The Washburn Agripreneur program participated in our first farmers market for the year of 2016 on July 20th. We had an excellent variety for this time of year thanks to support from Washburn Elementary School garden. Our best sales were cucumbers and beans, almost selling out.
-- Washburn Agripreneur Student
Trellising cucumbers in the Washburn school high tunnel.
Agripreneur students have been busy growing their high tunnel crops this summer, but they've also taken the time to attend some field trips. They've traveled to three local farms so far - Wild Hollow Farm located just south of Ashland, River Road Farm in Marengo, and Great Oak Farm in Mason.
Thank you to Jason, Todd, and Chris for spending part of the day with our students!
Above, Jason talks about his high tunnel growing practices at Wild Hollow Farm, and Todd explains the importance of living soil at River Road Farm.
Above, Chris explains his growing practices for both high tunnel and field crops at Great Oak Farm.
With the change of seasons comes a change of programming in the Bayfield and Washburn school high tunnels.
During the school year, Farm-to-School programs and classroom teachers utilize their school's high tunnel for various lessons that can involve soil testing, garden design, and - of course - growing food. During the summer, however, students and teachers are gone for summer vacation, which could leave the high tunnels unused at their most productive time. The Agripreneur Program has been created to fill this gap.
The Agripreneur Program is a summer growing program that hires two high school students to grow food in their school's high tunnel with the assistance of a school liaison. The food grown over the summer is then sold back to the school's food service program, community members, local restaurants, or through farmer's markets.
Students from both Washburn and Bayfield schools are participating this year - check out their pictures below!
As part of this program, the Agripreneur students will be writing monthly blog posts to update the community on their progress. Be sure to check back here throughout the summer to learn about what's going on in these high tunnels!
- Lilly Soshnik-Tanquist
2016 Agripreneur Program Coordinator
"The battens serve to confine the edges of the tarpaulings to close down to the sides of the hatches"
William Falconer's An Universal Dictionary of the Marine, 1769
It's that time once again folks. The days grow ever shorter and the average temps rise less and less each day. In response we must do our best to utilize what warmth we can gain from the sun and store it in the soil inside the tunnels. I just wiggle wired the sides of each of my tunnels shut as of yesterday, October 15th. At this point in the season I would like to think we will not have many more days above 70 degrees, sadly enough.
Remember! Do not forget to unplug the controller for the sidewall motors after doing this!! You shouldn't have to worry about opening the sides again until late March/early April. I do think it is good to leave the peak vents operational however. I allow my tunnels to get up into the upper 80's during this time of year. It only serves to bank warmth in the soil in order to fend off the nighttime low temps. I would, therefore, recommend setting the peak vent thermostat at between 80 and 85 degrees.
One more thing. Watch the amount of irrigating you are doing right now. Whatever moisture you add to the soil now will be there until Spring. Soo...it might be good to cease watering very soon as to avoid mid-winter mildew issues.
Ready your row covers for the winter months! You should be ready to cover the inside in November.
Please share your progress with the rest of the group whenever you get a chance so we can all learn together. Happy high tunneling!
Hopefully most of you have been picking some of the very first tomatoes of the season. We just started picking our tomatoes here at River Road Farm last week. I wanted to go over a few harvesting and packing pointers for you.
Once tomatoes start to ripen it will become an exponential process. Our first harvest was 20lbs, our second over 40lbs, our third was close to 100lbs, and by the height of the harvest bell curve we will be pulling out 300lbs or more every two days. Granted, the school high tunnels have only half the amount of tomato plants in each high tunnel. The point is, you will need to be ready to pick every two to three days and have somewhere to go with those maters each time.
When picking the individual fruit be sure to gently twist and/or bend while pulling in a way that will not knock the other fruit of the truss. If you will be selling at farmers market or a retail store where presentation is a factor, make sure to use a bypass pruners and cut the tomatoes off the truss in order to leave the top on the fruit. Place the tomatoes into a shallow container no more than three layers deep depending on the size and weight of the fruit. Tomatoes are soft and crush easily and will lose their shape under pressure. Try picking them just before they are totally red-ripe so that they have a little bit of firmness. Do not let them get over ripe or they will be mushy! When adding a second layer into the harvest container watch out for the pointy tops of the first layer so they do not poke into the bottom the second layer. I usually pick right into the box they will be sold from in order to minimize handling.
Happy picking and good luck keeping up!
Hopefully some you have had a chance to order seeds for spring planting. If you haven't done so as of yet, it makes sense to order the seeds for this upcoming fall as well. That's if you already have an idea of what you want to follow those tomatoes when they come out of the ground. The main thing in the short term is to be ready to plant in about two weeks.
In the handout that was sent around for spring crop suggestions, I picked easy to establish, direct seeded, short day varieties to try. The main factor to consider is that we ideally want those crops to be harvestable around May 15th when the summer tomato crop will be ready to go in. However, because the tomatoes are transplanted and tall, it will be possible to inter-plant them; meaning you can plop the toms right in amongst what is already growing there. The same can be said for over-wintered spinach. You have the option of planting something tall like peas right down the same bed as the spinach is growing in. The three crops that I proposed for this spring were radishes, salad mix, and peas. Radishes and salad mix are pretty straight forward and simple to establish. But, peas will need a trellis to climb.
Trellising for peas can be as simple as some 4ft. long wooden sticks driven into the dirt and twine strung from stake to stake. I prefer to use 4ft. metal fence posts and chicken wire. It is easy to erect, sturdy, and can be re-used year after year. Because they will be grown in a greenhouse environment, the peas will most likely grow much faster and taller than outside. Another consideration would be to send down a plastic snow fence or deer fence type of product from the frame of the high tunnel. How you attach it and over all height will be a factor for finding the right product in that case.
Hopefully the ground will not be frozen and ready to plant peas in around March 15th. You will definitely want to keep row cover on them as much as possible to protect them from night time frosts. Even after erecting the trellis, you can still drape the fabric over the top to create a tent. As for the radishes and salad mix, I would wait until the last week of March or first week of April to sow those seeds. If your over-wintered spinach is doing good, you can harvest that two to three times and can stay in the ground until tomato time if you want.
Happy planting and don't hesitate to ask for help!
In my last post I stressed the need to ventilate your high tunnel and pull back any interior covers on warm and/or sunny days. This is also a great time to do some spring cleaning. Since you will have the plants exposed take this opportunity to remove any dead and frost damaged plant matter. In my tunnels I had lettuce heads, salad mix, mustards and spinach that were mature and harvested by December 31st. There were also two beds of spinach that were left mature and were harvested on January 23rd. All of these beds have greater or lesser amounts of left-over plant matter that will need to be removed before new growth begins this month. By doing so we are trying to eliminate the host material for diseases to form and proliferate. There were even fully mature plants of spinach that I cut back just for safety sake. What you will want to do is cut back the plants to 1 inch from the soil surface, place plant matter into a bin, and place in compost pile or remove from the high tunnel entirely. Even lettuce plants most of the time will make a comeback with some spring growth. If there are beds that you know you will be transitioning to another crop, you can just work the plants back into the soil, unless of course there is disease present, then you will need to remove plants and sterilize the bed surface before tillage.
On the other hand, if you have baby plants like spinach or mache that were planted specifically to over -winter, and they are looking lively and disease free, you can just let them do their thing. You should start seeing significant growth on these plants in the coming weeks. If the soil isn’t too frozen this is also a great time to do some weeding around these plants. You can also consider tilling and direct seeding a new crop (salad mix, spinach, kale, chard, turnips, arugula) that will be harvested before May 15th.
Spring is right around the corner!
During the winter months we do our best to button up the high tunnel nice and tight and cover the plants with row covers to give as much protection from the cold as possible. Funny enough the flip side to all this effort is that is can be equally detrimental to the crops we are trying to protect. Inside the sealed up tunnel and underneath those blankets resides the perfect conditions for an outbreak of disease- most notably fungi and mildew. The combination of high humidity and stagnant air coupled with spikes of warmth on sunny days is just what these less-than-beneficial microorganisms need to multiply. What a catch-22 eh?
Ironically, one of the best things we can do to pre-emptively to avoid disease issues is remove the very covers being used to protect the plants. In addition, opening the peak vents of the tunnel is the best way to relieve some of the humidity and allow for some cross ventilation, i.e. bring in some fresh air. The ideal kind of days we are looking for are when the sun is out and the inside temps are above 50 degrees. If sunny days are few and far between, take advantage of those warm spells (if there are any) where outside temps are above 32 degrees. The last few week have been ideal for ventilation with some sunny days and even temps in the upper 30's. I have removed the covers and three times thus far since Christmas. I will open and close the peak vents daily but leave the row covers off until the weather forecast shows daytime temps dropping below 32 degrees again. Some commercial growers in Northern climates are even going so far as to leave their peak vents cracked all winter. The jury is still out on how much or how little to ventilate during the heart of winter. The main thing is to at least make a point of doing so at least once or twice during the months of January and February.
A question came in recently from Greta over at Washburn school about what temps one might be recording inside the tunnels this time of year. Greta purchased a high-low digital thermometer to record the nightly lows and daily high temps. She has a lowest low of 0 degrees and a highest temp recording of around 70 degrees. The inflation blower wasn't always plugged in either, so max insulation value probably wasn't realized.
To compare, the temps I have been recording here have been relatively consistent with what Greta is seeing in their tunnel. I have three sensors- one outside, one inside the greenhouse, and one inside the greenhouse under the row cover.
Outside 38 -17
Inside 64 -2
Under cover 79 13
Keep in mind that both of my greenhouses are single layer plastic tunnels. Nevertheless, you can see the 15 degrees of added protection inside and the 30 degree difference under the row cover. Even just the 15 degrees in this case can be enough to determine whether an over-wintering crop will survive the winter or not. This depends heavily on the number of days the root base has to sustaine those sub-zero temps. Last winter we had over 40 days where it did not get above zero under the row cover. Everything died except for a small amount of spinach.
The point being here is that the more protection you can provide the plants during the dormancy period, a greater chance of survival and earlier jump on growth can be realized. Some commercial growers will add two if not three layers over the plants this time of year. This might also be a fun experiment for students- monitoring the temperature differences under multiple layers (or different layers) of protection.
Watch the moisture build up however! Wet, humid conditions are a perfect breeding ground for mildew and mold. It is good practice to pull back the covers and even open the peak vents on the greenhouse during warmer and preferably sunny days to let things "breathe". I'll speak to this in greater detail on another post.
Welcome to the new site for info sharing regarding the school high tunnels. I will be posting regularly to this site with updates from River Road Farm high tunnel happenings so that you can follow along as the seasons progress. Please feel free to submit any questions, concerns, high points or lessons learned you might have so that we can all help each other be successful in our gardening endeavors.
I will also be developing a high tunnel management manual for each of you. The manual will provide you with basic information about seed starting, crop schedules, timelines, frost protection, venting and irrigation operation, and more. Hopefully, this will leave each school the info needed to continue operating the greenhouses long after the grant funds run out.
Agripreneur Students (2016 posts)
High Tunnel Blog