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High wind alert for high tunnel growers

From Cathy Heidenreich

While forecasts for Hurricane Irene remain uncertain in terms of landfall, wind velocities and speeds, it pays to err on the side of caution!

Mark Hutton from University of Maine provides these insights: “A couple of things to keep in mind, the houses will do best if they are closed as tightly as possible. Wind getting inside the house amplifies the power of the storm. If you have movable frames be sure to secure the anchors, alternatively you can remove the covering or tie it to the ridge pole.

For more information on preparing your structure for the storm see Tina Smith’s (UMass) article about preventing storm damage to tunnels and greenhouses.

Research helping northern N.Y. high tunnel growers extend harvest, sales into fall

Northern New York grower Rob Hastings holds a handful of raspberries grown in one of his Rivermede Farms high tunnels.

Northern New York grower Rob Hastings holds a handful of raspberries grown in one of his Rivermede Farms high tunnels.

From Kara Dunn

While consumers are enjoying fresh, locally-grown sweet tomatoes and crispy greens from Northern New York’s market gardeners, the growers are drawing on Northern New York Agricultural Development Program (NNYADP)-supported high tunnel research to extend production and sales into the fall season.

“Each high tunnel grower has his or her own crop plan and growing conditions. The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program season extension projects provide regional growers with first-hand and shared experiences to help them achieve maximum efficiency and profitability,” says project co-leader Amy Ivy, director of Cornell Cooperation Extension Clinton County, Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Regional growers have been applying NNYADP project results on how to graft tomatoes for high tunnel production, how to use seeding date to influence the production of three different greens, and the benefit of regular soil nutrient testing.

Tomatoes are a popular and profitable tunnel crop for fresh market vegetable growers.

“Grafting desirable tomato varieties onto vigorous, disease-resistant rootstock has shown significant results. All four varieties we graft-tested in 2010 outgrew and outproduced the non-grafted plants well into October,” says Cornell University Horticulture Professor H.C. Wien.

Trials with spinach, arugula and lettuce crops at the Cornell E.V. Baker Research Farm at Willsboro, N.Y., evaluated different seeding dates: August 21, September 5 and September 30 for spinach, arugula and lettuce. The crops were seeded in a high tunnel, a movable high tunnel, and outdoors with low cover.

“Planting date had a major influence on the productivity of the greens under all three season extension systems. A two-week difference in planting date reduced the number of harvests by half. The data illustrates the importance of a mid-late August planting to optimize fall-winter greens production under Northern New York growing conditions,” says Baker Farm Manager Michael Davis.

The trials also show that the quality of the greens could be maintained longer, without heat, by adding an additional low cover over the crop in the high tunnel. The crop could be harvested once it thawed during the day through December.

Fresh market grower and poultry producer Beth Spaugh-Barber of Rehoboth Homestead in Peru, N.Y., participated with the evaluation of foliar nutrient testing. The testing provides valuable information on the level of nutrients in plant leaves during the growth period.

Spaugh says, “Whenever the local and state Cornell Cooperative Extension staff visit the farm as part of a project, they notice things I have ignored and share really helpful ideas that improve our production and bottom line. The trips we made as part of this Northern New York project to farms that have been using high tunnels longer were nuts-and-bolts learning experiences.”

Adam Hainer of Juniper Hill Farm has created his own unique movable high tunnel that rolls on pipes at his farm in Wadhams, N.Y.. He says, “These regional research trials allow growers to see results before we invest in a system that may not have any potential for payback or profit. When the results are positive, we can invest confidently and have a regional resource to help us manage the new enterprise.”

Twelve growers attending one of the project’s farmer-to-farmer season extension learning workshops indicated an interest in adding high tunnels to their farms in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties.

High tunnel production information for northern New York growers is online at

The Northern New York Agricultural Development Program conducts research in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The New York State Legislature and Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station are program funders.

See also: Cornell High Tunnels website.

High tunnel research reports

Judson Reid, Cornell Vegetable Program specialist, has released several reports from his 2009 and 2010 research projects:

November webinar series: High tunnel pest managment, soil managment, and more

Learn more about pest management in season extension production systems in a new webinar series sponsored by the Great Lakes Vegetable Working Group, the University of Illinois Extension, and a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Professional Development grant.

There will be five 1-2 hour webinars Nov. 1, 3, 8, 16 and 18. The first three will focus on pest management on tomatoes and winter crops. The last two will focus on soil, water and nutrient management, plus a summary of the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) high tunnel pilot project initiated in 2010.

High-tunnel production can lengthen the growing season and allow producers to enter the market earlier, but pests differ from field production. In addition, in several states the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is providing monetary incentives and assistance through EQIP to growers who use high tunnel systems.

More information about the webinar programs and registration instructions.

Grow ginger in high tunnels

An article in the NE-SARE newsletter, Ginger: An ancient crop in the new world, describes a Farmer Grant project comparing growing ginger in a greenhouse or a high tunnel.

“‘Using high tunnels was a drastic profit improvement over growing in the greenhouse,’ Bahret [the grant recipient] says. In fact, the greenhouse ginger lost money while the hoop house ginger earned almost $3,000 in income over expenses, mostly because of differences in heat and labor.”

View images of ginger production and read more at Bahret’s farm at the Old Friends Farm website.

Read more about the project through the SARE project database: Year 1 | Year 2

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