A & P Hydroponics Is Open For Business

Ole said to Sven, he said, “Sven, vaat is more refreshering ‘round here dan a snowball in Yuly?”

Sven thought about it then said to Ole, he said, “Vy, dat vud be a fresh tomato in Yanuary!”

Luke Pederson and Tyler Anderson don’t carry on near the same level of conversation that sages Ole and Sven do, but they do have fresh tomatoes! Lots of them, at A & P Hydroponics. And it is January.

Those two young men have things in common. They both grew up in the Mayville-Portland area, graduated from May-Port CG High School and both were in the Marine Corps. (You are not supposed to say ex-Marine.) Pederson mustered out of the Marines two years ago and came back home to farm. Anderson left the Marines in 2012, but while he was still in California he took a class in hydroponics, not necessarily because he saw that in his future, more because it sounded interesting.

“I decided I needed something to occupy my time in the winter. Can’t farm in the winter,” Pederson said. Anderson said,

“When I came back I did a few different jobs. Then about a year ago Luke got a hold of me and said, ‘Hey, we should do this.’”

As most people in the area know, Dennis Kost created Kost Hydroponics from scratch many years ago. It literally grew into a wellknown, respectable business. But, when Kost’s health began to decline, he decided to offer his business for sale. Anderson and Pederson were interested. They visited Kost a few times and even helped out there some, hands on, to get the hang of it.

However, they weren’t prepared to pay the price Kost wanted. They researched the possibility of starting a new greenhouse from the ground up. They found that the project would cost just about as much as purchasing from Kost, and it would take a lot longer to get rolling.

Sadly, Kost, a fine man and God bless him, passed away. Not because of that but because of their remaining interest, Pederson and Anderson connected with the Kost family and a new financial agreement was negotiated. Hence, they are plucking their own product today.

But it hasn’t been an easy adventure. Although they had discussed the operation and process to some extent with Kost, they didn’t begin with a full picture, a laid-out playbook or manual. No, most of the learning curve of planning and groundwork was trial and error experimentation.

They took official ownership August 9, 2016, but they had already started the young plants in their little boxes, cribs so to speak. It took about two weeks to clean the greenhouse. After that they set up the growing apparatus, bought more growing-buckets to transfer the plants into permanently and graded the draining surface. Tomatoes like a lot of water, but what they don’t drink has to go somewhere.

Having started the plants in July they were big enough, strong enough in August to be transplanted into their growing-buckets, along with their “soil,” which is actually expanded clay pellets. They had to immediately get them water, an irrigation system that pumps water through small tubes/lines separately to each plant.

So far the process was mostly mechanical. The bon-fide novice experimentation was about to begin. You see, chemicals and fertilizers are combined with the watering system and finding the proper balance of nutrients, without damaging their babies, was darn hard mental figuring for them.

“We didn’t have anything to go by,” Pederson stated. “We had to get the right mixture of chemicals, etc., put together. It was trial and error, which we didn’t do too well for awhile.”

Yet, slowly, the tomatoes began to feel their oats. “That was a good feeling,” Anderson added, “because we had to pollinate them by hand. (Good ol’ bumble bees are employed for that job in warm weather.) I was a little afraid that wasn’t going to work.”

Overall, they have had to replant a few but have 840 of them! When the plants reach maturity, growing vertically attached to training wires, they can reach over seven feet tall, and the main vine grows over 20 feet long! Pederson remembered, “Dennis (Kost) told us he had one vine measured at 29 feet!”

But the boys weren’t finally in the clear. The plants began having problems. Growing pains?

“We thought it was a fungus,” Anderson explained. “The tomatoes didn’t look good, but it turned out to be a nutrient deficiency and we got that corrected.” “Then,” Pederson interjected, “we started having problems with thrips, a type of bug.” That inconvenience was rectified also. “Fortunately, we’ve been able to grow and sell good tomatoes since Nov. 29.”

Publicly, the tomatoes can be purchased at Miller’s Fresh Foods in Mayville and certainly right out of the A & P greenhouse. They have also contracted with Mayville State University and hope to do the same with the MPCG School District. They want to stay local. The product is very tasty, especially for January. The variety of tomato is medium sized, and Pederson said they would eventually experiment with other varieties that could be bigger. Expanding is also in the works.

“This spring we are going to replace the south wall,” Anderson informed. “And we need to get a better outside wood-burning stove,” Pederson emphatically stated. “Burning wood is our main source of heat right now. We keep it 70 degrees in the greenhouse. We’re planning on a propane furnace back-up, but that wood burner has to go for a better one.”

The land they own around the greenhouse will be put to use this spring too. The first added crop will be cantaloupe … muskmelon? Yah, them.

Nevertheless, the main staple is tomatoes. Some will still call them Kost tomatoes, which won’t bother A & P at all; it’s a standard with a solid reputation. The new business will go as it grows.

If I may indulge, it’s nice to melancholically muse that Dennis Kost is looking down with a smile and fond memories relating to the trials and tribulations Pederson and Anderson are experiencing. We hope he knows that he is remembered and that his pride and joy, infused with hard work and dedication, will again flourish and prosper.

As Anderson opined, “This place does have one hell of a personality.” So today, if you car will start, go out and get yourself a few A & P tomatoes. Put on shorts and a T-shirt, pretend it’s summer if that helps and lay together a luscious BLT or mix a crispy salad or maybe even concoct a hot dish; all secured by succulent tomatoes. Then drive Sven and Ole over.

Ah … wait … didn’t mean it like that. It’s just how Norwegians talk, you know.

A special thanks to the Traill County Tribune for the use of this article.

Mayville City Auditor

Portland City Auditor