Updated: Apr 27
That is what Dorothea Armann said, when I stopped to see her traveling beehive. I raised my eyebrows in surprise….I’ve always heard busy bees. Well, it seems that is not always the case.
A very unique visit to Friðheimar is not to be missed, a family own tomato farm in Reykholt, just outside Reykjavik, Iceland. Yes, bees in Iceland. Actually, it is not as cold as most think, January average is between 28ºF and 36ºF. It’s not just the temperature, there are other conditions, high velocity winds, snow, and lots of ice that seems to hang in the air. But Dorothea’s bees live inside and in amazing conditions, so she feels that they have no right to be lazy.
Friðheimar literally means “Glass House” in their native Islandic language. One of the most remarkable things about these glasshouses is the source of water. A borehole located just 600 feet away provides the perfect geothermal heating system, providing hundreds of thousands of tons of hot water each year, at a temperature of 200 degrees, thus helping to provide the optimum temperature conditions for tomato production. Friðheimar’s owners specialize in cultivating different varieties of tomatoes, in an attempt to increase the diversity of tomatoes in the Islandic market. Because of the growing conditions they have created, they are able to grow and provide tomatoes all year round.
Friðheimar is the second largest producer of tomatoes in Iceland, producing over 1 ton of tomatoes per day! Each plant produces 50 to 60 pounds over a 9-month period, so you can do the math – they have a lot of tomato plants, and more starts in an adjacent greenhouse ready to go. They keep the greenhouse lights on 17 hours each day to maximize production.
As you may know, in the winter months daylight in Iceland is very limited to five to six hours.
We learned that, throughout the entire island, they grow their plants as naturally as possible using three important principles: they water the tomatoes with the same water that they drink so they can produce the highest quality tomatoes, remember tomatoes are 90 % water; 2) they don’t use pesticides, they control pests by using a biological pest control system where ‘good flies’ (Nezapar) come from the Netherlands in packages to eat the eggs of the native ‘bad flies’, and 3) they import bumble bees from Holland to pollinate their plants and regularly have 1200 bees flying around their greenhouse at all times. Each bee can pollinate up to 2,000 flowers per day. When they pollinate the flowers, they leave a scent, so they know not to go to the same flower more than once. Bumble bees are extremely industrious and one worker bumble bee can do the work of several honeybees. Compared to honeybees, bumble bees rarely sting. Bumble bees only sting in self-defense. The natural lifetime of the working bumble bee is only about 6-8 weeks, whilst the queen lives for about 2 to 4 years. But in the winter months the bees know the light is missing and slack off, that is why Dorothea needs some alternative help. When the bees aren’t working in top form, the farm needs to use an agricultural robot that vibrates the vertical plant, releasing the pollen into the air.
There are 27,000 plants across 9 greenhouses – which grow and produce for about 9 months, then they are sent away to local farmers to compost. It’s not just good for Friðheimar to dispose of them, but also good for the farmers to get the compost. There are only 20 greenhouse workers dealing with 27,000 plants and all the picking is done by hand, twice a day.
The whole operation is aided by some incredible technology, too. Control computers in each greenhouse control the heat, humidity, carbon dioxide and lighting. Control computers are also linked with fertilizer blenders that water the plants according to a pre-determined schedule. Weather stations on the rooftops obtain information on wind speed, wind direction, temperature and sunlight. And all these devices are in turn connected to the main computer, which is linked to the internet. This allows the couple who own Friðheimar to go online, wherever they are in the world, and monitor the status, change settings and control watering.
Tomatoes are the theme of Friðheimar’s Restaurant and that’s not surprising, since three different varieties of tomato are cultivated in the greenhouses. A unique and delicious food experience awaits daily year-round. When it’s time to eat, guests are served their food amid the growing plants, making for what feels like a fresh and authentic dining experience. Whilst primarily tomato-based, the menu is as eclectic as it is alluring, with a range of courses. Surrounded by lush green vines, ripe with produce, a decision will have to eventually be made between the freshly cooked mussels in tomato sauce or the stone-baked tortilla with basil and mozzarella filling. Then again, traditional tomato soups and home-baked ravioli sound equally tempting. Start with a Healthy Mary, made from green tomato, lime, honey and ginger, served chilled with sparkling water. And of course, be on the lookout for the bees you might spot a lazy one.
Noon to 4 pm daily.