Examine the practicality of using high tunnels on a rotational basis to increase sustainability on a small acreage.

Project Overview

FNC10-827
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $5,200.78
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Kay Neff
Neff Family Farm

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: asparagus, cucurbits, eggplant, radishes (culinary), tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animals: poultry

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, agritourism
  • Pest Management: biological control, mulches - living
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Sustainable Communities: public participation, social networks

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    We have a 13 acre farm, 10 acres tilled. For the last 22 years we have been incorporating vegetables and herbs into old wheat ground.

    Poultry has long been a part of the farm, but until the grant had not been utilized in a sustainable manner. We had been good at crop rotation, but not at incorporating poultry and fallow into the mix.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION
    GOALS:
    • Reducing fuel cost and consumption in greenhouse used to grow herb and tomato transplants
    • Managing soil quality in a chemical free system
    • Controlling insects in a chemical free system

    PROCESS
    We incorporated a 6 plot rotational system, with rotations of herbs, vegetables, chickens and fallow, in various combinations of plastic covered, insect fabric, row covered and uncovered high and low tunnels. Chickens were used both as a means of heat, fertilization, and insect and ground maintenance.

    The one epic fail was the nearly complete collapse of one tunnel during a heavy snow. None of the tunnels containing poultry ever gathered snow on the roofs due to the poultry heat. Only twice in two years did the water ever freeze over.

    The one challenge that was anticipated were the chickens’ tendency to “home”. This was reasonably alleviated by making their night quarters mobile, so that when they were relocated, they still identified with the House. The most surprising and unexpected result was a hatching by one young hen, who set a nest in the previous quarters, and hatched a remarkable 13 chicks in the high tunnel. She kept them all, and we lost no birds to predators in the high tunnels.

    PEOPLE
    • Sanjun Gu- Instructor Lincoln University of Jefferson City, MO, High Tunnel Classes
    • Rebecca McMahon- Horticulture Agent, Sedgwick County Extension, support and horticulture questions.

    RESULTS
    • Soil was initially damaged and generally unproductive. The first year after running poultry in Tunnel 1 generated 50 percent higher yields, planting in lettuce, Swiss Chard, and okra. Six month break down showed no significant change in acidic value, but definite growth in Nitrogen in both tunnel 1, tunnel 2 and plot 1 after the first year.
    • Straw and wood chips were used as weed barrier and row cover. With the poultry clearing past plant material, the organic matter was higher at the 18 month test.
    • Insect prevention was significant as to grasshopper deterrence. Other pests seemed more controlled with row cover. A difficult process to measure; the fact that we produced squash was a great tip off.
    • The heat management of the tunnels was the greatest success. Tunnel 3 is used for transplants and the brooder bench kept the tunnel from freezing at all times. The heat from the chicks proved sufficient to maintain the health of the tomato transplants without additional heat in the high tunnel.

    DISCUSSION/ WHAT WAS LEARNED/RECOMMENDATIONS
    • Becoming more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to farm planning.
    • Addressing potential problems before they arise.
    • Being flexible with a plan when one avenue does not work as planned.
    • Many farmers have asked about our project. We love to share the results of the past two years, trying to present the realistic problems as well as successes.
    • A supportive family cannot be substituted. With every facet of the project, something needed to be built, designed, tweaked, loaded and moved. We paid for very little in the way of labor. I might rethink that were I to do another project.

    OUTREACH
    • Local Kansas Grown Members
    • Dillon Nature Center
    • NCR-SARE Farmers Forum at National Small Farm Trade Show & Conference Columbia, MO, November 2012
    • PHX Valley Permaculture Alliance, Phoenix, Az
    • Tour De Coops, Phoenix, Az
    • Master Gardeners-Harvey, Sedgwick, Reno, and Butler Counties
    • Dyck Arboretum Lecture Series
    • Small Grower Workshop, St Joseph, Mo
    • Ponca City Garden Club
    • Tulsa Garden Club, Tulsa Garden Center
    • Botanica, Lunchtime Lecture Series, Wichita, KS
    • Shiloh Christian Children’s Ranch
    • Harvey County Home and Garden
    • Facebook
    • Web
    • Power Point Presentation shared with local ag and hort agents

    A video of Neff’s presentation, Diversified Tunnel Rotations Using Chickens in the Rotation, at the 2012 NCR-SARE Farmers Forum can be viewed through NCR-SARE’s YouTube channel at: https://youtu.be/mY9Dzcoop-E?list=PLQLK9r1ZBhhEGdL7uvTM8P0AzdBnksONr

    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.