Winter in the High Tunnel

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

I didn't get organized enough to do overwintering crops in the HT, but there's still lots to do. And we're using it to store our firewood in. LOL Cures it pretty quick!

I'm working on turning in more compost and I'm going to make one of the beds raised with hardware cloth on the bottom so I'll have another gopher proof bed... after loosing beets and chard to the little buggers last spring.

I checked the soil temps inside and out this morning... 38 under heavy compost mulch in the HT, 34 in the outside raised bed, after pushing the thermometer through the frozen layer.

I'm already thinking about Jan. 15th... the first planting date according to Coleman. Only he didn't say what, dang it.

Biggs, KY(Zone 6a)

I just planted some lettuce this afternoon. It's crap shoot whether it will make it or not. I planted it outside in a couple of beds I made from plastic bread trays lines with empty feed sacks. I may put them down cellar but I may not. Just depends on what mood I'm in.

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

I just finished reading (twice) two of Coleman's books. He does lettuces and greens mainly in the winter GH. I didn't get my GH up till a month ago and I started seeds then. Most everything germinated. Now if it grows any is another story. LOL!

Jayryunen, I read something on another thread a few months ago discussing ways to heat a GH, that I think you were on. I put a large plastic container (maybe 35-40 gal) with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage and built a compost pile in it. I have 5 gal buckets sitting around it and a plastic tent hanging from the ceiling over the whole group. I started tomato seeds in a tray on top of the compost bin and have since transplanted them in the buckets. Mind you, I'm just playing, but the compost temp is staying at about 110, the air temp in the tent stays around 65-75 at night when it's 30's and 40's at night. There's another compost bin (large black trash can) in the greenhouse, too. My morning GH temps are consistantly 20-25 degrees above the outside temps.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Interesting, Ms Robin... how big is your GH? Is it tight? Mine has roll up sides that I'd have to do something about... huge leaks on both sides.

I think the thread you were thinking of was when I was trying to figure out how to keep my stocktanks thawed using compost heat... didn't make any progress with that experiment this year and boy! am I sorry now. It was --8 here last night!

I've seen a new idea... using old truck radiators filled with antifreeze as solar collectors, using them to heat something. I'm thinking of making one and running tubing around the dogs water bucket to see if it keeps it thawed.... if it does, then it'll work for chicken water, too. =0)

But right now I've got to get out tomorrow and see if the carrots in the HT survived... I hadn't gotten around to mulching them, so I may have lost 'em. And they were small and sweet and YUM too. Darn.

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

My GH is 10' x 10'. Pretty small but I really like it. It's pretty air tight. The covering is all one piece with a big zippered window and large zippered door and has foot wide flaps all around that lay on the ground with concrete blocks on the flaps. The covering slips over a pipe frame. I chose this one for the quick assembly and take down time, plus I thought it would hold up to our winds well, which it does.

I also took a couple of big sheets plastic and draped it over the pipes under the covering and then pulled it out a little to create an air pocket between it and the covering. There's two 70 gal(?) open containers of water in there too. They don't appear to warm up any, but they are white and I don't want to paint them. I'll check the water temps soon, but so far they haven't had any ice, whereas the same containers I have outside had quite a bit of ice this morning.

Thumbnail by msrobin
Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

That is a sweet GH, Robin. =0) And a nice garden in the foreground, too.

I think I could just put clips on the roll-up sides to cut down on the leakage, but it would never be as tight as yours. Not to mention it's 10'6" tall... all the heat goes up. But you've definitely given me some ideas... thanks!

Do you have garden beds in your GH or do you plant in pots and flats?

Caneyville, KY(Zone 6b)

Thanks, I'm happy with it. My GH is probably only 8' at the peak, about the highest I'd want to try on this hilltop.

I had the intention of planting in the ground, but with the GH going up so late, losing so much soil surface to the 2 water tubs and 2 compost bins, and the soil not prepared, I didn't.

I've learned a lot following your threads. Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Well, wooo-hooo. It was all of 14 here this am, absolutely toasty compared to yesterday, when it was --8. And sunny today... I'm going to check on those carrots and see if I can get another bed composted and turned.

Right now I've got a lot of firewood stacked in there, drying. And like all empty spaces, it's already started accumulating stuff. Sheesh! It's so crowded with junk I can hardly move around in there.

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

Jay, is your high tunnel heated? Just kicking around the idea of putting up a 18 x 40 tunnel just to extend the harvest of delicate stuff but I dont want to use any heat in it.

Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

ok i may sound silly but Jayryunen just what is a High Tunnel?

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

A high tunnel is a tall hoop house. Hoops on steroids. LOL

No, my tunnel isn't heated. I really don't want to get into that. One, I like having a season off, two, it seems too energy intensive, and three, if Eliot Coleman can do it without heat, by god I can too.

I put this up to prevent hail from taking out my garden and as a bit of a season extender. I had originally planned to pull off the solid plastic and put on shade cloth so the summer rains could help with watering, but it's too much hassle.

I'm going to try starting my sugar peas in soil blocks this week and putting them out in the tunnel in a couple of weeks or so.

It's been grey and snowy all day today, just sloppy wet and it's supposed to be the same way tomorrow. None of the seeds I planted mid-week have come up yet, while the indoor seeds have. It'll be interesting to see how long it takes the lettuce to start out there... took 4 days inside.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

This is not winter in a high tunnel.... this is last August. But you can see the basic structure; it's 10"6' high and 14' wide. So hoop house on steroids. =0)

Thumbnail by Jayryunen
Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

ooo I wondered what a hoop house was... I might try that...

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

There's all kinds of wonderful plans on the 'net. They can be pretty quick to put up... here's my first one that I 'threw' over my tomato patch a couple of years back because it was starting to get cold. It didn't last long in our winds, but long enough.

The frame was 18' 3/4" pvc slipped down over 2' rebar just pounded into the ground at 3' intervals...

Thumbnail by Jayryunen
Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

This is that frame covered... just construction grade plastic, bricks, and gathered and held with a spring clip on the ends. Very seat of the pants deal. Worked for the couple of weeks we needed to ripen those tomatoes.

We later added baseboards along the long sides, and framed door and window, but the winds still took it. Lifted the whole thing up and sailed it. So.... I can say with assurity that anchoring is VERY important. LOL

Thumbnail by Jayryunen
Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

we have tornadoes.. anchoring is a must here. Just not sure I could put a rebar in the ground.. Missouri has a habit of growing rocks.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Well, if you can even find a couple three places along each long side that you can get the rebar in, you can anchor your batten board to it.... I didn't, I just hoped the weight of the board would be enough. Aren't you glad I found out it wasn't so you don't have to make that discovery yourself? LOL Oh man, you can learn a lot by my mistakes.

Like I said, it was a quick and dirty deal... I got it up in one day before the predicted frost that night. That quick, that dirty. Fortune smiled on me for two weeks.

If a tornado goes by, you can pretty much write of any kind of tunnel. That's just the nature of tornados, near as I can tell. But my bigger tunnel has held up to 70 mph winds, so a twister could get pretty close to you and you'd still be OK. My big tunnel is a kit from FarmTek.

There are some things you can do to help these less expensive versions survive some pretty stiff winds. One is utilizing any available wind breaks. Another, besides anchoring, is to use strapping to keep the plastic from billowing and making a parachute out of the structure.

It's a matter of controversy apparently whether you should close or fully open a high tunnel in wind... I'm on the close it side mostly. Except when we get high winds on 80 days.... I hate that... bake the plants or risk the tunnel.... what a lousy choice.

Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

I'd say closed.. just bc of understanding how wind behaves inside a tunnel.. instant parachute. Its not something that's going to happen this spring most likely.. I'm just trying to get garden boxes built. That will take most of the extra money. I do want to work on it for next fall tho.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

That's what I would have thought... just less resistence if it's all closed up... but the things billow tremendously anyway. And apparently if they're well anchored (now I'm talking the huge acre under cover type) some folks say they'll survive better if you roll up the sides and open the ends.

I saw a video of an interview with a guy that had his commercial cherry orchard under one of these systems... truly amazing. Another on the same video had 2 acres of cutting flowers in high tunnels.

Here's a blog from someone else learning about this way of growing stuff...

Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

How does your veggies taste tho? I just realized the veggies we don't like from the farmers market are grown by the Vietnamese here in hoop houses. They have no taste...

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

My veggies are fine... very tasty. I don't do a full blown greenhouse culture I treat 'em more like regular veggies. I heavily compost the beds, I choose varieties I like the taste of, I keep the thing open most of the time so they get plenty of fresh air.

If their veggies were tasteless, I'd look to the variety or the soil, not the hoop house. It's just a shelter.

They may be growing commercial varieties? I tend towards heirloom and open pollinated varieties; maybe that's the difference.

Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

idk.. but i avoid them like the plague.. but that's really what i wanted to know.. if it was the method of prolonging the crop.. or the soil & way they are growing them.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

They're probably just doing what the county extension officer tells 'em, poor saps.

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

Excessive fertilizer will also make them taste yucky too.

Yes it does take a lot of propane to heat a hoop house through the winter.

This is the one Im thinking of putting up this year.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Nice site! And a nice design... very much like the kit I got from FarmTek. And they mention some very handy details, like the reactivity of plastic with pvc. Good to know!

Instead of the pvc groundposts, I think I might use conduit sections. They'd be stronger during the driving into the ground process and still drillable.

But they don't mention snow loads and that's important. Snow does pile up on top of these if they'd not heated and obviously if you get enough it will crush the tunnel (I've read stories... try googling tunnels and snow). I fear a heavy wet snow with no wind... a few years back we got 3' in 24 hours and I think that might have been a problem. So especially with pvc I'd try to figure out some sort of ridge pole support.

I think I'll use their design for my wind barrier tunnel. Thanks!

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

The only thing I can think of is to run support post down the middle of the tunnel that will brace the top. On a round surface most of the snow should slide off except on the very top of the arc. I think most folks get into trouble when they make it wider than tall. Or in other words flatten out the arc and allow a broader area for snow to accumulate.

I have scaled back my plans for a large tunnel and have decided to build a smaller one to keep our citrus trees in. This will serve as a practice run and test my ability to follow directions. Lol

conduit sections?

How is feed bag project coming along?

This is the coldest Feb. we have had since 1970. Im beginning to think Gore may not be as full of bovine fecal matter as I had first assumed.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

The feed bag project is going nowhere at the moment... it's still under snow. Our ground is frozen or sloppy mud on top of frozen. Earth bag is definitely warm weather project. =0)

Managed to get 2/3 of another bed turned and composted yesterday in the tunnel... coming out of winter storage is getting harder every year! LOL

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

Just trying to get ME out of winter storage is becoming hassle these days! LOL

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

That's exactly what I meant. LOL

I just checked this morning and my lettuce is coming up in the greenhouse! Woo-hooo, doin' the happy dance. And the suns come out and the temps are up to the 50's, the snow is rapidly disappearing, there're even a few dry patches rather than just mud, mud, mud! Of course, the wind is starting to kick up, too, but with the tunnel I can still putter in the dirt and not get beat up by the wind. =0)

And that's where you'll find me most of today... in the tunnel!

North of Heber, AZ(Zone 6b)

I hear ya about the psycho wind, Jay. But it is mild and sunny today so I'm geting my laundry done while there is sun to dry it, THEN I can work out in my garden, which I am expanding from 15 x 30 to 30 x 30. The hard part is done but I still need to fasten rabbit fencing to the elk/cow fencing, then dig up grass & weeds from the new part. By the time I get all that done it will be time to set out the lettuce seedlings & other cool weather plants from the greenhouse. Lost half my tomato seedlings when temps in my greenhouse dropped too low, but I have others coming up.

I just sneezed about 15 times in a row -- junipers have started to bloom -- time to start taking big swigs of honey!

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

When did you plant your tomato seeds? Mine are just now coming up... I don't put them out til the second half of April.

It was 35 here this morning... a freak occurrence (sp?), we're really more in the low 20's yet, the ground is still frozen a little ways down. But oh the sun is lovely.

I noticed that the kochia is starting to pop its head up outside... I can use that as a cue to plant my lettuce in the tunnel! Oh, and I checked again and there's also some chard coming up.

Got another tunnel bed turned and composted... only 2 more to go. Has anyone ever put their broccoli out in wallo waters? I'm thinking of trying it in a couple of weeks... we may eat more broccoli than tomatoes around here!

I think it's about time to strip the stalls and make our giant compost pile. I want to get it turned a couple of times before we plant potatoes in it. We're trying the straw method of potato planting this year.

Wow, juniper clouds already! I guess I'd better start taking my pollen... hay fever here in a couple of months if I don't.

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

I have already got my potatoes, carrots, and collards planted. Should be planting broccoli but we still have quite a bit in the freezer so I think we will pass on them this spring.

I have a lot of trouble with my tomato seedlings damping off so I usually just buy sets. Cost a little more but at least they live. Time to start thinking about them too now that I think about it.

Dont know about you all but Im ready for some warm weather. Just about tired of all the cold and damp stuff. (grin)

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Have you ever done your potatoes in hay or straw? We were reading about it in Backwoods Home and thought we'd give it a try.

Another sure sign winter's moving on... the stock tanks are melted, just a skin of ice in the morning that disappears by mid-day.

I got a second bed turned this afternoon... we are smokin' now! It was interesting to note the differences in the soil tilth from one end to the other... on the tomato end the tilth was pretty good considering this is only the second year we've worked it, on the other end where the summer squash was, the soil was back to looking like mineral earth, never been composted. Wow, the squash must really suck up the life of the soil!

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

We generally plant in the ground and then use hay to mulch around the potatoes when they start forming. Its easier than trying to keep the dirt pulled up around them and it seems to have an effect on their size and number. We plant the red Irish potatoes mostly.

I have heard talk of growing them IN straw but Im not clear on how its done.

North of Heber, AZ(Zone 6b)

Do you buy your seed potatoes or just cut up store-bought ones? I have just grown a few that sprouted in my pantry last year, but a few days ago bought three 5-pound bags and cut up about half of them, and am letting them dry a little and then want to plant them. Don't have enough straw so will just plant in the ground. I have read & heard over and over again not to plant store-bought potatoes, but haven't had any problem yet. Anybody?

I started my tomato seedlings in in the greenhouse in January! Only 2 or 3 are as big as the ones you buy at nurseries, the others are waiting for warmer nights, i guess. Big Surprise: Of the dozen or so tomato plants that froze and looked dead, new little green leaves are appearing on most of them! I had cut the frozen parts off and just left about 1/2 inch of stem in the pots. They are not all the same variety.

Sapello, NM(Zone 5b)

Great news on the frostbitten tomatoes, AZ! It'll be interesting to see how well they do compared to the ones that didn't get hit.

I buy seed potatoes, not only because of the supposed higher productivity, but because they are certified disease free. And I can get varieties that one doesn't see in the store... I'm getting 4 varieties this year: Yukon Gold, Bintje (a wax potato), Purple Viking ("divine flavor") and the sweet potato Georgia Jet. All from Territorial.

It seems like a lot of folks do just what you're doing, AZ, I've just never made a comparison test.

I tried growing fingerlings one year when I lived near Albq., but I didn't care for them... I find they taste faintly of dirt, which I love on my hands, but not in my mouth.

I've gotten the sugar peas planted and am filling up wallo waters this afternoon to see if they freeze or not. If they don't, I'm going to try putting some broccoli out in them this week.

Wrestling with myself over whether or not to try putting bokchoy and tatsoi out in the tunnel. I think I saw a tiny little onion sprout coming up.

And the earthbag retaining wall we started last fall is appearing out from under the snow... I'll be able to get started on that again soon. Got to find me some dead barbed wire....

Colmesneil, TX(Zone 8b)

AZ, the store bought taters are treated with a chemical that retards sprouting and may harbor disease. They will work just as well as seed potatoes, you just have to wait until they start to sprout on the shelf before planting. Other wise they may rot in the ground before the chemical wears off.

Joplin, MO(Zone 6b)

We used store potatoes when i was a kid & mom couldn't afford seed potatoes. We'd save 2 from each bag for a while before planting time. They worked pretty well... least we had potatoes & they tasted fine.

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