Microclimate Enhanced Movable High Tunnel with Retractable Top

Project Overview

FNC06-619
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2006: $5,992.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), peppers, tomatoes

Practices

  • Energy: solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Description of operation: a 20 x 48 foot high tunnel growing strawberries, and vegetables. The first rotation was a two-year strawberry production cycle. A second cycle of vegetables was planned, but not followed through with.

    Previous sustainable practices: Organic crop fruit and vegetables. Compost and organic fertilizer production (worm tea). I used these practices for 4 years. For 2 years I did a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and used local services for marketing and food distribution.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    Goals:
    • To use the tunnel as a means of climate extension
    • To increase the marketing cycle time
    • To raise higher quality crops
    • To raise hard-to-grow crops

    PROCESS
    To purchase the needed supplies and crop supporting structures to build the tunnel. To incorporate engineering principles for the retractable top. To build the rail system to incorporate the movable feature of the tunnel.

    PEOPLE
    CSA members, KSU extension service, Local irrigation specialists, Stuppy greenhouses from Kansas City, MO.

    RESULTS
    Temperature control – I found that the average tunnel temperature was 12 degrees warmer in the winter than ambient temperature.

    Cold climate varieties of strawberries were grown successfully, and extended my harvesting season by at least 3 weeks. I was the first to market strawberries at the farmers market, and when used with conventional growing plots, was able to market the strawberries during the regular season. My first strawberries in the tunnel were of very high quality and size; more so than the outside plots. My yields were approximately 20 precent higher than conventional plots. CSA members would come out to view the tunnel and to help with harvest inside during inclement weather. I was not able to get the retractable top in place, however other methods of ventilation were successful -- the retractable top would have made for less labor. The retractable top would have lessened the humidity level as well, which was high in the spring and the summer.

    The moveable structure was a challenge to keep down in the high Kansas winds, and this is where the design would probably be changed to be more robust. I would raise the rails to accommodate locking the structure down at the pivot point of the 3 foot walls and the hoop shaped roof. Due to the moveable structure and the use of cold climate varieties, I was able to plant 4 times the area of crops as the area of the tunnel itself. With supporting equipment of low tunnels and row covers I was able to maintain a high level of quality of strawberries and greens.

    Summer crops were not enhanced as much as the spring and winter crops. CSA members enjoyed greens and tomatoes till mid December.

    Production results were what I expected, however humidity was higher than I expected since I didn’t have power ventilation. The retractable top would have alleviated this.

    DISCUSSION
    The farm production took an abrupt halt when finances were tight and I was offered a job in another state. The farm was eventually sold.

    While I was farming, my production was enhanced by at least 20 percent due to overall, but the quality was the biggest positive. Especially during the spring, fall and winter. I actually marketed greens to CSA members during the months of January and February; tomatoes up till mid December.

    PROJECT IMPACTS
    No hard Data, but it proved that you can sustain a CSA during the cold weather months, and you also have more control of the crops during this time.

    OUTREACH
    Farmers markets
    • KSU Extension Service
    • Schools
    • CSA members

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.