Growing Peaches, Pears, Cherries and Strawberries in an Unheated High Tunnel

2014 Annual Report for FNC14-961

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2014: $7,499.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Alyce Ann Lunde
Lakeside Garden

Growing Peaches, Pears, Cherries and Strawberries in an Unheated High Tunnel


This project involves planting peach, pear, sweet cherry, and sour cherry trees in an unheated 30×48 foot high tunnel.  Strawberries are planted along the outer edges where the tunnel is too low for trees to grow.  Similar trees are planted outside for use as a control. 

The high tunnel was ordered in March for delivery the first week of May.  Upon delivery we discovered several ground-posts were missing and the weather did not cooperate so construction did not begin until the last week of May.   We had all the groundposts, bows, and purlins up by June 8.  We could then begin planting since all other work on the high tunnel – ribbon boards, baseboards, U channels, endwalls, and cover – could be done from the outside.  All things finally came together to put the cover on the high tunnel on September 14.

The fruit trees were ordered in March for delivery the last week of May.  The peach, pear, and sweet cherry trees were delivered the first week of June and planted on June 10.  The sour cherry trees were delivered and planted on June 12.  All the trees are staked, have a tree wrap applied, and each stake is labeled with a code for the tree it is supporting.  Soaker hoses are laid by the trees and strawberries.  Landscape fabric is installed between the tree rows and along the ends.  Five trees of each variety were ordered with 4 being planted in the high tunnel and 1 planted outside as a control.  The trees ordered for the project are all hardy to zones 4 or 5 and are either dwarf or semi-dwarf.  Trees labeled Supreme were ordered when possible to get a head start on growing – they are 4-5 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 5/8 inch or larger.  The trees included in this project are as follows: 

   PEACH TREES:  Burbank July Elberta Peach Dwarf Supreme
                          Starking Delicious Peach Dwarf Supreme
                          Stark Elberta Queen Peach Dwarf Supreme
                          Stark Early White Giant Peach Dwarf Supreme
                          Reliance Peach Dwarf Supreme
   PEAR TREES: Moonglow Pear Dwarf
                       Starking Delicious Pear Dwarf
                       Stark Honeysweet Pear Dwarf
   SWEET CHERRY TREES:  Emperor Francis Sweet Cherry Semi-dwarf Supreme
                                       Starkrimson Sweet Cherry Dwarf Supreme
   SOUR CHERRY TREES: English Morello Cherry Dwarf
                                    Montmorency Cherry Dwarf

The fruit trees in the high tunnel are planted in 4 rows with a spacing of 4 1/2 feet between the rows.  There are 12 trees per row with a spacing of 3 feet between the trees.   The control trees are planted outside in a single row with a spacing of 4 feet between the trees.  All of the sour cherry trees produced a few blossoms — both in the high tunnel and the control group.  Eleven blossoms set fruit with 5 of them ripening.  The fruits were all smaller than my little fingernail.  Eight trees did not grow this summer — 2 Sweet Cherry Starkrimson, 2 Peach Early White Giant, 3 Peach Starking Delicious, and 1 Pear Moonglow.  Replacement trees have been ordered for delivery in mid April.  The remaining trees will be checked in the spring and replacements will be ordered for any that did not survive the winter.  Trunk diameter was measured and recorded for each tree on June 20 and again on October 24.  The average increase of trunk diameter is shown below:
   PEACH TREES: July Elberta – in high tunnel .242 – outside .106
                           Starking Delicious – in high tunnel (2 never grew) .057 – outside (never grew)
                           Elberta Queen – in high tunnel .239 – outside .015
                           Early White Giant – in high tunnel (2 never grew) .189 – outside .069
                           Reliance – in high tunnel .124 – outside .062
   PEAR TREES: Moonglow – in high tunnel .116 – outside (never grew)
                       Starking Delicious – in high tunnel .128 – outside .114
                       Honeysweet – in high tunnel .159 – outside .084 
   SWEET CHERRY TREES: Emperor Francis – in high tunnel .314 – outside .134
                                      Starkrimson – in high tunnel .223 (2 never grew) – outside .036
   SOUR CHERRY TREES: English Morello – in high tunnel .299 – outside .178
                                     Montmorency – in high tunnel .280 – outside .268

All fruit trees are done growing for this season.  The control trees have lost their leaves, but those in the high tunnel still have most of their leaves hanging on since there is no wind blowing on them.                      

The strawberries were ordered the end of March for delivery the middle of May.  The strawberries were delivered on May 13, temporarily planted in the garden on May 17, and transplanted into the high tunnel on June 20.  The Evie II strawberries are planted along both the outer edges in beds that are edged with lumber to contain the plants.  The beds are each 18 inches wide and 40 feet long.  The beds were planted with 50 strawberry plants in each bed, but have multiplied since I let the runners go this fall and start new plants.  I began harvesting strawberries July 21 and continued harvesting until they froze the night of Oct. 31.  Production varied from 1/2 – 3 pounds per picking.  I usually picked once or twice a week.  A total of 37 pounds was harvested during the season, but only 11 pounds were good enough to sell.  The strawberries sold for $3.00 a pound. 

I kept birds out of the strawberries by covering them with a lightweight frost blanket, but it did not deter the crickets and mice.  Once the cover was on the high tunnel the strawberries developed mold due to less air movement.  Bird netting will be installed along the open edges of the high tunnel before next summer so the sides can be left open for better air flow.  Research is being done this winter on various plantings that can be added – either among the strawberries or along the outside edge of the high tunnel – to deter crickets and mice. 

Irrometers were ordered the end of March, but not installed until the middle of July because we had plenty of rainfall and the cover was not on the high tunnel.  Once the irrometers were installed we maintained the range between 10 – 20 on the gauges.   For irrigation we used soaker hoses laid along the trees and strawberries.

Weather stations were ordered, delivered and installed during July.  One weather station is located outside by the garden and row of control trees.  The other weather station is inside the high tunnel atop one of the centrally located tree stakes.   Due to several misunderstandings on my part we only have recorded weather data for the month of November.  We have noted that often the low temps are very similiar with the high tunnel usually being 2-6 degrees warmer than the outside.  It was interesting to note that the morning it was 19 below ouside it was only 8.8 below inside the high tunnel — 10 degrees warmer.  The daytime temps are warmer in the high tunnel — usually 15-30 degrees warmer than outside.  I was not able to upload this info — it can only be sent as an email attachment.

The  Rolette County Soil Conservation District hosted a seasonal high tunnel tour on Sept. 15 with 33 people in attendance.  My high tunnel with the fruit trees generated lots of interest and questions with several stating they would like to come again next year to see and hear how it is progressing.  I told them tours are part of my outreach plan for next summer/fall and anyone is always welcome to stop by whenever they are in the area.  A followup article was published in the both of the local newspapers — The Turtle Mountain Star and The Turtle Mountain Times.  

Objectives/Performance Targets



Roger Lunde
Box 153
Rolette, ND 58366
Office Phone: 7012463794