How tomatoes are grown in Iceland in a highly sustainable greenhouse

Place: Reykholt, Country: Iceland
The Friðheimar greenhouse in Reykholt, Iceland.
Text: Inexhibit
Photos: see captions

Friðheimar in Reykholt, Iceland

The Friðheimar greenhouse in Reykholt, Iceland; photo by Ashlyn G. / Flickr

How tomatoes are grown in Iceland in a highly sustainable greenhouse

It may sound strange to see a fruit (or is it a vegetable?) usually associated with temperate climate growing just a few miles south of the Arctic Circle; yet, this is what happens in Iceland with tomatoes.

First of all, the answer to the question above is that tomatoes are fruits, and more precisely the berries of the Solanum lycopersicum plant. Tomato is native of Central America but has been historically grown widely in the temperate areas of North America, Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Its cultivation has never been very successful in northern Europe, mainly because the tomato plant suffers temperatures below 10C / 50F and requires a warm climate and plenty of sunlight to ripen correctly.

Tomatoes are therefore not a traditional product of Iceland; it is impossible to grow them outdoor on the island, indeed; it’s simply too cold. Yet, Icelanders have found an ingenious solution to eat a locally-produced Mediterranean-style salad: to build greenhouses. It is since the 1920s at least that various species of edible fruits and vegetables are cultivated in Iceland’s geothermally-heated greenhouses, including tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, peppers, and strawberries.

One of the best examples of this agricultural know-how is the Friðheimar greenhouse in Reykholt, a village in southwestern Iceland.
Founded by Knútur Rafn Ármann and Helena Hermundardóttir in 1995 and specializing in the production of tomatoes, Friðheimar is just one of the many greenhouse-based farms in Iceland; nevertheless, it has become particularly famous because it is one of the few open to visits all year round, as well as for its varied program of events and activities. Committed to sustainable and eco-friendly horticulture, the farm also includes a restaurant, stables for Icelandic horses, and an equestrian arena.


The Friðheimar greenhouse accommodates about 10,000 tomato plants.
Photo by Ashlyn G. / Flickr

Friðheimar greenhouse Iceland, tomatoes

A red cherry tomato plant in the Friðheimar greenhouse; overall, the farm produces 370 tons of tomatoes in a year; photo Eric Kilby / Flickr.

At Friðheimar, about 10,000 plants produce about one ton of tomatoes a day, 365 days a year, on a cultivated area of 4,200 square meters.
The farm’s greenhouses and 300-sqm plant nursery are heated by hot geothermal water, of which Iceland is famously abundant. To grow vegetables all year round, natural lighting is integrated by an artificial lighting system mostly based on High-Intensity Discharge Lamps, powered by the island’s 42 hydro and geothermal power plants.

Friðheimar in Reykholt, Iceland

The geothermal heating system of the farm. Heated by geothermal water and totally powered with electricity by renewable energy sources, Friðheimar features one of the world’s most sustainable greenhouses. Photo by Ashlen G. / Flickr

Friðheimar sustainable greenhouse Iceland, interior 1

Computers control the temperature and humidity in the greenhouses and take care of the watering and fertilizing schedule; photo by Sheep ‘R’Us / Flickr

At the farm, computers control temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and lighting in each greenhouse; when sunlight inside the greenhouses reaches a sufficient level, artificial lighting is automatically switched off. The computers are also connected to an irrigation system that waters and fertilizes the crop according to a predefined program.

Pest control is pesticide-free and based on biological methods and beneficial insects such as the predatory mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus. Insects, especially honey bees, are also used to help the pollination of tomato flowers.

The Friðheimar farm also contains a restaurant specializing in tomato-based recipes (what else?) like tomato soups, pasta, salads (including a Caprese salad made with Icelandic Mozzarella), tomato pies, beers, non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, and cocktails (including Bloody Mary, obviously).

Friðheimar sustainable greenhouse Iceland, exterior 2

Photo C.C. Chapman / Flickr

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