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The power of high tunnel growing in Northern US

High tunnels offer northern New York market growers an easy way to extend their limited growing season by two or three months. Sometimes more. Farmers can grow early and/or late crops of cool weather and salad vegetables even while there’s snow on the ground. And depending upon the weather, warm-season crops, like tomatoes, can mature several weeks earlier and be harvested and sold many weeks after similar field-grown crops have been killed by frost.

In Northern NY, spinach can be planted in high tunnels in September for harvest in November and even December. And those plants will, with protection, overwinter and resume growth in late-February / early March for late winter and early spring harvests.

For many years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through their Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), has provided financial and technical assistance to Northern New York market growers looking to extend the growing season for high-value crops in an environmentally safe manner. The program is ongoing.

One area farm served by that program was Summit Farm; located southwest of Malone in the foothills of the Adirondacks. And while they continue to use their high tunnels to extend their growing season and increase production, they’ve taken things one step further. They’ve been propagating crops that are commonly considered unsuitable for the region.

Interior Alaska has long, cold winters and short, often unpredictable summers. Most of the state lies in planting zones 1 (-50°F or lower) or 2 (-40°F to -50°F). Food costs are high. And fresh fruit and vegetables are often unavailable in rural Alaskan villages, where often, the only way to deliver them is by plane.

For more than a decade now, researchers from the University of Alaska (UA) Fairbanks Experiment Farm and UA Cooperative Extension have been studying the viability of producing tree fruit (apples, not peaches) and other agricultural commodities in high tunnels locally, in the sub-polar Alaskan climate. In trials where apple trees were grown both outside and inside high tunnels, most varieties were able to grow outside. But they seldom flowered and none produced fruit.

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