Using high tunnels to provide peony with a longer growing season to increase productivity in northern latitudes and cold soils

Project Overview

FW10-007
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,751.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Jan Hanscom
Polar Peonies, LLC

Annual Reports

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Summary:

    The purpose of this project was to evaluate growth and productivity of herbaceous peonies growing with and without late season high tunnels. The peonies were grown on cold permafrost soils on a north-facing slope. We anticipated that high tunnels would warm soil and air temperatures, promote soil drying and provide an environment that would maximize plant growth and productivity on marginal sites. By extending the growing season, we expected there to be more carbohydrate storage in the roots and a more vigorous plant the following year. Although the data does not indicate there is any significant difference between those plants in high tunnels and those outside, we still feel there may be some benefits to using high tunnels to grow peonies. The buds might be better without rain on them, especially white colored ones. Wet soils might stay drier without rainfall. More mature peony plants might show some of the results we expected in this experiment.

    Introduction

    Recent research in Alaska has shown that peonies for cut–flower production is a viable northern agricultural product. Some of the limiting factors on Polar Peonies' farm are the varied spring thaw, unpredictable early fall frosts and cold soils. This project used high tunnels in a field production setting to gather information on extending both the spring and fall seasons, as well as warming the soils. Potentially, this technology could allow production of peonies on cold soils or in micro–climate areas that are marginally too cold for successful peony production. This project addressed several of the limiting factors with the use of high tunnels in the following manner:

    • increase spring soil temperatures for earlier and uniform plant emergence

    • extend fall growing season (delaying frost) to increase the time for plant root nutrient storage, which will increased plant vigor

    • increase overall growing season length to potentially allow production on colder, more northern sites, thereby providing alternative agricultural crop choices in other parts of the state which may now have marginal agriculture production.

    While Alaska has had few sustainable agricultural exports, the current research, marketing and development of the peony industry indicates that this agricultural commodity is sustainable. Peonies are not available anywhere in the world during the Alaska harvest window during the months of July through September. Current demand far exceeds Alaska production and, therefore, there is substantial room of expansion of this industry in Alaska. With year-round peony cut flower availability now a reality, this has had an impact on the peony markets beyond Alaska - creating a steady demand for this commodity on the local, state, national and even international markets.

    Project objectives:

    Identify the value of using high tunnels in field-grown peony production. To meet this objective we:

    1. Monitored soil and air temperatures both inside and outside of high tunnels to determine impacts and optimum uses of high tunnel technology.

    2. Determined spring emergence dates for plants inside and outside the high tunnels to determine if plant emergence timing was affected. Emergence dates were recorded for plants in plot areas. This was done over two growing seasons.

    3. Determined if increasing growing days was possible with the use of high tunnels, especially extending into the fall. Data collection included visual inspection for frost damaged vegetation and data loggers to record air temperature on an hourly basis over the growing season.

    4. Determined if there was increased plant survival and vigor with the use of the high tunnels. Data collection consisted of taking photographs and counting the number of stems in the plot area before harvest over three growing seasons.

    5. Determined if there was increased flower production with the use of high tunnels. Marketable flowers were counted in plot areas over three seasons.

    6. Monitor diseases by sampling and doing surveys in plot areas.

    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.