After years of lusting after Chas Gill’s 25′ x 200′ unheated high tunnel from Haygrove, I can finally say I have met my duty as a Northeast Regional Director and joined the club. It’s so great that, as Frank and Pam Arnosky proclaim, “We’re Gonna be Rich!”. Seriously though, a tunnel you can drive a tractor in is a beautiful thing.

How did I get it? The USDA/NRCS High Tunnel funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Progmam, EQIP. This program is in several states and all over the northeast region. Rules vary by state, but in Rhode Island the maximum grant was for funding the lion’s share of a 30′ x72′ house. The point of this pilot program was to show that there are benefits in terms of reducing inputs, but also that you can increase production (and help the local productivity of agriculture). Mike and I didn’t need convincing, we have several “cheapo” and regular tunnels in current use. It helped that there were no restrictions against building a larger one, as long as you didn’t expect any extra money. We jumped at the chance to subsidize the kind of tunnel we could really use.

As you can see from the photo on my website, our tiny farm has its fair share of plastic construction, part of it in 17’ x 64’ Inflation Buster hoop tunnels, and part of it in cheap-but-unsteady PVC pipe tunnels that are much better than no tunnel—and much worse than a real one.

I’ve heard a few people say they don’t have enough help to put up a high tunnel, or they don’t have the skills. There are ways around this! Trade hours with another small farmer, or hire someone for those few hours that has already done it. Barter flowers for help, like a weekly or biweekly bouquet for the season. These tunnels are fairly easy to put up. We figure the Haygrove took about 45 person-hours to put up, and part of that needed to be 3-4 people together. Those tall bows are insanely heavy. The 17-footers are much, much easier, about 15-20 hours total and you would need a second person for only a few hours.

Hoophouse production needs a tight scheduling plan to maximize the most valuable real estate in the field. Of course, things happen, like the warm spring pushing the crops along, but it’s not too hard to make plans for the bulk of the year. This means that you need to be able to turn your beds around quickly, before the weeds or other issues bog you down.

The tunnel is a little mesoclimate. The benefits and you need to pay more attention to all the factors: water, fertilizer, cooling, insect and disease pressure. I really recommend the series of articles in Growing For Market this spring, particularly the March and April issues, for more specific information.

July Regional Meeting!

Please try to make room in the busy summer schedule to come to the Northeast Regional Meeting. We are starting at 1:00 p.m. Monday, July 19, and touring great farms in Ithaca, New York, eating and talking flowers in the evening, and continuing the next morning (July 20) at the wonderful Cornell research plots (including the excellent research by Prof. Chris Wien on what else—tunnels!) and then you have the option of lunch and the afternoon program of Cornell’s Floriculture Field Day. It’s action-packed, it’s not on the weekend, and I hope to see you there!

Polly Hutchison

Polly Hutchison Robin Hollow Farm [email protected]