How To High Tunnel

Help with High Tunnels

There is increasing interest among some growers in the use of high tunnels for vegetable production. Florida Grower and its sister publications hosted a webinar this past fall on the topic. More than 350 people signed up to view the webinar, which covered the areas of irrigation, soil management, and use of biocontrols in high tunnels.

Matt Kleinhenz, vegetable specialist with The Ohio State University, discussed the importance of cultural management in high tunnel production. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he says. “This is true in high tunnel production. A proper cultural management plan is a cornerstone in integrated crop management and integrated pest management and helps reduce the need for pesticides, fertilizer, and possibly water.”

One of the most important items in high tunnel production is having a clear picture of the soil type or medium being grown in and its ability hold water and fertilizer. Understanding a particular crop’s needs for both changes with the season and growth stage also is critical to successful production. “The goal is to apply just the right amount of water and nutrients,” says Kleinhenz. “Too little or too much of either has bad consequences.”

To manage water and nutrients correctly, Kleinhenz recommends a whole farm planning approach, which takes into account nutrient uptake, binding, leaching, and runoff. In simple terms, you keep track of the fertilizer that enters the high tunnel and leaves the high tunnel in its different forms. This requires good recordkeeping, but it pays off in ensuring proper fertilization.
Soil sampling is another very important process in whole farm planning. “It represents a small fraction of total production costs with a potentially high return on investment,” says Kleinhenz. “We also recommend petiole testing, so growers can fine tune fertility needs as the crop grows.”

Hand In Hand

Soil fertility and moisture management are tightly linked. Fertilizer must be dissolved in the soil solution to be taken up by the plants. “Nutrients flow with water,” says Kleinhenz. “Most high tunnels are drip irrigated and soil type affects the wetting pattern at the emitters.”
Clay soils tend to create wider, flatter wetting patterns, while sandy soils create deeper, narrow wetting patterns. Soil type should be taken into account to adjust emitter spacing, irrigation timing, and intensity. This ensures water and nutrients are distributed in the root zone and not wasted outside or below it. Frequent and short bursts keep water and nutrients high in the soil profile, while less frequent and longer irrigation drives nutrients and water deeper.

Amend And Rotate

Kleinhenz notes that soil quality often declines as a result of vegetable production. Therefore, it is important to amend the soil to help raise organic matter. In addition, rotation of crops helps maintain soil quality as well. “Adding organic matter tends to help the overall health of soil and its ability to hold water,” he says. “Installing raised beds with soils made to order for crops and a good rotation also are very popular and effective methods for maintaining good quality soils under high tunnels.”

Additional Options

Kleinhenz suggests growers consider other options like soil solarization to help kill weed seeds and some insects. In Florida’s sunny, hot, and humid environment, the practice can be effective.
 
Finally, grafting on plants like tomatoes shows promise. “In tomatoes, we start with two plants,” he says. “The rootstock variety shows us some advantages with greater vigor and disease resistance, but also could include an ability to take up nutrients and water more effectively.”
Trials show grafted tomatoes on deficit water can produce similar yields to ungrafted tomatoes on standard irrigation programs.

Biocontrol’s Role

During the webinar, Michael Orzolek, a horticulturist from Penn State University, discussed the use of biocontrols in high tunnel production. He pointed out that cultural management of high tunnels falls somewhere between field production and greenhouse production.
“We have studied the use of biocontrols and predatory insects in greenhouses for years and have adapted this knowledge to high tunnels,” says Orzolek. “In greenhouses, we’ve found these predators to be very effective in controlling insects like whiteflies, aphids, and spider mites.
“If you are interested in trying biocontrol methods in your high tunnel, start small and learn the system first. Start with 600 to 2,000 square feet where you find a problem and initiate your biocontrol program and manage the problem over time.”

Clean Start

As in field production, sanitation is critical in high tunnel production. When planting, remove debris from the previous crop and work to avoid residual pesticide residues when planning to use predatory insects.
Orzolek also recommends seeking out disease- and insect-free transplants. He advises growers not grow ornamental and vegetable transplants together, because this can spread disease and pests among the crops. “If you start out with problems in your transplants, it will be a long-term problem,” he says.
Keeping weeds controlled around the high tunnel is another important step in keeping pest numbers low. “Because weeds can serve as a reservoir for some insect pests, if there are enough outside the high tunnel, it can upset the balance of predator to prey inside the tunnel. We really like a situation where it is fairly clean outside the tunnel because of the pests and the fact weeds also can harbor viruses.”

Leave a Reply

Featured Stories
Microscope research
Crop Protection
December 4, 2016
Bio Huma Netics Opens New Lab Facility
Facility to improve quality control and help expand product line. Read More
dynasty-dsc_2035
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Outstanding Seed Company 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Outstanding Seed Company, LLC: P.O. Box 202, Monaca, PA 15061 PHONE 877-248-4567; WEBSITE OutstandingSeed.com FAX 724-775-1544 Read More
Terence Robinson makes some cuts to get the big fruiting wood off of Gerry Van Oostrum's tree. (Photo credit: Christina Herrick)
Apples & Pears
December 4, 2016
Easy Tips For Apple Pruning Demonstration Held In Pennsylvania
Seminar to be presented in both English and Spanish by Penn State University Extension experts. Read More
This variety has beautiful orange skin with hints of red, as well as strong durable flesh. The fruit is large in size and has exceptional shipping quality, accompanied by prominent flavor. It ripens between May 20 and June 5. USPP#27,189
Fruits
December 4, 2016
Dave Wilson Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase [Slideshow]
Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, CA, presents a new interspecific apricot, clingstone nectarine, red-speckled pluot, and more. Read More
The giant Honeycrisp apples at Burnham Orchards sell quickly
Fruits
December 3, 2016
TOMRA Acquires Compac Sorting Machine Manufacturer
Transaction to be complete in first quarter of 2017. Read More
johnnys-selected-seeds-03723-02-flaminio_cropped
More Vegetables
December 3, 2016
Johnny’s Selected Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Showcase
For more information, contact Johnny’s Selected Seeds: 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 PHONE 877-564-6697; WEBSITE JohnnySeeds.com FAX 800-738-6314 Read More
Split ‘Cabernet’ grapes like the ones shown are           compromised fruit that should have been harvested before a rain storm. (Photo credit: Tremain Hatch)
Grapes
December 3, 2016
You Need To Have Flexibility In Your Vineyard
Prioritization and compromise are sometimes necessary in a challenging growing environment. Read More
This high-color sport starts to color one month earlier than its parent, Imperial Gala. It has a 100% deep-red color with a stripe. The fruit size, flavor, and quality similar to Imperial, and storage is as good as any other Gala.
Fruits
December 3, 2016
C&O Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase [Slideshow]
C&O Nursery in Wenatchee, WA, offers a Jonagold sport, an early Fuji, and a Red Delicious sport. Read More
world-pear-day
Apples & Pears
December 3, 2016
It’s A Global Celebration For World Pear Day Today
USA Pears to host sampling events in 24 countries for 24 hours of continuous pear goodness. Read More
'Sunpreme' raisin grapes drying naturally on the vine. (Photo credit: Craig Ledbetter, USDA-ARS)
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Study Investigates Savings From Naturally Drying Raisin Grapes
After two years on the market, researchers ‘discuss cost-cutting benefits of ‘Sunpreme.' Read More
The Latest
Crop Protection
December 4, 2016
Bio Huma Netics Opens New Lab Facility
Facility to improve quality control and help expand product line. Read More
Vegetables
December 4, 2016
Outstanding Seed Company 2016 Vegetable …
For more information, contact Outstanding Seed Company, LLC: P.O. Box 202, Monaca, PA 15061 PHONE 877-248-4567; WEBSITE OutstandingSeed.com FAX 724-775-1544 Read More
Apples & Pears
December 4, 2016
Easy Tips For Apple Pruning Demonstratio…
Seminar to be presented in both English and Spanish by Penn State University Extension experts. Read More
Fruits
December 4, 2016
Dave Wilson Nursery 2017 Variety Showcas…
Dave Wilson Nursery in Hickman, CA, presents a new interspecific apricot, clingstone nectarine, red-speckled pluot, and more. Read More
Fruits
December 3, 2016
TOMRA Acquires Compac Sorting Machine Ma…
Transaction to be complete in first quarter of 2017. Read More
More Vegetables
December 3, 2016
Johnny’s Selected Seeds 2016 Veget…
For more information, contact Johnny’s Selected Seeds: 955 Benton Ave., Winslow, ME 04901 PHONE 877-564-6697; WEBSITE JohnnySeeds.com FAX 800-738-6314 Read More
Grapes
December 3, 2016
You Need To Have Flexibility In Your Vin…
Prioritization and compromise are sometimes necessary in a challenging growing environment. Read More
Fruits
December 3, 2016
C&O Nursery 2017 Variety Showcase [S…
C&O Nursery in Wenatchee, WA, offers a Jonagold sport, an early Fuji, and a Red Delicious sport. Read More
Apples & Pears
December 3, 2016
It’s A Global Celebration For World Pear…
USA Pears to host sampling events in 24 countries for 24 hours of continuous pear goodness. Read More
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Study Investigates Savings From Naturall…
After two years on the market, researchers ‘discuss cost-cutting benefits of ‘Sunpreme.' Read More
Grapes
December 2, 2016
Washington Wine Seminar Expands Format
Research-focused sessions to be held across state in conjunction with event in 2017. Read More
Apples & Pears
December 2, 2016
New Director Of Consumer Health And Med…
Organization announces Korenna Wilson to take on the role of raising consumers’ awareness of apples benefits. Read More
More Vegetables
December 2, 2016
Harris Seeds 2016 Vegetable Variety Show…
For more information, contact Harris Seeds: 355 Paul Rd., P.O. Box 24966, Rochester, NY 14624-0966 800-544-7938; WEBSITE HarrisSeeds.com FAX 877-892-9197; Read More
Stone Fruit
December 2, 2016
Managing Risks And Reward Of Going High …
The King family sees dwarfing high-density system as the future of their sweet cherry production. Read More
More Vegetables
December 2, 2016
Florida Growers, Researchers Aim To Shar…
Field day demonstrates growing potential in cole crops. Read More
Fruits
December 2, 2016
General Mills Invests $4 Million In Poll…
The food company giant, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Xerces Society announce multi-year commitment to help pollinators prosper. Read More
Fruits
December 2, 2016
The Burchell Nursery 2017 Variety Showca…
The Burchell Nursery, Inc., in Oakdale, CA, offers a new self-fertile almond, an early-season nectarine, and a late-season peach. Read More
Citrus
December 2, 2016
Citrus Survey Shows Florida Growers Are …
Growers are betting unique crop protection tools will bridge the gap to bigger HLB solutions. Read More