melon plants growing out on each side of it.

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