Mike Mosesian comes from a grape growing family. He studied viticulture and chemistry at University of California Davis, and says he didn’t know anything about growing tomatoes when he moved from California to Alaska in the early 70s and purchased Bell’s Nursery.

One thing he did know, was that fresh fruits and vegetables in Alaska’s stores were not as fresh as those found in his home state.

“I couldn’t believe how expensive the tomatoes were and I couldn’t believe how inferior the quality was,” says Mosesian.

That’s when he decided to grow his own tomatoes. He began experimenting with hydroponic tomato growing — without the use of soil — in 1972. Tomato seeds are planted in coconut fiber sometime in February, and nutrients are pumped into the plant. The vines grow taller, and begin producing fruit by mid-May. They’re also grown without pesticides.

Mosesian says he’s encountered many challenges throughout the last 44 years, from crop diseases to heating failures in his greenhouses. One of the first supporters of his tomato business was Carr’s.

“When Larry Carr owned Carr’s they were so generous to us. They spoiled us. They wanted so much local produce that we had to say no. Back off. We can’t do all that,” said Mosesian.

His business has blossomed ever since, and today he delivers fresh Bell’s tomatoes to grocery stores throughout Alaska, producing more than 250,000 pounds of tomatoes each year.

The tomatoes at Bell’s are allowed to stay on the vine until they fully ripen. Once they’re picked, they usually make it to the grocery store within one day. On the contrary, tomatoes shipped up from the lower 48 are picked while still mostly green. They’re often stored in warehouses before they’re shipped to Alaska, which could take as long as two weeks.

“Consumers in Alaska have been very generous to us because our tomatoes cost a lot more, but they have the flavor. People appreciate that and they will help this business thrive,” said Mosesian.

He said the carbohydrates and natural sugars found in the bright, red fruits are responsible for the taste. It’s easy to spot a home grown Bell’s tomato, just look for the sticker with the Alaska State Flag.

Visit the Bell’s Nursery website for more information.