Growing Under Cover 2 is here!! Written by Tom Buller, Kansas Rural Center; Dr. Cary Rivard, Kansas State University, Fruit and Vegetable Extension Specialist; and Kim Oxley, Research Extension Associate, Kansas State University, Growing Under Cover: A Kansas Grower’s Guide, provides success stories from Kansas farmers who use tunnels on their farms, additional general management strategies, and specific cropping advice for some of the most successful crops grown in high tunnels in Kansas. A great resource for growers who are looking to start growing in high tunnels, as well as those who already have a high tunnel and are seeking to optimize its use. It will also provide a foundation for growers seeking to understand the basic management practices and needs of various crops within high tunnels.
High tunnels, also called hoop houses, are unheated greenhouse-like structures that provide additional control over the environmental conditions for production. High tunnels not only offer the ability to extend the season by approximately 30 days in spring and fall, but also add a level of environmental control over factors such as temperature, ventilation, and soil moisture that can help provide higher crop productivity and quality when managed correctly. Typically, high tunnel production space is the most valuable growing area on the farm, but is not a “cure-all” for farmers. As stated by a grower in the first volume of Growing Under Cover, A Guide to Polytunnel Options for Kansas Growers, “High Tunnels are a great tool, but they are just a tool. If you are doing a poor job raising produce now, putting up a tunnel will not fix that.”
Kansas Rural Center’s first volume of Growing Under Cover focuses mostly on the benefits and challenges of high tunnels and low tunnels. It explores various types of structures, construction, maintenance and planning strategies. This second volume, A Kansas Grower’s Guide, provides success stories from Kansas farmers who use tunnels on their farms, additional general management strategies, and specific cropping advice for some of the most successful crops grown in high tunnels in Kansas. This volume is for growers who are looking to start growing in high tunnels, as well as those who already have a high tunnel and are seeking to optimize its use. It will also provide a foundation for growers seeking to understand the basic management practices and needs of various crops within high tunnels.
A note should be made about Kansas geography and the dramatic differences in climatic conditions from the east to the west. Most of the stories found in these pages are from the eastern half of the state. High tunnels are currently being used in western Kansas as well, although they must overcome extreme environmental conditions that can be challenging for high tunnels. Challenges include reducing structural damage from high winds, coping with temperature extremes and water scarcity. However, if the high tunnel is well-constructed and managed, it can help grow more successful crops, and overcome these extreme environmental conditions.
Growers that are Growing Under Cover Profiles
This volume will begin by profiling five growers from the state of Kansas who are successfully using high tunnels: Chis and Christi Janssen of C and C High Tunnels; Brice Wiswell of Gieringer’s Orchard; Todd Griggs of Griggs Bros. Farms; Jay Schleicter of Jay’s Jellies, Produce and More, and Jill Elmers of Moon on the Meadow Farm.
All of these operations use high tunnels expertly, but in different ways that are adapted to fit their overall farming system and production goals. Both Gieringer’s Orchard and Griggs Bros. Produce use high tunnels primarily to grow tomatoes. The other three farms also grow tomatoes in their tunnels, but as part of a diverse mix of crops being grown. Three of the growers profiled are in urban or populated areas (Moon on the Meadow in Lawrence, Griggs Bros. in Augusta, and C and C in Scandia) and the other two are considered peri-urban or rural. All of these growers have found tunnels to be a successful tool in their operation and have expanded production area since building their first high tunnel. Each of these farms have five to twelve tunnels of various sizes in production or under construction.
The five operations chosen as examples are by no means the only successful high tunnel users in the state. However, their different management styles, crops being grown, and markets being served offer models for other high tunnel growers.
General Management Practices Growing Under Cover
After exploring the work of five successful farms using high tunnels in Kansas, the focus will turn to specific information on management. Topics such as layout, ventilation, integrated pest management (IPM), soil management, irrigation, winter cropping and storm protection will be discussed. Other production practices such as trellising, staking and grafting will also be discussed for specific crops in this section.
Crop Analysis and Economic Crop Potential
Finally, this volume also includes specific growing information on seven different groups of crops, with analysis of their economic potential. These crops include tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, leafy greens, roots, and head lettuce. The crops were chosen from a survey of the most commonly grown crops in high tunnels in Kansas conducted by the Kansas Rural Center in 2013 and by a similar survey published by Kansas State University Research and Extension in 2010. Growers also have found success producing other crops in tunnels. Several crops such as tomatoes or baby leaf salad mix, may provide impressive per square foot profit potential in enterprise budgets, but other crops can also prove valuable. Growers might still consider producing additional crops as part of their overall marketing/tunnel management strategy, if they find a benefit in producing those crops, or are able to adjust their production costs or market price to grow them profitably. An estimate of the crop economic potential was compiled by Kansas growers and other economic research results that were available.Download Growing Under Cover: A Kansas Grower's Guide