Farm Fresh Produce-Thanks to the dedication of growers like Spruce Ridge Farm

Spruce Ridge Farm pepper seedlings April 16
Spruce Ridge Farm pepper seedlings April 16 2023

Garden fresh doesn’t have to mean plucked from your own backyard. When I first starting preserving the food of the seasons, almost all of my fruits and vegetables came from local farms or vegetable markets. At that time, I had a little garden, and it was just for everyday meals.

In fact, my husband and I laugh at a statement made by me in those early years. “This year I am really going to follow the market.” He thought- okay great she is going to learn more about financial investing, but what I meant was I would determine when all those lovely, juicy fruits and vegetables were at their peak and at market.

It was in those years that I had the pleasure of meeting some hard-working farmers and orchardists that taught me more than just when the veggies were at their peak. In keeping with our goal at Cansanity to share all the knowledge we have accumulated over our 30 years of garden and food life; we want to share with you a series of blogs called “A tour of Ontario farms” that will highlight some of our favourite farms that we have had the pleasure to visit and the people who run them.

This blog will feature Elaine and Paul Lapadat of Spruce Ridge Farm found in Rodney, Ontario. We first met Elaine and Paul at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in St. Jacobs, Ontario more than a decade ago. You see, every year in late August or early September when tomatoes and peppers were at their peak, I would seek out their farm stand. It was my experience that they always had the very best vegetables, and their helpful staff in their bright orange shirts were always smiling and eager to sell us some of their gorgeous bushels of Roma and San Marzano tomatoes, as well as Poblano and ripe red bell peppers.

At that time of the year, those were my target vegetables to buy. My husband used to say I had the “goo-goo” eyes for them veggies. I was always so relieved and content to have my stash of those brightly coloured beauties packed into my car, homeward bound, and destined for Tomato Soup, Chunky Tomato Salsa and Pasta Sauce

Spruce Ridge Farm market veggies 2014
My haul of Spruce Ridge Farm market veggies 2014

Over the years, I learnt that there were other great finds at the Spruce Ridge Farm stand at St. Jacobs market including: tomatillos, an amazing range of mild to hot peppers which included bell, jalapenos, habaneros, chili Cheyanne, crimson hots, Anaheim, ghost, reapers, cubanelles, shepherds, sweet and hot banana and Hungarian stuffing peppers. You can also find beautiful eggplants at their stand.

This April, we decided to visit Elaine and Paul at Spruce Ridge Farm, eager to learn more about their farm including the scale of their operations, seeding process and also the behind the scene look at what life is like on market days.

First, lets talk about the history of their farm. This 80-acre farm has been in the family since the 1940s with the first years growing tobacco and having most of the work done by horse drawn machinery.  In the 1970s, the family sold the tobacco quota and added a half acre of peppers and tomatoes to the corn and soybean production. In 1990, Paul, the third generation of the Lapadats took over the farm; he and Elaine added 3 acres of strawberries and up to 30 acres various market garden vegetables. At present, they are growing 10-acres of market garden vegetables and 1-acre strawberries focusing keen attention on only growing the finest tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and strawberries.

In February-April the Lapadats are busy seeding their plants. First with peppers and eggplants and then with tomatoes. The seeding is done using an automated seeder which has the capacity to allow for a seeding rate of 500 trays per day with each tray having 128 cells per tray.  That’s 64,000 plants! Typically though, they seed only 150 trays per day.

Automated Seeder at Spruce Ridge Farm

Once filled, the trays are watered, stacked, shrink wrapped, and moved to a 12’x 20′ germination chamber. Here the peppers will take 5, eggplant 4 and tomatoes 3 days to germinate. After germination, the pallets are disassembled, and the trays are moved to a 25’x 125′ green house.

Watering the newly seeded tomatoes
Pepper Seedlings at Spruce Ridge Farm
Pepper Seedlings at Spruce Ridge Farm

The greenhouse covered in 8-millimetre poly provides the perfect environment for their seedlings to develop. The temperature is controlled by automatic, electric fans that turn on as soon as the temperature of the greenhouse reaches 75°F.  Here the plants will grow for weeks until the May long weekend, and then they are planted using a customized planter. This planter can plant up to 8 acres a day!

Customized Seedling Planter

In the Rodney farming region, the soil composition is sand-based, making the land perfect for these crops because tomatoes and peppers both prefer a well drained soil. At the start of planting season, an application of a custom formulation of fertilizer is applied, the plants are planted, and then an application of nitrogen is applied in mid-July, once the fruit is on the plants.

Peppers at Spruce Ridge Farm pic 3

Spruce Ridge Farm peppers pic 4

There are a number of pests that have to be kept in check including the European corn borer on peppers, stink bug on tomatoes, and the Colorado potato beetle. Interestingly enough, the Lapadats decided to plant eggplant along with the other nightshades – tomatoes and peppers – because the Colorado beetle is more attracted to the eggplant. So, if they get an infestation of the beetle, they are more likely to be concentrated on these plants, making it much easier to get rid of them.  Fungi, including blight and viral infection such as Rugose, are other problems that can infect the plants.

The harvest starts in August and is all done by hand! Spruce Ridge Farm employs 6 migrant workers from May 24 through October and every market day they employ 10-11 workers. An interesting, fun fact that all us market goers should appreciate is that the Lapadats and some of their staff get up at 1:00 a.m. to load up their two 26′ trucks and head to the market. They arrive at St. Jacobs at 3:30 a.m., and by the time they get set up, the sun is rising! Market opens at 7:00 a.m.  Such an amazing dedication of getting fresh farm to table vegetables for us!

Besides growing their market vegetables, the Lapadats also grow strawberries for sale at their farm stand in Rodney, Ontario, and they also have expanded into custom growing of peppers for companies that specialize in making hot sauce. One of the hottest peppers grown at Spruce Ridge Farms is Dragon’s Breath which is 2.48 million Scoville units on the Scoville scale which is  310 times hotter than a Jalapeno at 8,000 scoville units or 7 times hotter than a Habanero at 350,000 Scoville units! To facilitate this production, the Lapadats invested in a container refrigeration system that can hold 15,000 pounds of sliced and frozen peppers. They have an automated slicer which slices at a rate of 4000 pounds per hour! Try that with your KitchenAid!

It was such a pleasure to meet with Elaine and Paul this April and learn more about their farm and what it takes to get those beautiful vegetables to market. Please go and check them out in August-October at St. Jacobs Market, St. Jacobs Ontario. You can also reach out to them through their website or give Paul a call at 519-476-1169.

Market Goers Arriving at 6:30 a.m at Spruce Ridge Farm stand at St. Jacobs Market

To salsa to get salsa – part one of my tomato planting story

Cansanity tomatoes

As I peer over my computer and gaze through the window that showcases my backyard, I notice the grey sky and the occasional snowflake falling to the ground.  I can’t help but wonder, did I start my tomato plants too early this year?

This is the salsa dance that Mother Nature and I perform every year.  When she offers seasonal weather, I easily glide through my eight counts alongside her, relaxed, cool and centered.  Our moves flow seamlessly.  This year, I wonder just how smooth we will be.

You see, I eagerly started some of my tomato plants this year from seed in the last week of March. I kept the soil damp knowing that the germinating seed would be very intolerant of dry soil and would die if the soil became dry for even a short period of time.  I kept my trays of newly planted seed pots near my warm gas fireplace and, as expected, within seven days my seedlings appeared.  When they were up, I moved my seedlings to my daughter’s bedroom (good use of a room for empty nesters like ourselves).  Even though it has a sunny south-facing window, I still placed my grow light on the plants for six hours a day, making sure that there is at least a couple of inches between the grow light and the plant.  I feel I am on track to keep to the general rule of having my tomato plants ready to be planted six weeks from the day they were seeded.  I am smug. I know that the typical last frost in my area is the third week of April and by early May I am usually golden for planting my tomatoes.  All is good, I think; I look up again and cringe at the snow.

The grow light that I have been using for the past three years on my plants ensures that I have a more compact tomato plant – this is good.  But the longer my tomato plants are in the container, the leggier they will be and this would not be good.  However, I know from past experience that if my tomato plants  become leggy, the best way to plant them is to trench plant them so that their long stems do not break in the wind.  So, I do have a plan if planting is delayed by the weather.  ( I will explain trench planting in the next tomato blog.)

Garden tomatoes

Then, I smile to myself, as I daydream about eating those summer tomatoes warmed by the sun. I am excited about the tomato plants I chose to grow this year.  One variety called “Manitoba” is an heirloom bush determinate variety which grows a nice slicing tomato.  It is a very productive plant, but I am mostly excited about this plant because it is open-pollinated, and so I can save the seeds and use them to plant in the following years.

I have seeded a nice variety of tomato plants this year.  Some are indeterminate, and so will need to be staked and pruned for better yield, a small price to pay to have the quantity.  The Manitoba being my only determinate tomato plant will need less of my time because I will not have to stake or prune it, since it will only grow to 24” tall and only take up 24” in width.

Tomatoes 2015
Under ripe Tomatoes

I hope that you find time to plant even one tomato plant. It could be one of the most rewarding gardening projects you do this year.  If you think you missed the boat timing-wise on seeding tomato plants or would prefer to start your tomato story with a nursery grown tomato plant then consider the following things:


    • There are several types of tomatoes, including cherry, paste, slicers, and huge beefsteaks. So, choose the plants that best suits your culinary needs. I like to have a variety of tomatoes in my garden; so I grow some paste, cherry, medium sliced tomatoes and some beefsteaks.  Because I make 50-60 pints of tomato-based salsa in the fall, I do buy bushels of Roma and San Marzano tomatoes from farmers markets.
    • Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes and colours. Pick the size and colour that suits the way you intend to use the tomatoes. That is, are they for salads or sandwiches?
    • Determinate tomatoes are a smaller plant and do not require staking or pruning whereas indeterminate tomatoes need to be staked and pruned.
    • Tomato plants have a range of age of maturity. If you want a plant that will give you tomatoes earlier rather than later in the season then choose a tomato plant that is mature in and around 60 days.
    • Large plants sold in a nursery store that are already in large (1-gallon) containers will give you the earliest tomatoes.
    • If you buy small tomato plants in the small 4-cell packs, it will take longer before you will get a harvest.
    • Most importantly, do not buy a plant that has broken branches, is yellowing, or is really leggy and thin.

In the following couple of weeks, I hope that I can provide steps that will help you to have a smooth and easy experience with growing your tomatoes.  I know that planning when to seed and then when to plant tomatoes is much like a salsa dance. Much like dance, if we relax and let our heads follow without thinking too much we will succeed.

Garden fresh salad with home grown tomatoes