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High Tunnel Growing: An Easy Way to Extend Your Season

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As a grower, you’ve probably felt the anxiety of the growing season quickly coming to an end. You’ve probably also wished for a few more weeks, even another month, to get more out of your crops and a few more dollars in your wallet! As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and the same is true of the growing season. However, there is good news for some growers who may not have the luxury of a greenhouse, but who want just a little more time at the beginning and end of their growing season.

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High tunnels are one of the greatest tools for season extension. A high tunnel is a hoop house covered with greenhouse film or woven fabric that can help increase crop yields while extending the growing season. These structures are a cost-effective and simple alternative to greenhouse growing, which requires much more effort and control to see an extended growing season. Unlike greenhouses, high tunnels’ fabric or film can be easily installed or removed as necessary. While heating systems are typically not used in high tunnels, growers can use space heaters and end panels to extend the growing season even further. Another difference between greenhouses and high tunnels is how plants are grown. While most plants in a greenhouse are established and grown in planters or pots, high tunnels allow plants to be grown directly in the ground. Growers can make use of raised beds for plants, as well.

The covering that is used on high tunnels serves not only as a season extension tool, but as a protective measure against the elements. Because the covering acts like insulation to the plants under it, the ground takes longer to freeze than if it were exposed to the open air. This typically protects plants in the ground for an extra three to four weeks on both ends of a growing season. This allows growers to start planting earlier and harvest later into the season. In addition to frost protection, plants are sheltered from heavy wind and driving rains, which can damage young plants and those in bloom or fruit. Problems associated with disease, pests and insects are also diminished when crops are grown under high tunnels. Because the crops and land under a high tunnel are protected from rain, it creates a desert-like environment, allowing growers to control watering techniques and be sure that plants are receiving an evenly distributed amount of water. Being able to control the environment beneath a high tunnel is a great advantage over growing in an open field, while being less costly and time consuming than a greenhouse. Adding shade cloth is another great way to manage the amount of sunlight that enters through high tunnel film, allowing growers even more control over their high tunnel growing set up.

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Unlike greenhouses, which can take a lot of time and labor to assemble and maintain, high tunnels are easy to erect and keep up. There are a few different styles of high tunnels available on the market today. Growers Supply offers a variety of styles and sizes to fit the needs of many different growers. With sizes ranging from 14’ to 42’ wide and 7’ to 16’ tall, the size you choose should be based on your particular operation. For lower-growing crops like strawberries, squash, carrots, cucumbers or herbs, lower heights are appropriate. Taller crops, such as some flower varieties or tomatoes, will benefit from a taller environment, such as our Series 500 Extra-Tall High Tunnel. These high tunnels can also be connected together at the ends to create any length necessary. Gothic-style high tunnels feature a peaked roof, while a round style has a curved ceiling which film or fabric is stretched over.

High tunnels can also be customized with options to make growing easier and more efficient.  Our Single Bay Tunnels can be connected to make Multi-Bay Tunnels, which are useful in covering large acreages of crops. Frame options for high tunnels, such Economy and Premium Round-Style High Tunnels from Growers Supply, feature USA-made, triple-galvanized structural steel. Additional options to enhance and improve the performance of high tunnels include roll-up or drop-down sides or zippered ends, all of which make ventilation easy and efficient within the high tunnel. Having the ability to roll sides and ends up and down is an ideal way for growers to monitor temperature and humidity levels inside the high tunnel at different times of day or season.

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The covering options used for high tunnel growing is typically a film similar to that used in some greenhouses. We suggest Sun Master 6 mil, 4-year clear film, which is made from strong, copolymer resin, and provides strength and durability against the elements. This film also contains anti-dust additives that repel dirt and allows 92% light transmission. 5.2 oz. Heavy-Duty All-Purpose Fabric and Anti-Condensate Thermal Greenhouse Film are also popular choices for high tunnel covers.

While high tunnels are a simpler form of greenhouse growing, there are accessories and other options to enhance the growing environment within a high tunnel. Heaters and thermostats are a great way to maintain and control the temperature under a high tunnel, which can even further extend the longer growing season that comes with high tunnel use. Irrigation systems are also a popular and useful addition to high tunnels, since rain is kept out. Drip irrigation, misting systems and sprinkler systems are all good options for use within a high tunnel. Fans are another great way to regulate temperature and humidity levels underneath a high tunnel.

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Whatever you’re growing and wherever you may be, considering a high tunnel is a great way to extend your growing season on both ends, and ultimately, increase your productivity and profit. High tunnels are an easy, cost-effective alternative to greenhouses that can be designed and customized in a variety of ways to meet any grower’s needs. Outfitting a high tunnel with the accessories and options that will best suit your needs is a great way to grow. With the ability to easily customize and choose the right high tunnel for your operation, you will be up and growing in no time!

Do you grow in a high tunnel? What is your favorite thing about it?

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