High tunnel workshop to help growers extend season

Tilth Producers of Washington and Washington State University are offering farmers a workshop to learn how to use high tunnels to extend their growing season. Small farms coordinator Pat Munts says the tools can help expand markets and eliminate farming guesswork
Matthew Weaver

Capital Press

Published on April 7, 2014 2:58PM

Farmers will learn to use high tunnels to extend the growing season during an upcoming workshop in Deer Park, Wash.

The workshop, sponsored by Tilth Producers of Washington and Washington State University Small Farms Program, meets from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. April 19 at the Deer Park city council chambers, 316 E. Crawford St.

The workshop then moves to a hands-on session at a farm near Deer Park.

The high-tunnel houses can be as big as 12 feet tall, 20 feet wide and 90 feet long, said Pat Munts, small farm coordinator for WSU Spokane County Extension and Spokane Conservation District.

“These larger high tunnels can be a way to really extend a season on both ends for a lot of different crops,” she said. “It’s a huge improvement for farming in a troublesome climate.”

Farmers can start early spring crops a month ahead of time and protect their warm weather crops from early frosts in the late summer, Munts said. They will be able to harvest well into November for late, cooler season crops, she said.

The class covers management and construction details, choosing a location and the economics of improved crop production.

Speakers include Diane Green from GreenTree Naturals in Sandpoint, Idaho; Steve Sprecher of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Spokane and WSU Extension horticulture specialist Jeremy Cowan.

At the farm site, participants will help pull plastic onto a high tunnel frame.

“It takes many hands, but this will let people really experience the details of how to select and manage a high tunnel,” Munts said.

“There’s been a lot of interest in season extension,” said Michele Catalano, executive director of Tilth Producers of Washington. “We want farmers to have opportunities for greater success.”

Year-round farmers markets and community-supported agriculture models mean more incentive for growers to find ways to have more products available in the shoulder season, Catalano said.

“When you get to February, March, April, it’s nice if you’ve been able to grow things in a greenhouse,” she said.

A high tunnel tour in Yakima, Wash., in November proved popular, and showed the level of interest statewide, she said.

The Deer Park session is aimed at northeast Washington and northern Idaho farmers.

“They’re not as commonly used here as they should be,” Munts said. “They’re getting more popular as people realize getting that early-late crop can actually benefit their farm business quite a bit.”

Early greens, tomatoes, peppers and dwarf fruit trees are some of the crops some farmers have used the high tunnels to raise, Munts said.

“They can get to market earlier, they can manage the environment a lot better,” she said. “It takes some of the guesswork out of actual farming.”

NRCS has a seasonal initiative program to cover the costs of purchasing a kit, Munts said.

Tilth Producers plans to hold other workshops throughout 2014.

Cost is $25 for Tilth members and $35 for non-members. Contact 206-632-7506 to register. The class is limited to 40 participants.




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