March 28, 2011
Last winter, we had an outbreak of downy mildew on stock (Matthiola incana) in our greenhouses. We had a loss of 52 flats, 128-cells double seeded, which was about 13,000 plants. At around $1/stem, that’s a lot of plants and potential money in the trash, and according to our accountant, not something we could write off as a loss. It was heartbreaking, and annoying because it caused a gap in our availability right around Mother’s Day. Even with the loss of 52 flats, stock was still our number 3 crop to florists for 2015. We were projecting it to be number 1, so we knew we had to do something to prevent future loss.
I’ve visited a lot of heated greenhouses, and I’ve seen some techniques that are not often used in unheated hoop houses, but would benefit soil-grown tomatoes and other vining crops. In this article, we'll talk about four greenhouse techniques that can be used just as profitably in an unheated hoophouse.
As soon as we start driving our routes in the spring our customers ask us when we’ll have roselilies. They’re that popular and have become a signature crop for us. They’re basically a type of oriental lily, but with multiple layers of petals, and without stamens and pistils (i.e. no pollen!).
Best of all, they’re pretty easy to grow. The first two Roselily varieties became available in 2011, and since then more and better varieties have been introduced. The bulbs are available from only a few brokers worldwide; we get ours from Zabo Plant.
High tunnel production systems offer several obvious advantages over open-field production. They also present unique nutrient management challenges. Primary advantages include greater control of nutrients and water, enhanced heat gain, additional growing degree days, and extension of the growing season both earlier and later in the year.
Prairie Garden Farm has been growing cut flowers for florists and studio designers since 2010. As we’re on an exposed hillside in west-central Minnesota, we’re dependent on protected culture to grow quality flowers. This article describes our approach – planning, financial, and operational details - that helps us make the most of our structures.
I’d like first to describe our environment and business model briefly, so you can determine how much is congruent with your operation. It’s a good idea to have that understanding whenever seeking (or giving!) advice – there’s a lot of variation in where and how we all operate, so that what works well for one farm could be disastrous for another.
High tunnels are valuable real estate on a farm, but growing under cover long-term can result in nutrient imbalances and pH changes in the soil that impact yields. Phosphorus, calcium and magnesium build up over time and interfere with other nutrient uptake. High pH irrigation water and fertilizers cause soil pH to rise, limiting micronutrient availability.
I wrote an article for Growing for Market on Succession Planting in May 2006. I also do presentations on the topic and have a slide show on Succession Planting, which you can see on SlideShare.net (search for my name, then click on the presentation you want to view). In this article I will be applying the principles to winter hoophouse crops, in order to provide continuous harvest of important crops, avoid gluts and shortages, and use every inch of that valuable real estate.
In this second of two articles looking at less popular but lucrative greenhouse/hoophouse crops, we will look at the particularities of growing peppers in protected culture. As I mentioned in last month’s article about growing greenhouse eggplant, if you have grown greenhouse tomatoes, many of the techniques you already know can be applied to this solanaceous crop. There are just a few differing techniques that can help you get the most out of your greenhouse pepper crop.
Here in Maine, the short growing season makes some sort of season extension desirable. Unheated high tunnels have proven themselves to be profitable and movable high tunnels have been around long enough for the advantages to be evident. Several companies are putting out well-engineered rolling greenhouses and the farmer now has some choices.
The next time your greenhouse or hoophouse needs a new covering, consider whether it would be smart to spend more for a special greenhouse film, instead of opting for the least expensive option of clear poly.
At the cutting edge of the local food movement is the challenge of providing fresh, local food even in the middle ofwinter. Growing in the winter costs more (greenhouses/high tunnels and row covers aren’t cheap), but when best practices are employed, might it still be possible for local growers to compete with out-of-region food producers?
Earlier this year, we invited readers to send us photos of do-it-yourself methods of increasing hoophouse ventilation. We were hoping to get ideas that anyone could implement without spending a lot of money. We received many good ideas, some easier to execute than others. Our contest was sponsored by Carts and Tools, a small, farm-based company in Oregon that makes battery-powered tools for small-scale farms. The grand prize was a Tillie, a battery-powered tiller from Carts and Tools, featured in the ad on page 9.
One of the best reasons to grow tomatoes in a hoophouse or greenhouse is to improve fruit quality. There are a lot of ways that fruit quality can be improved just by going under cover. You can keep off rain, which can cause checking or spots. You can keep the foliage dry, wet foliage being one of the necessary conditions for many of the worst tomato diseases (late blight, I’m looking in your direction). But controlling the amount of water the plant gets is an easy way to improve fruit quality.
If you have high tunnels, chances are you already have them planted and are looking forward to a long season of delicious winter crops. But if you’re like me, you’ll start worrying every time snow is forecast. We lost one last winter to a heavy, wet snow -- That's our tunnel on the left.
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