Early growing season strategy

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $3,482.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Hollis Wild
Appalachian Trees


  • Vegetables: eggplant, greens (leafy), peppers, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: greenhouses
  • Energy: energy use

    Proposal summary:

    We intend to show how early warm season vegetables can be produced by extending the growing season on the front-end, by reducing energy use, a greenhouse and other season extension techniques to offer produce for higher-value during the early season market. Produce growers all hit the market with the same produce at the same time. This keeps prices down due to large quantities of the same vegetables. Within our product mix we strive to offer a greater than normal variety. As an example we offered 4 different varieties of eggplants, 12 different varieties of peppers, and 48 varieties of tomatoes this past summer. We want to offer our vegetables earlier so we do not contribute to the glut and price reduction and we want to support the market by enticing customers earlier in the season with a broad variety of quality fresh produce. Warm-season produce generally does not appear at our market until late-July and is not available in large quantities until August due to our colder climate. This leaves our Market customers waiting and drooling for most of the summer for their first ripe tomato! The beds will be covered by various methods: low tunnels and wall-o-waters. The soil and air temperatures will be monitored under each type of protection to determine which retains the most heat. We will measure the growth of specific plants to see which protection method promotes the best growth, flower set and fruit harvest. We will also collect and weigh the fruit produced by the plants in the study. We know from past experience and the above referenced research that a single sheet of plastic will not provide enough protection. We also know that 2 layers of plastic with air between then provides a significant benefit, but we will need more protection inside the greenhouse to be able to grow these warm season plants. The greenhouses will be vented by opening the doors at either end during the spring and pulling back the ends and raising the sides about 4 feet in the summer. In the fall the sides will be dropped and the ends pulled back around the greenhouse. Our research would help any grower with climate challenges who want to produce vegetables earlier at the front-end of the market season. This will help increase the grower's income and help attract their customers early in the season. Thriving farmers' markets support shops in their area thus helping to contribute to the local economy. Also, market customers who are interested in knowing where their food comes from and want quality local produce will benefit from this project: more fresh produce early. The economic impact will be greater. Instead of selling tomatoes for $1.00per pound during the normal tomato abundance we will be able to sell them for $3.00 - $3.50 per pound. The same with peppers and eggplants. We do raise our produce organically though we are not certified at this time so we do ask more than conventionally grown produce would bring. The test will involve 11 plants of each vegetable (tomato, pepper and eggplant) under each type of protection (3 types of protection) plus 11 control plants of each (total 176 plants). We do not expect the control plant to survive very long so once they freeze we will plant baby bok choy in their spot so the space will not be wasted. We will measure the growth of select plants weekly, record when they flower, set fruit and fruit ripening. We will also record the first saleable fruit and how much the plants produce in weight during the growing season. This will be done for each type of protection and vegetable type involved in the study. The plants will be grown under their respective covers with the addition of a very heavy spun-bonded fabric we already have on site which we will use to cover the rows if the nights gets extremely cold. We have sent in a soil sample from the greenhouse, but have not received the results. We will amend the soil as needed and plant a cover crop for November through February 2009 to prepare for 2010 crop. We have talked with a nearby worm farmer about using worms to aerate the soil in our greenhouse. He says we should be able to keep the worms in the greenhouse beds so we will begin a worm population by adding 2 pounds of worms per bed. The plan for this greenhouse also includes planting a vegetative farmscape border down one side to provide attract beneficial insects and offer “trap” alternative plants for insect pests. All of the transplants for this project will be produced on site in our heated greenhouse and will be ready to transplant into the test greenhouse by early April and the farmscape plants will be ready by mid-May. The bed space in the greenhouse not planted in plants for the research will be planted in baby bok choy, spinach and swiss chard for the early market. These vegetables proved to be excellent sellers for us last season.

    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.