Iceland 2012, Day 2: Eldhestar Horse Farm and Friðheimar Greenhouse

Tomatoes at Friðheimar greenhouse, Hveragerði, Iceland. August 13, 2012.

It’s almost obligatory as a visitor to Iceland to go on the Golden Circle tour, a sort of scenic highlights within a few hours of Reykjavik. The three main stops are Þingvellir National Park, the enormous waterfall Gullfoss, and the geothermal area containing Geysir and Strokkur. Each tourist company has other favorite stops. On my first visit to Iceland in 2006, I did a half-day Golden Circle tour combined with half a day of horseback riding, which I regretted for at least the next 24 hours (I am not much of a rider).

This time around, we did a full day tour, which began with a horse show (interesting and less painful than actually riding) at the horse farm Eldhestar, followed by a stop at a geothermally heated greenhouse in Hveragerði, a town which is home to hundreds of greenhouses growing the majority of Iceland’s produce and garden plants.

I don’t have much to say about the horses, but they’re cute:

Icelandic horse show at Eldhestar horse farm

Iceland is unusual in that a large percentage of its electricity (26%) comes from geothermal energy, as well as 86% of its hot water (most hot water in Iceland is strongly sulfurous, making showers an interesting experience for the visitor). There’s been some controversy over exactly how renewable–and safe–geothermal energy is, but at present it’s ubiquitous, and it makes the existence of towns like Hveragerði possible.

We visited Friðheimar, a greenhouse devoted to intensive tomato production.

Shoe planter at Friðheimar greenhouse

The tomatoes are grown at a specific temperature by geothermal heating at significant expense. Iceland’s climate is not terribly conducive to traditional agriculture, and without greenhouses, the diet would either be much less varied or produce would have to be imported from other countries at even greater expense.

Tomatoes at Friðheimar greenhouse

Tomatoes at Friðheimar greenhouse

Naturally, though, what I was most interested in was this bumblebee, which was so laden down with mites it could barely fly. The greenhouse imports bumblebees (I believe the Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris) to pollinate the tomatoes, which like several other food crops require buzz pollination. These mites appear to be some kind of phoretic mite, perhaps Parasitellus; phoretic mites don’t directly harm the bees, but feed on debris. However, when they hitchhike en masse like this, they can hinder the bee’s ability to fly.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) with phoretic mites (cf. Parasitellus sp.)

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) with phoretic mites (cf. Parasitellus sp.)

Fortunately, the other bumblebees seemed to be doing fine. We had some delicious tomato soup and then hopped back on the bus to head to our next stop, Gullfoss.


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