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.
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 Greenhouse, Greenhouse Types and Structures, The Benefits of a Greenhouse, Greenhouse: 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.
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.
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!