Cornell Ag Connection: The power of high tunnel cultivation | Opinion

Tall tunnels, sometimes referred to as hoop houses, offer growers in upstate New York an easy way to extend our limited growing season by two or three months. Sometimes more. Farmers can grow cool weather early and / or late crops and salad vegetables even if there is snow on the ground. And depending on the weather, warm-season crops like tomatoes can ripen several weeks earlier and be harvested and sold several weeks after similar crops grown in the field are killed by frost.

In addition, the high tunnels offer protection against wind, driving rain, disease, insects and deer. And more than a decade of research from Cornell University has shown that the yields and quality of produce grown in high tunnels can be far superior to comparable crops grown in open fields.

This is also great news for consumers, who have access to an ever-growing variety and supply of top-quality, locally grown fruits and vegetables, both earlier and later in the year.

Tunnel-grown vegetables

In upstate New York, spinach can be planted in high tunnels in September for a harvest in November and even December. And these plants, with protection, will overwinter and resume growth in late February / early March for late winter and early spring harvests.

Well-formed and properly pruned tomatoes thrive in the protected conditions presented by high tunnels. Growers find it easier to provide better air circulation and optimal light penetration. And, because excess foliage can be removed to focus the plant’s energy on fruit production and ripening, the plants are easier to get around and produce higher yields than similar field-grown tomatoes.

Cucumbers are another great choice for tunnel production in upstate New York. They can have very rapid growth and yield in spring, summer and fall, especially when grown vertically; which takes full advantage of the space and light offered.

Use of high tunnels for berry production

The use of high tunnels for the production of raspberries can extend the season from May, for certain cultivars with florican fruiting (bearing in summer), until November, for certain varieties with primocane production (end of season) . And primocane plants typically produce more than three times more fruit in tunnels than in fields, due to the extended harvest season and, among other things, the larger berry size, closer spacing of the berries. ranks and reduction of gray mold infection. The end result is higher quality fruit and a higher harvest value.

Growing fruit trees in a high tunnel in the north of the country

For many years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture, through its Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), has provided financial and technical assistance to growers. market in upstate New York who want to extend the growing season for high-value crops. in an environmentally friendly way. The program is in progress.

One farm in the area served by this program was Summit Farm; located southwest of Malone in the foothills of the Adirondacks. And as they continue to use their high tunnels to extend their growing season and increase production, they have gone one step further. They propagate cultures that are generally considered inappropriate for the region.

You don’t see too many peach trees growing in the north of the country. This is because we are outside of their generally accepted geographic growth area. Even though trees survive our sub-zero temperatures, high winds, snow and ice (and, in some places, they survive), fruit buds are damaged at temperatures of around 28 ° F, which often occurs during spring frosts. In other words, they don’t bear fruit.

But what if you plant and grow peach trees in an environment that protects them from spring frosts, when the flowers are blooming and are in danger. This is exactly what the husband and wife team at Summit Farm wanted to find out, when they decided to use one of their tall tunnels to grow stone fruits, including peaches, which are tree trees. fairly rapid growth. Their trees are now 6 years old, 10 to 12 feet tall, healthy, and bearing delicious, high-quality fruit.

Go to the limit

The interior of Alaska has long, cold winters and short, often unpredictable summers. Most of the state is in planting zones 1 (-50 ° F or less) or 2 (-40 ° F to -50 ° F). Food costs are high. And fresh fruits and vegetables are often not available in rural Alaskan villages, where often the only way to get them is by plane.

For more than a decade now, researchers at the University of Alaska (UA) Fairbanks Experiment Farm and UA Cooperative Extension have studied the viability of producing tree fruits (apples, not peaches) and others. agricultural produce in locally raised tunnels in the polar subclimate of Alaska. In trials where apple trees were grown both outdoors and indoors in high tunnels, most varieties were able to grow outdoors. But they rarely flowered and none produced fruit.

However, the trees growing in tunnels exhibited a larger overall size and they flowered from the second week of May until early June. When the fruits were properly thinned, they produced a consistent crop of good size, high quality fruit. Insufficient thinning often resulted in trees which produced a great deal one year and not at all the following year.

Online courses offered

Cornell Small Farms offers an online course focused on extending the season with high tunnels. The course instructor is Amy Ivy, a retired Eastern New York Extension Vegetable Specialist who has worked with CCE in our area for 31 years. For more information visit

Richard L. Gast, educator of the extension program II: horticulture, natural resources, energy; Agricultural program assistant (retired); Franklin County Cornell Co-op Extension. 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Call 483-7403, fax 483-6214 or email [email protected]

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