High Tunnels: Extend Your Season, Grow Better Crops & Much, Much More!
When growing outdoors there are a number of factors that you have to take into account to ensure your crops are healthy and productive. Abiding by the growing season, as well as protecting crops from weather, disease and pests are essential to a successful harvest. Nearly eliminating these factors and getting a few extra weeks added onto your growing season can help you to grow more crops at a higher quality, and this can make all the difference between a successful and unsuccessful business. Growing with a ClearSpan™ high tunnel can protect your crops and allow you to achieve a longer growing season, which in turn will lead to crops of higher quality and quantity.
Benefits of High Tunnels
ClearSpan high tunnels come in various sizes, but they all share the same basic benefits. High tunnels are important to growing businesses, especially in the northern states, because it allows for crops to be grown earlier in the Spring and later into the Fall. When used properly, there is potential for three cropping seasons, which can increase your yield by as much as 50%.
Customers have been able to improve their businesses by being able to start growing earlier, and one of these is Dan Mielke of Rudolph, Wisconsin. Mielke said, “By using ClearSpan High Tunnels, we have been able to exceed production with less space and have been able to bring our crops to market way before our competitors.”
High tunnels generally have clear covers that allow for plants to be heated naturally by the sun. The temperatures within a high tunnel depend on the sun and shade that the tunnel gets, but on average high tunnels tend to be around 8°F higher than the environment outside. This allows for the growing season to be started earlier and end later, and it also makes high tunnels especially beneficial to crops that thrive in warmer environments, like tomatoes, but they are also great for small fruits, peppers, berries, salad greens and much more.
If you’ve grown for long enough you’ve surely experienced some crop loss due to weather, pests or disease. Growing in a high tunnel can reduce the risk of all these factors. The covering on a high tunnel can help to keep out unwanted animals and insects that can damage and kill your crops. Keeping plants covered can also limit the proliferation of disease. If you worry about the humidity within high tunnels, the sides can be quickly raised for ventilation. This allows you to limit both the internal and external disease-causing factors.
As weather becomes increasingly erratic the importance of high tunnels is becoming clearer. A high tunnel will allow you peace of mind during storms and inclement weather. The structural support and covering prevents rain, sleet and snow from getting to the crops, and this will keep your crops covered during summer storms, as well as late and early snowfalls. Susan Hall of Cherry Creek Farm in Colorado had been dealing with poor weather conditions due to elevation, but started growing with high tunnels. “I am growing in Colorado on the Palmer Divide Ridge at an elevation of 7,200 feet and the high tunnels have turned my somewhat tenuous production into a reliable, profitable harvest. I would never grow without them again,” said Hall.
Perhaps the best aspect of high tunnels is what they can do for the overall quality of your harvest. Dr. Russell Wallace, the Associate Professor and Extension Vegetable Specialist for Texas AgriLife Research & Extension (part of the Texas A&M University system) studied the benefits of high tunnels closely, and found that they can provide significant support to crops and promote a superior harvest.
“We evaluated five pepper and four tomato varieties grown inside and outside the high tunnel. Results indicated that for both crops, yields harvested from the high tunnels were earlier, more substantial and of higher quality than those produced outside the tunnels.” Wallace went on, “Pepper yields averaged 50% higher inside the tunnel compared to the open field, while high tunnel tomatoes averaged 25% higher than those staked, mulched or grown in wrapped cages.”