Along with melting snow and emerging spring flowers comes the renewed sense of hope for new beginnings and life. Our eyes are treated to an array greenery we haven’t seen in more than six months and the bounty of colorful flowers is sure to delight. If you’re like me, it’s impossible to not get excited for the coming growing and gardening season.
If you’ve grown a garden at home, you may be aware of some of the challenges and difficulties with growing fruits and vegetables in our area. Often, we have a frost in June and as early as late-August. Our growing season is short and our warmest days aren’t frequent enough for some of the fruits or vegetables to mature and ripen. These challenges can limit what fruits and vegetables we can grow in our gardens.
A high tunnel system, also known as hoop house to many, is a great way to extend your growing season and increase food production for you and your family. A high tunnel system is a plastic-covered framed structure, similar to a greenhouse. The purpose of the structure is to extend the growing season for plants growing inside the structure and improves plant vigor (productivity) and health. The plastic layer allows sunlight into the structure and traps additional heat, warming the soil and plants earlier in the spring. Later in the year, the plastic layer allows for slower heat loss from the structure and soil which allows crops inside to continue to grow during cooler temperatures and potentially allow them to survive mild frosts. High tunnels come in various shapes and sizes and can be customized to meet a landowners’ needs. Additional practices such as soil nutrient testing and cover cropping can improve soil and plant health inside the high tunnel structure. Installing a high tunnel system on your property can assist with increasing your food security at home and reduce energy and transportation inputs and costs.
NRCS offers financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) to qualified applicants to purchase and install a high tunnel system for their home garden. EQIP is a competitive financial assistance program that provides financial reimbursement for a portion of the cost of the high tunnel system. In order to be a qualified applicant; a person must have an existing garden that is growing food or other crops on their property and establish farm records with Farm Service Agency (we help you with this part). Applicants need to be growing fruit or vegetable crops in the ground (or in 12 inch raised beds) and are not required to sell any crops at market. This is a great opportunity for home growers, small-scale farmers, and homesteaders to increase the amount of food they are able to grow and provide to their families.
If you would like to learn more about increasing food production on your property or applying for a high tunnel system reach out and set up a site visit by contacting me at Kelly.Sippl@usda.gov or 906-251-3064.