Luray grower uses topless high tunnels to feed community year round

A retired nurse is growing food for her community using a unique form of greenhouse. Alice Hill of rural Luray literally wrote the book on the use of topless high tunnels: 'Grow Topless: A Modified High Tunnel Design for Headache Free Extended-Season Gardening', which was published in 2019.

Hill has been able to provide produce to her community from her small farm through the farmer's market she co-founded — the Step Back in Time Food Market. She has been able to grow enough produce to sell at the market a couple of days a week on less than an acre of cultivated space.

Her tunnels are similar to most other high tunnel greenhouses. Vegetables are grown in the ground with a covering in a half-circle over the top. The side walls are solid to protect tender plants from the harsh Kansas wind. However, the roofs of the topless high tunnels are made of anti-hail netting.

This allows Hill to take advantage of natural moisture and sunlight. Natural sunlight helps the plants create nutrition and tastier fruit. The topless high tunnels result in better ventilation while keeping out unwelcome pests, such as grasshoppers. Hill has no issues with fungal disease or condensation, and she does not have to worry about rolling up and letting down the sides of the tunnel.

Because the mesh netting allows the wind to go through the tunnels, the tunnels are not as vulnerable to high winds compared to other greenhouses.

Hill grew items such as peppers, tomatoes, and squash in her topless high tunnels this summer, but can grow cool season crops even in the winter months. Hill applied for and received a United States Department of Agricultural Natural Resource Conservation Service grant three years ago to build her 36-by-24-feet high tunnel and the following year erected a second one, 34-by-48.

In addition to the high tunnels, she installed two 1,500-gallon tanks that collect runoff from the farm's pole shed. She uses an inline electric pump to help pump water to the vegetables through soaker hoses. Yet another rain barrel collects water from the house.

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