April Snow Showers

Growing up in middle Tennessee, I was always told the time to plant was April 15th, because that was the day that you were safe from frost. While walking around the University of Tennessee’s campus in the snow this week I was reminded yet again that the weather is unpredictable, and a bane to farmers everywhere . 

With freezing temperatures in mind, it is important to know how to protect any plants already in your garden. This can be done through a variety of methods. The best defense for plants is to keep them covered. Often this is accomplished by using fabrics and cloth that protect the plant yet allow for air circulation. People with small gardens use sheets and blankets for coverage. Plastic can also be used. 

Turner and Sons Nursery, located in Smithville TN, employed these methods this week in order to protect their strawberry crop. 

Other methods include covering the plants with straw or mulch. It’s also beneficial to wet the soil around the plants, as water helps to hold in heat. Fortunately, all of the crops planted at the organic farm survived the cold temperatures this week .The interns were hard at work today planting squash, zucchini, cucumber, and tomatoes in the high tunnels as well as onions and potatoes in the field. 

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Organic Farm: Spring Planting

This week is spring break for the students at UT, which has given the interns a chance to do some work on the farm. Yesterday we prepared one high tunnel for planting by making rows, applying fertilizer and compost, and running drip irrigation. We planted half of the high tunnel with red gold potatoes, to be harvested in early June.

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Yesterday we also seeded cucumbers, squash, and zucchini that will be transplanted in the high tunnels, along with several varieties of flowers that will be planted in the field.

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Currently, we have all of our spring crops such as broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and purple cabbage hardening off outside. These crops are ready to plant, but could not be planted today due to the windy weather. Alas, today the interns braved the wind in order to prepare rows to transplant later this week!Image

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We hope to work more this week and finish planting as the weather permits! Regardless of wind or clouds, it has been a beautiful week on the farm as the planting season begins.

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Extending the Growing Season

With spring fast approaching, it is time to consider options that would allow your growing season to begin even sooner. There are several ways in which you can extend the growing season to allow you to raise crops earlier in the spring or later into the fall.

This article will discuss two methods of season extension: greenhouses and high tunnels.

Greenhouses are metal or wooden framework covered in glass or plastic, which offer the greatest controlled environment for vegetable production. They are often used with heating systems or fans to provide temperature control, and the enclosed system offers protection from pests and the elements. They can be used to cultivate plants year round (especially in colder climates) and seed plants (grow plants from seeds that will later be transplanted). In a greenhouse, the plants are grown in pots or flats using potting mix. The plants are not grown in the ground, unlike in high tunnels.

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Greenhouses can be found in a variety of sizes depending on your needs. Small, easy to assemble greenhouses can be found at many farmer’s cooperatives and other stores. Smaller greenhouses are ideal for seeding and growing plants for small farm or garden operations. In contrast, large operations often use market garden vegetable greenhouses that are normally 32 feet wide by 90 feet long. For more information and help choosing a greenhouse, visit these links: Choosing a GreenhouseGreenhouse Types and StructuresThe Benefits of a GreenhouseGreenhouse: The Benefits of A Greenhouse

High tunnels have become more popular in the past few years. Like greenhouses, they are made of stretched plastic over frames. However, in high tunnels plants are grown directly in the ground under the tunnel. The plastic sides of the tunnel roll up to provide ventilation, and normally no heating, cooling, or energy is used within the high tunnel. This often makes high tunnels a less expensive alternative to greenhouses, because they can have fewer costs from energy and potting materials. They are used for season extension and crop protection, but may get too hot to effectively grow plants in southern summers.

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Also, the NRCS is currently offering a seasonal high tunnel initiative program that will provide funds for people interested in building high tunnels. Even new farmers have received 90% funding with the program. For more information, contact your county NRCS agent and read the following link: EQUIP Seasonal High Tunnel Extension Program.

For more information about high tunnels, feel free to view these links: High Tunnel Crop Production ProjectHigh Tunnels: OverviewThe Benefits of Building a High Tunnel

Both greenhouses and high tunnels offer great benefits to any grower. Be sure to consider your options as we wait for the snow to melt!