Recent Posts

Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 10
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Extending the Season and Enhancing Produce Quality at Garden Meadow Farm
Brent Kaylor; Garden Meadow Farm

Over the past five years Garden Meadow Farm (GMF) has diversified its operations and begun to do more direct marketing of its products.  Our goal is to increase revenue per acre from at least parts of the farm while also increasing profitability.  About five years ago, we shifted the livestock operation from raising replacement dairy heifers to raising grass-fed beef.  Then three years ago we began to grow vegetable produce on several acres, and high tunnels (HT) became a key component of this strategy for us.

This year we grew a large diversity of vegetables on three acres that include three high tunnels.  Our direct marketing strategy is built predominantly on providing high-quality produce continuously from April through December to local restaurants.  The high tunnels are key part of our strategy because they allow us to begin providing cold-hardy crops very early in the Spring and then late into the Fall.  Throughout the summer the tunnels allow us to grow exceptional quality tomatoes, peppers, and other high-value crops. 

In the middle of winter our season begins anew as we start indoor seedlings of cold-hardy vegetables for transplant into the high tunnels in mid-to-late February.  These seedlings will grow slowly at first, limited by still short daylight hours.  We also cover the transplants with light-weight row covers to help to moderate the cold night-time temperatures.  While night-time temperatures can fall into the teens, temperatures under the row covers can remain as much as 15 degrees warmer than the outside temperatures.  Protected from these lowest morning temperatures, shielded from all outside winds, and warmed considerably during the day by the sun, these plants thrive.  By early April we are harvesting beautiful greens.

Later in the early Fall, around the middle of September, we can reverse this process.  Cold-hardy crop transplants initially grow rapidly in the protection of the tunnel, but their growth rate wanes considerably by the middle of October as nights get colder and day length shorter.  So just as harvest of our outdoor crops are ending, harvest of these tunnel crops can now begin.  The plants stay fresh in this state of suspended growth, allowing us to harvest these food crops well past Thanksgiving and almost to Christmas.

In late spring as the early cold-hardy vegetable production transitions to the outdoors, and their harvest in the high tunnels comes to an end, we can transition the tunnels to grow predominantly tomato and pepper crops.   We find that yields of these vegetables can be higher than plants grown outdoors, and the quality of their fruit is noticeably improved, also.  By using solely drip irrigation and by keeping dew and rain water off of the plant leaves, the plants are less susceptible to detrimental fungi and disease that often plague field-grown plants.

Growing in a high tunnel is not difficult, but it does require the grower to make some adjustments to the typical growing protocols.  A high tunnel creates a different micro-environment than is found in the field-grown crops.  As a result, we need to be more vigilant in scouting the tunnels, looking for early signs of problems different from those we find in the same field-grown crops.  For example, we have found more prevalence of aphid infestation in early-grown high tunnel greens.  Also, temperatures inside the high tunnel can fluctuate widely throughout the day.  Monitoring and adjusting these temperatures is critical to maintaining healthy crops.  Even on cold days in late winter and early spring, temperatures inside the tunnel can quickly rise to near 100 degrees if the high tunnel is not opened to ventilation.

While a high tunnel is considered a temporary structure, your investment should be maximized by care in site selection and construction.  The HT should be placed on a level or nearly level surface.  There should be adequate water drainage around all sides of the tunnel to ensure that excessive water does not enter into it during extreme rain events.  I like a gable type structure that is stronger under snow loads than a simple round structure.  Its straight sides are less prone to shedding water into the sides of the tunnel when the sides are rolled up for ventilation.  Cross braces not only strengthen the structure but also provide some overhead structure for creating trellis supports for certain crops.  I also believe that end-wall construction is critical to the strength of the finished structure.  End walls is not the area to “go cheap”.  A strong end-wall will help the structure withstand both snow and wind loads.  And finally, add gable vents to the end walls.  You will use them both in the winter and in the summer to moderate the temperatures inside the HT.

Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

High Tunnel Plastics - What's Cooking?
Kathy Demchak, Dept. of Plant Science, Penn State University

There are many choices in high tunnel plastic covers, and trying to determine which one to buy can be difficult, especially when all the features sound good.  How are high tunnel plastics different from each other, and what factors might you want to consider when buying a high tunnel plastic? 

A Specialty Crops Research Initiative project “Optimizing Protected Culture Environments for Berry Crops”, funded through USDA-NIFA  is underway to answer those questions specifically as they relate to berry crop production, though the information gained will be useful to growers of other crops as well.  Michigan State University is the lead institution on the project, with 7 other Universities involved, including 6 in the U.S. and one in the U.K., as well as researchers from   USDA-ARS and industry. Besides plastics that are currently on the market, we are also working with plastics that are not yet available commercially, but that have specific effects that could be of value to growers.

More than 50 different plastic coverings are available in North America.  Most are 6-mil thick, and should be useable for about 4 years.  They contain additives that either prevent ultraviolet (UV) light from reacting with the plastic to break it down, or that block its infiltration through the plastic to varying degrees.  Plastics intended for indoor use, even if they are a similar thickness, would become brittle after only a year or so of exposure to sunlight. 

With all of the research we are doing, we are of course noticing huge effects in yield and berry quality between open production vs. covered production.  Effects on yield and berry size among the different plastics however are quite a bit smaller (10% differences or so), but keep in mind that this is data is only on berry crops.

Here is a rundown of some of the features that different plastics have, and what effects they might have on the crop.

Light transmission.  Most high tunnel (or greenhouse) plastic films transmit 85-95% of visible light. The wavelengths that plants use for photosynthesis, mainly red and blue wavelengths, are in this visible range.  This is typically more than an individual leaf can use when working at fullcapacity (called light saturation), so even plastics that transmit less light are satisfactory.  However, high light transmission becomes more important under certain circumstances, such as when growing under a double layer of plastic in a Northern latitude during shorter days.  If growing a crop with a low light requirement like lettuce or other greens, there is still enough light coming through for quality to be excellent, but if growing a crop like strawberries or raspberries that accumulate sugars, sweetness can be reduced especially during cloudy spells if less light is transmitted.  The percent light transmission is generally available in manufacturer specifications for the plastic.

Diffusion.  Certain films diffuse light more than others, though the total amount of light coming through is usually similarly high. It is more difficult to discern shapes and outlines when looking through a diffusing plastic, and shadows in the tunnel are less distinct. This means that lower leaves receive more light, so total plant photosynthesis is thought to be higher which should translate into better growth.  This effect would be more important for taller plants such as raspberries or indeterminate tomatoes where significant shading can take place, and less important for shorter crops like lettuce.

Anti-drip features.  Films may have a coating on the film or an additive incorporated into the plastic to make condensation run down the plastic rather than drip onto you and your plants, and so are called anti-drip plastics.  This effect seems to be more noticeable in the fall when frost forms on the interior of the plastic, or during very rainy spells, and is generally appreciated by those of us working in the tunnels.

IR-blocking.  Some plastics block infrared (IR) radiation, which is what we sense as heat.  These are often just called “IR” plastics. These films can reduce heat buildup in the tunnel during the day, or help to hold it in at night. If in a Northern climate and trying to prolong harvest into the fall or winter, it makes sense to use a plastic that blocks long-wave IR to help with minimizing heat loss.   

UV effects.  Early in this discussion, we mentioned that plastic films block UV light coming into the tunnel.  UV light affects many processes, including anthocyanin (and hence, antioxidant) production, insect vision, and fungal sporulation.  We are noticing some fairly large differences among plastics in presence of certain pests such as Japanese beetles.  However, effects seem not to be related to strictly to UV light, so we are still sorting out these effects and why they are occurring.  We also want to make sure that the effects are consistent across years.

Price.  The biggest differences we’ve found in price per square foot of plastic are due to the supplier and the quantity ordered, rather than differences in price between the plastics themselves.  Shipping is also another huge factor, and differences in shipping costs with distance can dwarf any differences in plastic price.  So when choosing a plastic, consider the above factors, which crop(s) you plan to grow, and when you plan to grow them, and stay tuned for updates on the work. 
Information on sources of available plastics can be found on the project website:

This work is based upon research supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Section 7311 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (AREERA), Specialty Crops Research Initiative under Agreement 2014-51181-22380.

Thanks to the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association for providing funds used towards a matching requirement for the TunnelBerries project.


Volume 1: Issues Published in 2017 / Vol. 1, No. 14: Grafting in High Tunnel Crops
« Last post by Capital RC&D on December 14, 2017, 01:04:24 PM »
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Grafting in High Tunnel Crops

Grafting technology is most commonly associated with crops like grapes and tree fruit but is also being utilized to improve overall health of other crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and even melons. This issue of High Tunnel Talk will provide general resources about grafting, as well as more specific information about using the technology within high tunnel spaces.

Grafting Vegetables - Is it worth the trouble? Many growers say yes. Amy Garrett with the Small Farms Program at Oregon State University shares a general overview of grafting in this 2011 article, as well as an introduction to the economics of implementing the technology.

Grafting Technology Can Limit Disease, Salinity, And Stress. featured an interview with Ohio State University Extension vegetable specialist, Matt Kleinhenz on March 8, 2012. It  highlights advantages, technological improvements, and crops that are well suited for grafting.

Create Stress Free Plants. Rosemary Gordon, with, showcases the early grafting work conducted by Kaitlin Horst (author of High Tunnel Talk, vol. 1, no.  10, Cover Cropping in High Tunnels) at Steve Groff’s Cedar Meadow Farm in Lancaster County, PA in this April 2013 article, in addition to discussing some of the benefits and processes used in implementing grafting.

Additional Grafting Resources

Vegetable Grafting, Research-based Information Portal hosts resources such as a Grafting Resource Database, research presentation materials, and information about grafting specific crop types. is an online collaboration Kansas State University, University of Missouri, and University of Nebraska-Lincoln, that features a variety of helpful information for high tunnel growers, including links to videos about  grafting procedures and recorded webinars.

Volume 1: Issues Published in 2017 / Vol. 1, No. 13: IPM and Biological Controls
« Last post by Capital RC&D on December 14, 2017, 11:52:03 AM »
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Integrated Pest Management and
Biological Controls

While high tunnel technology helps to prevent some pest issues, growers must be cautious and vigilant to ensure that their valuable tunnel grown crops remain pest and disease free.  Techniques employed in Integrated Pest Management programs may help. 
Penn State Extension notes that, “Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest control that focuses on pest prevention by eliminating the root causes of pest problems.” and indicates a four main steps to follow when implementing any IPM plan.  This includes, identification, prevention and exclusion, monitoring, and employing multiple tactics.1 Penn State Extension has a variety of resource for using IPM techniques for both field and high tunnel or greenhouse growers, as well as non-agricultural situations such as home and school. 
Penn State Extension publications that may be useful include:
1What is Integrated Pest Management?
Greenhouse IPM:
IPM Tactic: Biological Control:
IPM Tactic: Chemical Control:

Designing a Scouting Plan for Insect and Mite Pests and their Natural Enemies in High Tunnel Vegetable Crops:

Additional IPM Resources

North Carolina State University houses the National Science Foundation’s, NSF Center for Integrated Pest Management (, which also supports the Pesticide Environmental Stewardship website. This site provides information about handling, storing, using, and disposing of pesticides, as well as information about equipment management and issues of concern, such as soil or water contamination.  In addition, it features an excellent introduction to IPM:

The University of Connecticut Integrated Pest Management Program website is another valuable resource with specific pages to address IPM in fruit crops, vegetables, nursery products, as well as in greenhouse spaces:

For more information about IPM or for questions specific to your operation and crops, contact your local extension office.

Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
Resources for High Tunnel Growers

This edition of High Tunnel Talk highlights resources for high tunnel growers about the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Producers who are unfamiliar with FSMA or who may be unsure how it will impact their farm business may find Penn State Extension’s video series may be a helpful place to start. The series topics include:
   1. What is the Food Safety Modernization Act

   2. Which Rule Covers my Produce or Food Products?

   3. Am I Eligible for Exemptions?

    4. How Long Do I Have to Comply?

Penn State Extension also provides more detailed information about the individual aspects of FSMA (, and offers training opportunities for growers and business owners.
   Food Safety Modernization Act: Produce Grower Certification Training

   Developing a Farm Food Safety Plan

Additional FSMA Resources

Institute for Food Safety at Cornell University

Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Science, Produce Safety Alliance

The Ohio State University’s Fruit and Vegetable Safety Program

U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

Volume 1: Issues Published in 2017 / Vol. 1, No.11: Preparing for Winter
« Last post by Capital RC&D on December 14, 2017, 11:16:36 AM »
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Preparing for Winter

Whether your growing season is complete, your tunnel is clear and ready for a rest period, or if you are still using your tunnel to extend cold weather crops through winter months, now is the time to ensure that tunnel structures are ready for freezing weather and snow.

1) Not sure where to start? Watch Iowa State University’s Top 5 Tips to Winterize a High Tunnel ( and review Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 10 Snow-Related Causes of Greenhouse Failure (|greenhouse_tunnels)

2) Winterize your irrigation equipment: If still in use, double check any systems being used to keep hoses and bibs freezing. For tips on winterizing equipment that will not be in use, check out DripWork’s Winterizing an Irrigation System article:

3) Inspect the frame: Any damage or missing supports could cause structural failure in the event of a large weather event. Vern Grubinger (University of Vermont Extension) shares seasonal reminders in his article Prevent Greenhouse Collapse (, including a tip to reduce the risk of collapse by adding temporary wooden supports below ridgeline in Quonset style tunnels.

4) Plan for your Plastic: If the tunnel is not being used, consider the option of removing the plastic to prevent snow or ice damage as well as providing an opportunity to allow natural precipitation to flush salt or chemical build-up from the soil. If removing the plastic isn’t an option, create a plan for how snow or ice will be managed. This includes single-event accumulation on the roof as well as preventing accumulation over time causing damage to sidewalls. Additional information about wind loading and snow loading can be found in John W. Bartok Jr.’s article Reduce Storm Damage to Your Greenhouse (|greenhouse_tunnels).
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:
Note: The complete version has photographs that compliment the text but that are not included in the text-only version below.

Cover Cropping for High Tunnels
Kaitlin Horst; Re-DiVined Grafted Vegetables and Cedar Meadow Farm

When you are growing any kind of crop on Cedar Meadow Farm, Steve Groff’s 230 acre produce and row crop farm in Southern Lancaster county, there’s not much of an excuse for not keeping living roots present across every square foot of ground, year-round.   Steve’s motto for over 20 years now has been, “soil is meant to be covered”.  Cover crop development here has been extensive, challenging, and rewarding.  Now, I believe we could say that it has come out of its infancy and made it through its teenage years to arrive at a level of credible establishment.  However, the one area on Steve’s farm that has yet to have taken the overhaul transition to no-till and cover crops, has been the high tunnel tomato ground.   

It has been our goal for years to sustainably incorporate cover crops in our tunnels.   This is the challenge that we’ve had so far:  The long season of tomato harvest and the nature of our 3-season Haygrove high tunnels.  We are not able to think about removing the tomato vegetation, ground cover cloth, and stakes before a significant threat of cold and/or snow.  Our tunnels require that we remove the plastic before snow.  This limits what we would be able to plant, and removing all the green vegetation from the tomatoes looks daunting in the fall.  So, our history has been to wait till spring to pull out, burn the vines, and renovate the raised beds.   That leaves us in the spring with decaying tomato roots that are still a host for verticillium wilt (which we deal with in our area), compacted soil, and higher levels of concentrated salts in row, and thus a less than ideal soil environment for beneficial microbes and roots.   

Our need for utilizing cover crops in this soil is understandable.   The soil is in a way “dying” under the weight of all that we ask of it and the woven ground cover cloth that prevents other vegetation from putting down roots that could help.  This is what we would like to see happen by using cover crops:  (1) Provide a source of root exudates to feed our beneficial microbes, keeping our soil “alive”.  (2) Through our selection of cover crops that are not hosts to verticillium, starve out these problem fungi. (3) Bring relief from compaction to keep our soil well drained and able to breath. (4) Recycle and redistribute the nutrients left from the previous growing season, including adding nitrogen through legume cover crops. (5) And potentially utilizing the cover as a thatch in the spring to use as a weed barrier cloth (in conjunction with added straw when needed) instead of the woven version we’ve been using.  Knowing our reasons and expectations for the cover crops, what has been done up to this point to put them into practice and test them?

This past spring of 2017, an acre of ground was selected to build another set of high tunnels that we had purchased.   This ground had been planted with Sunn Hemp, Sorgham Sudan Grass, and Tillage Radish after wheat in July.   In September, it was rolled down and planted with another set of cover crops of Crimson Clover, Triticale, Tillage Radish, and Hairy Vetch over the fall and winter for a re-flush in the spring.   

To prepare this acre for the high tunnels and planting our tomato transplants, the only earth we moved was along the leg rows to dig a trench and build up a berm to divert the water coming off the plastic out the end of the tunnels.  There is a 10-12 foot drop in slope from one side of the acre to the opposite side.  This was desired in order to encourage the water to run out the ends and not across the planting rows.  Next, drip tape was laid, followed by black, woven ground cover cloth that smothered the cover crop across the entire high tunnel. The cover crop was rolled down by this ground cover a day or two before planting and when the Triticale and Crimson Clover were between 1-2 feet in height.  Holes were burned in the ground cover and holes dug either by a hand-held drill and auger or a modified post-hole digger.  Each transplant was planted by hand.

Throughout this growing season, we managed our crop as we have done before in regard to staking, pruning, and irrigating.  Compared to the plants in the old tunnels and remade raised beds, there was a small delay in the establishment of the transplants in the no-till/cover crop soil.  That is to be expected considering the lower temperature of the soil, and initial compacted soil wall of the transplant hole at planting in the undisturbed soil.  Once the new roots were established, however, these plants performed beautifully.  Fertigation management was the number one area we noticed a difference in as the season progressed.  The soil in the tunnels with the smothered cover crop held onto the water better and we did not need to irrigate as frequently.   The plants seemed less affected by a swing in the amount of water irrigated, telling us that the soil did a better job managing how it held the water and also how it let the water drain from the soil.

We are just approaching the time now this fall, where we will pull out the plants and pull up the ground cover cloth in order to plant a new cover crop of Triticale and Hairy Vetch.  We are curious to see how much biological life remains in the soil after this past growing season.  We will continue to plant cover crops that are not hosts to Verticillium Wilt such as grasses and even non-encouraging hosts such as hairy vetch as cited in Selecting Legume Cover Crops when Managing Verticillium Wilt by the University of California1.  With both of our feet not only wet but submerged into our commitment to improve our soil health through the use of cover crops and no-till, only time will tell how it will pay off by increasing the utility of our high tunnels in the same space of land and preserving it for future crop rotations in the future.
Kaitlin Horst has worked for/with Steve Groff from Cedar Meadow Farm in Lancaster County, PA for the past 10 years focusing on tomato production and soil health. She has a BS in Soil Science from NC A&T University and owns a greenhouse business producing grafted vegetable transplants for the spring. 
1 Lloyd, M. Selecting Legume Cover Crops when Managing Verticillium Wilt . Retrieved from http://
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Clean-up: An Ounce of Prevention

Before taking a well-earned Winter rest, take time to properly clean your high tunnel structures to help ensure a clean-start and reduce the likelihood of sheltering pests or diseases that could harm next seasons crops.

Regardless of the time of year or whether the tunnel is being cleared in preparation for a new crop or an end-of-season rest, Elsa Sanchez, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Horticultural Systems Management at Penn State University and Scott Diloreto, Penn State Greenhouse Manager, share details about the importance of sanitation as part of any IPM strategy in their article, Sanitation When Transitioning High Tunnels.

In addition, Margaret Tuttle McGrath with the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University, shares ten key factors in using sanitation to control disease in her article, Sanitation: An Important Component of Disease Management in High Tunnels. A few basics include controlling weeds, cleaning tables and other non-soil surfaces, use disinfectants as needed, maintain hygienic practices like hand washing and removing field soil from shoes before entering tunnel structures. The article also contains suggestions for types of disinfectants as well as cleaning solutions that may be used on the structure itself. Note: Due to the variety of plastics available for high tunnels, it may be best contact the manufacturer for their recommended cleaning methods.
Volume 1: Issues Published in 2017 / Vol.1, No. 8: Food Safety: Worker Hygiene
« Last post by Capital RC&D on December 14, 2017, 10:42:21 AM »
Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Food Safety: Worker Hygiene

One of the simplest ways to protect against contamination of farm products is for farm owners and workers to adhere to simple hygiene practices. The following resources provide information about practices and procedures that will help address this food safety issue.

Worker Health and Hygiene is Penn State Extension publication that provides an overview of basic hygiene practices for anyone harvesting or handling produce.

Additional Penn State Extension resources that go into more detail about specific aspects of food safety during harvest, packing, or by on-farm animals are also available.
Reducing Food Safety Risks During Harvest:

Reducing Food Safety Risks in the Packhouse:

Reducing Risks from Animals and Manure:

Food Safety Begins on the Farm: A Grower’s Guide is a resource produced by Cornell University and provides a general overview of food safety issues and practices.

Fruits, Vegetables and Food Safety: Food Safety Begins on the Farm contains similar information in video format. The video is available in both English and Spanish language versions.
English Language Version:         
Spanish Language Version:

Text only version is included below, the complete issue is available:

Marketing Plan Resources for High Tunnel Growers
Capital RC&D Staff and Laura Gifford, owner of The Laramie Group

Developing and using a marketing plan is a key step for any business, but especially important for high tunnel growers. Taking the time to conduct market research will help identify competitors, price points, marketplaces, and even new ideas for what to grow. This information can then be used to complete production budgets (see High Tunnel Talk, Issue no. 6) that will help you decide on crops and production methods that will maximize profits from implementing high tunnel technology. 
The following tutorial will walk you through the basics of Market Research for small businesses. It will also outline how a small business or farm enterprise can use it to help launch its new venture, new product or expand into a new marketplace. This online tutorial is divided into three sections under the “Curriculum” link: Course Terminology, Course Details & Next Steps. Please review each section in detail and refer back to specific topics as necessary. There is a small quiz at the end of each section to help review the topics.
Market research can be invaluable for any business, but should be strategic for small businesses due to time, cost and goals. We hope this is helpful in guiding your own farm business research, and should you have questions or want further assistance, please contact our team at The Laramie Group or your partners at Capital RC&D.

Additional Marketing Resources:
High Tunnel Marketing & Economics by Karl Foord, Regional Extension Educator with the University of Minnesota, provides an overview of marketing topics specifically related to high tunnel production.

2016 Marketing Webinar Series produced by Capital RC&D in partnership with The Laramie Group, features two recorded webinars and supporting materials designed to provide information about building a brand, identifying customers and new opportunities, developing a marketing plan, and the importance of keeping records for and periodic assessment of marketing activities.
Marketing & Branding for Small Farm Businesses provides an overview of creating a brand for your farm business and the elements of a marketing plan. Supporting resources include a downloadable Marketing Plan Template, Touchpoints Worksheet, and Branding Top Ten featuring the key elements to consider when developing branding materials. 

Small Farm Business Marketing: Measuring your Return-on-Investment (ROI) reviews important terminology and shares methods for evaluating your marketing investments, including a walk-through for using the provided ROI Input Worksheet and ROI Spreadsheet.

Both webinars and supporting materials are available on the Capital RC&D Local Food Initiative website:

Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 10