March 6, 2017
It is high tunnel season, and the most exciting time of the year. Starting early crops in a high tunnel can prepare you for early markets, when many seasonal growers will be strapped for produce. Plus, getting your hands in the dirt always helps get rid of those winter blues. With spring just around the corner, keep in mind the advantages of adding a high tunnel to your farm to grow exceptional produce this season.
High tunnels help protect your crops from extreme weather. Long and frozen winters can last many months before the fear of frost has past. Planting early peas, right before a heavy rain or planting delicate greens before a bad frost, can put a real damper on the beginning of your season. The success of your season depends significantly on the success of your start up. Spring only lasts so long, and though touchy, can be a very productive time of the year in your high tunnel. These cool, rainy months can be the ideal time to produce crispy and sweet greens.
With high tunnel production a farmer can plant directly into the soil. When seedlings are ready to be transplanted, a high tunnel allows you to get starts in the ground regardless of late spring rain. Depending on the hardiness of the crop, if you have planted in your high tunnel and are expecting a few more frosty nights, a light row cover will help to ensure the natural environment of the high tunnel doesn’t get too cold and frost young plants.
A high tunnel is the one of the most sustainable forms of a controlled environment that a grower can employ on their farm. Having a beautiful crop wiped out by blight or pests is not just devastating to your plants, but can mean profit losses and the deflating feeling of defeat. High tunnels add a significant layer of protection to plants, which when left outdoors are constantly susceptible to pests and disease. The possibility of air borne disease is further enhanced by overhead watering or rainwater. The structure provides overhead protection and doesn’t trap moisture or air flow, allowing for a protected spacious environment that is easy to ventilate. GrowSpan’s Roll-Up or Drop-Down sides can be a generous provider of ventilation and a source of insulation when put down for cooler nights. They are easy to operate, and in just moments can provide crops with a refreshing breeze or invaluable protection.
The benefits of getting a head start on the season and protecting plants from the elements are combined with extending your season further into the Autumn. Once hot-weather crops are harvested and the weather is set to cool, planting winter squash, brassicas, root vegetables and greens is possible for an extra few months. This can provide a significant boost of income during the time that’s traditionally spent cover cropping and closing up production for the Winter. Customers love being able to buy seasonal ingredients, like root vegetables and brassicas, which allow for warmer, homier recipes for the cool weather, like soups and stews.
High tunnels are the saving grace for many market growers, and their output and benefit to your business is clearly rewarding. High tunnels are inexpensive to install and maintain. Using a high tunnel, farmers can provide an extended source of local, fresh produce long before the competition. Most importantly, an extended season means bigger profits.
For help scheduling your season in a high tunnel, visit this guide from the University of Delaware.
Contributed by Amanda Williams