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

Peppers – worth considering for your garden

Home grown habanero peppers
Patio pot grown habanero peppers

Peppers are such a versatile vegetable to have on hand in your pantry.  They are great fresh, amazing in a stir fry, a chili or soup, and they maintain a lot (80%) of their nutrients when canned or frozen.

Peppers keep well in the fridge – if unwashed, up to 10 days.  They also do not  require blanching before freezing, making it convenient to save for use in the winter months.

Green bell peppers 2018“Bell peppers” often just referred to as red, orange, yellow or green peppers are very nutritious.  One red bell pepper has twice the amount of vitamin C as an orange! These nutrient packed vegetables also have vitamins A, B6, K, E and elements such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese.  Bell peppers are also full of antioxidants, making them a tasty super food.


Peppers are rated for heat in Scoville heat units with bell peppers at zero.  Jalapeno peppers have around 3500-8000 units and, well one of my favorite peppers habaneros, pack between 150 000 to 300 000 units.  There are even hotter peppers, such as ghost peppers. So, if habaneros do not pack enough heat for you, grow or pick up some ghost peppers at your local farmers market.


If you would like an easy way to add “kick” to your recipes, hot peppers, such as habaneros, dehydrate well using a dehydrator.  Just wash, quarter and seed your peppers, and then process them according to your dehydrator’s instructions. Then store them in a sealed container.  When you are ready to use them, blend them in a coffee grinder or food processor. I don’t want to breathe in the powder, so I blend my dried hot peppers outside or in the garage.

You may have heard that green peppers are just under ripe red peppers.  While it is true that some green peppers will in time ripen to red. Some varieties of green peppers will stay green throughout their maturation process.  I love buying my peppers for salsa making at the farmers markets because I can get a half of a bushel at a time. I like to see some peppers, in a bushel of bell peppers, that have started to turn red because that means if I want to use them as a red pepper, I just have to leave the pepper at room temperature for a couple of days, and it will turn red.

Is the red pepper more nutritious than a green pepper?  I have read that a green pepper will have less vitamin C and A compared to a red or orange pepper.  However, if you prefer the bitter taste of a green pepper, eat it!  Consider it to be part of “eating your greens”.


Fun fact, peppers belong to the nightshade family of plants.  Other nightshade plants include: chili pepper, cayenne pepper, eggplants, tomatoes and potatoes (but not sweet potatoes or yams).  It is rare, but some people have severe digestive problems when eating night shade plants so if you are finding that all the above fruits and vegetables give you some issues, you might want to avoid the nightshade family of plants.

Regarding planting peppers

jalapenos 2019
Jalapenos grown in a cold frame 2019

It took me several years to figure out how to achieve success in growing peppers in my home garden.  When I first started home gardening in Southern Ontario and was just starting to get into growing vegetables, I would buy a couple of greenhouse jalapeno pepper plants each year.  I would basically plant them and water when needed and I would be lucky to see a couple of peppers each year from each plant. It hardly seemed worth the effort.



But I am stubborn, and so over the years I have tried different pots and locations with a variety of sun and wind exposures and have found that this has resulted in the best success in growing peppers:

    1. If starting from seed indoors make sure to start your plants early.  For instance, for poblanos (ancho) peppers they should be started 5-6 weeks before the last frost. So, where I am these can be seeded indoors as early as mid March.  Habaneros can be seeded indoors even earlier.
    2. If you are going to purchase plants from a green house, choose the straightest, healthiest plants and buy your plants early.  Even if you have to baby them a bit at home before they are ready to be transplanted, by buying early you will have a good selection of healthy plants to choose from.

    3. Choose a very sunny location, at least 8 hours of direct sunlight

    4. The most successful vessel for growing peppers has been my cold frame.  We amend the soil with compost and manure.

    5. My cold frame is in a nice location, no wind issues and full sun.

    6. Seed package instructions will tell you to make sure your soil has an abundance of phosphorus and calcium. So to do this, you can add lime when applying the compost to the bed or container before transplanting.  I have found that putting both compost and manure in my cold frames has been sufficient.

    7. And most important, prepare to fertilize your peppers.  I scratch in an organic pellet fertilizer after transplanting the plant and then scratch in additional organic fertilizer every 3 weeks.

    8. Peppers will tolerate dry soil but you will get good plant growth if the soil is kept moist.

    9. Be patient, peppers do take a long time to develop.  If you don’t get your transplants in until the end of May or June, you might not have peppers until August or September.  But again, be patient, because some of my best pepper plants produced the most peppers ready for harvest at the beginning of September.

      Poblano peppers grown in a Mayne planter with reservoir