Inside JCPRD: Farming in January? The history of hotbeds

Hotbeds consisted of a 6 -foot x 16 -foot wooden frame on the ground. Four window sashes were laid across the frame of each bed, creating a greenhouse. The sashes were adjusted to control the temperature in the bed. Weeding and transplanting was done on the knees on top of a board laid across the frame, so as not to compact the soil and crush the new plants. The Verhaeghe family had sixty or more hotbeds in operation. A single bed could hold nearly 1,000 starter tomato plants.

By the Johnson County Museum

January is here, and so is the start of the growing season. While the idea might seem strange to most today, Johnson County farmers like the Verhaeghe family of southern Johnson County used hotbeds to seed starter plants as early as January for more than a half century. The history of the Verhaeghe family farm was one of the subjects of a new “History in the Park” (HIP) interpretive sign, which you can see alongside the agriculture-themed playground at Arthur and Betty Verhaeghe Park near 167th Street and Switzer Road. So, how did they do it? Read on for more of Johnson County’s rich agricultural history.