Four-Season Vegetable Production Utilizing High Tunnels, Floating Row Cover, and a Compost Heat Exchanger.

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $5,994.19
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Phillip Swartz

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: greens (leafy), turnips


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, irrigation, multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Pest Management: row covers (for pests)
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal summary:

    Because supermarkets truck in fresh produce year round, season extension is paramount to the success of small producers who service local farmers markets, food co-ops, restaurants, supermarkets, and regional distributors. Increasingly more research is being devoted to growing cold-tolerant vegetables under row cover and/or high tunnels or cold frame greenhouses. Cold frames and high tunnels provide measurable protection from harsh winter weather and the addition of floating row cover can further reduce stress on fall and winter vegetable crops. Additionally, these tools can be used to produce earlier spring harvests of cold hardy vegetables and allow earlier transplanting of heat-loving summer vegetable crops. In addition to exploring the benefits of high tunnels used in conjunction with floating row cover, I am interested in exploring the viability of less energy intensive heating options for greenhouse vegetable production. Farm profit margins are often very small and heating costs are high, so using hot-house production techniques does not make sense for anything but the most profitable vegetable crops. It is my belief that economical production of cold-tolerant vegetables without expensive and insecure energy inputs can yield more profit per land area. This project will be conducted using a selection of cold-tolerant crops such as bok choi, spinach, arugula, mustard greens, and baby kale along with tomatoes and peppers for the extended-season summer crops. This project will examine the economical and production benefits gained though using a semi-passive compost heat exchanger. The concept is actually very simple. Most anyone who has worked with compost knows that a properly built compost pile or heap will create quite a bit of heat, in the range of 100-160 degrees F for several months! I will build a closed loop system consisting of coiled tubing inside the compost pile, insulated feed and return tubing, a small fluid pump, and heat exchanger inside the high tunnel. The heat generated inside the compost pile will heat the coiled tubing and fluid inside. This heated fluid is pumped to the heat exchanger where a radiator heats air that is then distributed throughout the greenhouse by a blower fan, and the cooled fluid will be pumped through the return lines to the compost pile and coiled tubing where it will be heated again before continuing through the cycle. Knowledge and data gained from this project will enable producers to extend the vegetable growing season, increase yields of fresh produce during the cooler part of the year, and transplant summer vegetables at an earlier date, all of which will increase the availability and selection of fresh produce for local consumers. Diminishing the seasonal constraints of local vegetable production will increase consumer demand for local products, extend local farmers’ markets dates of operation, and provide added income for local producers. All of these benefits will contribute to the success of local farmers and the economic vitality of rural communities.

    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.