Regional Evaluation of Cucumber High Tunnel Trellising Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $156,729.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Marcus Williams
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Karen McSwain
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association


  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management, physical control

    Proposal abstract:

    The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of common trellising techniques currently used for small-scale sustainable high tunnel cucumber production.  Downy mildew (Peronospora sparsa) and powdery mildew (Ascomycota phylum) are the primary diseases that impact cucumber production, with few organic options available for control (McGrath, 2013).  High tunnels can mitigate some disease through reduced leaf wetness while optimizing season extension. Cucumber production in high tunnels requires trellising. Farmers in the southeast currently use several different trellising techniques. 

    Trellising cucumbers in high tunnel production is generally accepted as a best management practice, however, research has yet to be conducted to confirm and quantify the benefits of different techniques on farms in the southeast. Two trellising techniques (drop line and netting) will be utilized on six varieties of cucumbers representing various common cucumber types (pickling, slicer and European) in a randomized complete split plot block design. 

    Research will be conducted at six locations. Locations include Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s (CFSA) Elma C. Lomax Research and Education Center in Concord, NC and five commercial farms in the Mountains, Piedmont, and Coastal Plains of NC and SC.

    An economic analysis of each system will be conducted based on labor inputs and the cost to implement each trellising system in relation to crop revenue, and will be used to identify the profitability of each trellising type and cucumber variety.

    Field days will be conducted annually at Lomax Farm on high tunnel management, cucumber production, trellising techniques, and high tunnel soil health. Field Days will also be conducted at each participating farm once to demonstrate the effectiveness of trellising in sustainable farming systems. Research results will be shared at CFSA’s annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in 2023 and 2024, through CFSA’s electronic newsletter, and on the CFSA website.  A High Tunnel Cucumber Production Guide will be developed in the third year of the study and published via CFSA’s website.

    This project will provide quantitative information to help organic and sustainable vegetable growers in the southeast make decisions on high tunnel management, trellising technologies, and cucumber variety selection based on trellising cost, labor cost, disease management, marketable yield and estimated market value. 

    The research and resources developed through this project will further the success and competitiveness of farms across the southeast. In doing so, this project will meet Southern SARE’s objectives of promoting good land stewardship by providing site-specific and profitable sustainable farming practices that will enhance the quality and productivity of small scale sustainable and vegetable crop farms.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Evaluate the performance of two common high tunnel cucumber trellising systems (drop line and  netting) on six cucumber varieties on one research station and five farms.

    • 1.1 Utilize six cucumber varieties grown in a high tunnel on two commonly used trellising systems at one research station in the Southeast region.  Each cucumber variety will represent a specific type of cucumber.
    • 1.2 Conduct small-scale trials at farms located in North and South Carolina using specific combinations of established trellis systems and chosen varieties to assess their performance across the region.

    2. Conduct an economic analysis of each trellising system to provide growers with the information they need to determine which trellising technique is best suited for their operation.

    • 2.1 Determine the best trellising system for each variety of cucumber to determine the most appropriate use within high tunnels throughout the Southeast.  
    • 2.2 Assess the performance of all cucumber varieties and the suitability of each to be grown in high tunnels in the southeast region.
    • 2.3 Conduct an economic analysis of inputs, labor, and yield data to better inform farmers in the Southeast when making trellising and varietal decisions for cucumber production in high tunnels.

    3. Disseminate research results and provide technical information to farmers on high tunnel cucumber production and trellising systems best suited for different variety types grown in different regions of North and South Carolina in different types of high tunnels.

    • 3.1 Conduct Field Days at Lomax Farm in project years two and three and at each cooperating farm once during the project period to demonstrate trellising systems and provide training on high tunnel management, variety selection, and vegetable crop production (105 attendees).
    • 3.2 Create and publish Seasonal High Tunnel Production: Organic Cucumber Guide via CFSA’s website. This guide will include best management practices on high tunnel production of organic cucumbers, an economic evaluation of different trellising systems, and research results from this project.  
    • 3.3 Submit article(s) to peer-reviewed, open access journals.
    • 3.4 Present research results at CFSA’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference during project years two and three (30 participants). 
    • 3.5 Conduct 15 one-on-one consultations with area North and South Carolina farmers on integrating trellising techniques and maximizing high tunnel production (15 participants).
    • 3.6 Conduct two high tunnel workshops to deliver study information in regions not reached via study location field days (30 participants).  Participate in two non-CFSA events or conferences to deliver study information (30 participants).
    • 3.7 Conduct monthly regional high tunnel meetings, in-person or virtual, for all project years. (360 participants).
    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.