Strawberries on 903 is a roadside market in North Carolina named after the highway where it’s located, but don’t be fooled, it offers much more than strawberries. And in 2010 the business began offering a new item that has been quite popular — greenhouse tomatoes.

To grow this crop, owners Steve McLawhorn and Mike Skinner made a commitment to learn a new skill set. Although highly experienced in agriculture, they wanted to be sure they were well informed on the specifics of tomato production in a greenhouse environment. They sought advice from neighbors and professionals, and since they were already working with regional agronomist Dianne Farrer of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, they broached the topic with her.

“Mike and Steve wanted to know about planting media, use of pots versus bags, plant spacing, fertilization and so on,” Farrer said. “I got them literature and information on these topics as needed. I also suggested that they specifically test the water they would be using in the greenhouse.”

McLawhorn said the business partners regularly use agronomic services such as soil testing and tissue analysis. “Once we started thinking seriously about greenhouse production, we were calling Dianne even more,” he said.

In the fall of 2009, after about a year of preparation, McLawhorn and Skinner felt ready to start their new project. They bought a greenhouse from a neighbor who was getting out of the business. They had it moved to their property and set up.

While that process was going on, they began growing tomato plants from seed. One of the varieties they selected was Trust, known for its flavor and disease resistance. On Feb. 1, 2010, they were ready to transplant seedlings into bags in the assembled greenhouse. Then the real work began.