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Field Day for Women Interested in Seasonal High Tunnels for Crop Production

Crops growing in high tunnelHave you ever thought about getting the most out of your produce garden?  Or enjoyed fresh picked vegetables from your garden on Thanksgiving?  How about getting an early start on raising produce in the spring?  A seasonal high tunnel may be an option for you!

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently held a Seasonal High Tunnel Field Day near Upper Sandusky, Ohio, geared towards women interested in using seasonal high tunnels for crop production.  Women own or manage many of the specialty crop, organic, and seasonal high tunnel operations in Ohio, including the two sites visited during the tour.  The field day allowed NRCS to provide a networking and discussion opportunity for women with interest in learning the benefits of high tunnels, although we welcomed men too!

The field day began at the Gottfried Nature Center, donated by the Gottfried Family to the Wyandot County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).  Many growers, farmers, or those with a budding interest in agriculture gathered from across the State, including attendees from Upper Sandusky, Piqua, Cincinnati, Wilmington, Delaware, and Columbus. NRCS District Conservationist Tami Hastings; Area Engineer and former Federal Women’s Program Manager Rebecca Scarborough; and Wyandot County SWCD Education Specialist Angie Ford brought the event to order with introductions.  From the Center, the group traveled to two farms currently using seasonal high tunnels to extend the growing season and provide fresh produce to local markets, grocery stores, and restaurants in the area.

The tour began at Dayna and Norman Pahl’s farm near Upper Sandusky. The Pahl’s raise two acres of vegetables and fruits using traditional outdoor gardening methods.  In 2008, they purchased a seasonal high tunnel for growing tomatoes.  “Most varieties we grow are actually not recommended for use in high tunnels, but we’ve done fine,” Dayna said with a smile, as she reviewed the different varieties of tomatoes grown in her high tunnel.  With a high tunnel Dayna and Norm provide tomatoes to her customers until late into the fall, even growing tomatoes until Thanksgiving last year.  They planted the current crop of tomatoes on April 6th and the plants were still producing profusely when the group visited on October 22nd.

Darlene Crow tells interested women how she utilizes seasonal high tunnels to grow specialty cropsDarlene Crow hosted the group next. She, along with her husband Andrew, started growing produce in their high tunnels shortly after Darlene retired.  It has become a full time venture for the couple.  Unlike the Pahl’s who grow primarily tomatoes in the high tunnel, the Crow’s grow multiple varieties of vegetables for niche Asian and Indian markets in the Columbus area.  “We have a variety of onion that takes a year to grow!  But they love it!” exclaimed Darlene, as she stretched her arms high in the air to demonstrate the how high the onion grows.  Similar to the Pahl’s, the Crow’s also grow vegetables using traditional outdoor gardening methods.  Darlene employs chickens and ducks for weed and insect control, which also results in ‘free’ fertilizer for the soil. She stressed the need to amend the soil before placing the high tunnel on the site because she knows good soil raises good crops.

Both Dayna and Darlene said seasonal high tunnels have greatly improved their profits.  Their high tunnels allow them to control the timing, amount, and quality of water and nutrients they apply to their crops, reducing waste.  They also offer flexibility to handle and harvest produce when the weather isn’t exactly cooperating.  Both discussed the ups and downs of seasonal high tunnels and provided beneficial tips and advice to keep in mind for new or existing growers. 

If this field day is any indication, there is a growing interest in seasonal high tunnels in Ohio.  I know this field day definitely piqued my interest! 

For more information on financial and technical assistance for seasonal high tunnels visit the Ohio NRCS website at www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov and The Ohio State University Extension website at http://ohioline.osu.edu/index.html.  The Ohio Ecological Farm and Food (OEFFA) website at www.oeffa.com/events.php lists field days and educational events as well.