Tag Archives: Winter growing

Radical new hoop house design to save you time and money (Edited)

Since being transplanted to Ohio and taking a short hiatus from full time farming, I’ve been wanting to do some backyard growing. I knew that I wanted a small hoop house, but the design was escaping me. So many of the different small houses I had built were too flimsy, or didn’t have a door, or just too much work. So I thought and thought, for around 3 months before I came up with this design. It has only been up for 2 weeks, so it’s not thoroughly tested, but so far, it seems to work.  Let me know what you think!!


 

After I shared this video, Eliot Coleman emailed me that he had used this design back on a house in 2002 to overwinter field crops. Good designs always reappear.

Eliot Coleman slanted endwall 2002

A similar house that eliot designed back in 2002

Do you have ideas to make this a better design?  Comment below!!

Speaking Engagement: Maximizing Profits through Year-round Wholesale Production

_MG_74701I will be speaking in East Freedom, PA on April 9th. The event is sponsored by several Pennsylvanian agricultural organizations and is FREE!  It will be a full day event with me covering several topics.

  • Winter vegetable production- I will cover what we have learned in 10 years of winter production. From varieties, to tunnel management, to seeding dates, you will leave this workshop knowing how to grow during the winter months.
  • Season Extension- In this workshop, I will cover how we s-t-r-e-t-c-h the season to provide greater product diversity in the spring and fall, as well as cool season crops during the mid-summer heat like spinach and lettuce. The emphasis will be on larger-scale wholesale quantities. Yes you can have spinach from April to December from the field!
  • Wholesale marketing and food safety- In the last couple years our farm has scaled up, received certified organic status, and focused heavily on food safety so that we could sell to larger, wholesale buyers. We’ll talk about our journey and demystify wholesale markets, GAPS, and food safety!

This is my main speaking engagement of the spring, don’t miss it! Attached is a flyer of the event. April9_Flyer

IMG_7013

Greenhouse Radiant Heat at Fox Creek Farm

Raymond Luhrman owns Fox Creek Farm CSA with his wife, Sara. The 350 member CSA has pick-up sites throughout the Capital District. For more information about the farm, visit their website, www.foxcreekfarmcsa.com. He recently was having problems installing his greenhouse heating system and shared the feedback he received as well as pictures and diagrams.

From Raymond:

Two weeks ago I posted a question regarding the suitable materials for greenhouse radiant heat. I experienced lots of little leaks at couplers with 200PSI black poly. PEX would not work well because of the lack of UV resistance. Thank you for everyone sympathizing with hunting for leaks – and thanks for all the suggestions. I put quite some more time in the house, but right now it is not leaking, and it’s germinating the first plants.

 

In this post:

 

1. The replies I received (in general, folks like Trueleaf products form California for bench heat, and don’t use PVC adapters when using black poly).

2. What I ended up doing to resolve the problem

3. Sketches of the plumbing plan, plumbing wiring plan, and the other climate control (overhead heat, venting) for your reference.

 

 

1.      Replies:

 

I feel your pain.  We used pex for a heated table, keep the pex covered as much as possible and no issues after 3 years.  Anyway, that is not your situation.

 

At the risk of being simplistic, I wonder if you have seated the poly hose well enough onto the pvc fittings.  Try to get as many barbs into the hose as possible.  It is extra stiff this time of year, and a heat gun (like for stripping paint) can warm up the tube to a more flexible state, then cram the sombitch home.  Use a couple of radiator clamps on each junction.

 

Perhaps you have done this already, just my idea for a first step.

 

Next thing, perhaps the pvc barbs have cracked?  Are they tensioned or stressed?

 

Is your antifreeze mix right?  It is bloody cold.

 

I hate chasing leaks.

Raymond  the 200PSI 3/4 could be your problem.  While heating the pipe to install barbed fittings, the torch heat weakens the sidewalls of the pipe and channels are created when you install the barbed fitting.  Because it is 200 psi pipe the wall thickness is so great that regular worm clamps do not apply enough force to close the now grooved pipe fully around the fitting.  There are 2 solutions.  One  change to regular ASTM 3408 or 3608 pipe being in the 100 to 125 psi range.  This pipe with thinner side walls will close better with clamps.  Or the second use the pipe you have, cut or take out all the fittings you put in and reinstall them using LIQUID TEFLON. This product is the same as teflon tape but goes on as a paste and will fill the grooves you created inserting barbed fittings into the thicker walled pipe.   I sell this product in pint containers for $24, however if you need to find it locally the hardware store might have it, or home depot.  This stuff is like never seize, one can lasts a long time and it is good to use on all barbed and threaded fittings.    Hope this helps.

I’d avoid using poly barbs – the brass ones allow you to heat the fitting and and crimp the water line much more securely

 

Raymond, The problem with black poly is that it expands and contracts with temperature changes. The same with poly fittings. The best way to get a seal using poly pipe is to use brass fittings.  There is UV protected PEX that works but you must use the proper fittings. As long as you have an expansion tank with pressure safety valve(so you don’t get too high water pressure and blow everything apart) and water supply(either live water or a storage tank) a few drips are not a big issue.  I personally use all sweated copper for my germination house boiler system, with valves to drain it at the end of the season. ed.

We use Truleaf  products for bench heating,  They are in california.  Their bench heating kits work great.  We have had them for over 10 years.

 

The one thing that jumps out at me is the use of pvc barbs. If you use stainless barbs you can really clamp down on the black poly. Also, heat the poly as little as possible to start with a tighter fit. Good Luck.

Is that black poly good for hot water?  Maybe things are expanding with the heat.  I’ve usually used CPVC, which is a heat-rated version of PVC, or Pex, which I think you can get in a UV-rated version.  The Pex is so much easier to deal with than anything rigid.

 

its all sometimes very frustrating! try double hose clamping, using a good nut driver to really tighten.  many of those fittings are ever so slightly not the right dimension.  brass fittings sometimes the same. sometimes better.  best advice is to slightly warm the pipe end with a little butane/propane hand torch(don’t over do, just a quick couple of seconds, always moving). immediately put the fitting in and tighten.  the softened plastic allows you to really tighten more around the barbs. also, the lower psi piping is easier to work with….  ie 100psi, less black plastic that you are trying to compress.

 

 

Raymond, for the past five years we have used an excellent product from True Leaf Technologies in California. They sell their UV-protected tubes in 1000’ spools from which you can cut your own lengths. They  make an L-shaped barbed start that you insert into holes drilled into CPC or standard PVC pipe. Use the smallest drill bit and it will be leak-free. Very easy to order online.

 

2.    What I ended up doing:

 

I replumbed the house using the WIRSBO system PEX. ½ inch PEX fits nicely in ¾ inch 200 PSI black poly (it would also have fitted in lower grade black poly), taking care of the UV issue. Using a limited amount of black electrical tape to shield PEX that is not covered by black poly or insulation materials. Using plastic T-s, elbows and ¾ to ½ inch reducers. 30% glycol in the system for freeze protection. I considered getting the better metal adapters for the black poly, but those things are expensive! As I was initially planning on using PEX (but the guys at the plumbing supply place advised against it for reasons of UV exposure), I already mailordered quite some PEX fittings anyways, so that was sitting in a box while I was setting myself up for that black poly disaster.

The PEX does not leak, the 90 degree bent supports make for a very nice flow through the pipes, and everything is working fabulously.

 

3. Technical plans – someone asked to share the plans – they are attached greenhouse plumbing and wiring. They work for us – you may want to consult with a plumber and/or electrician if you are not confident with these kind of projects”

Raymond was also kind enough to share some pictures

Greenhouse bench layout

Greenhouse bench layout

The Radiant heat setup- Note on-demand flash water heater.

The Radiant heat setup- Note on-demand flash water heater.

The Germination chamber

The Germination chamber

Next week I’ll write about the advantages of radiant heat in benches for transplant houses.

 

NRCS webinar

I was privileged to be selected to give a webinar for the NRCS last week about high tunnel production. Webinars are hard to give, as you can’t see your audience or hear yourself, so feedback and feeling that you are connecting with your audience is tough.

We briefly covered high tunnel placement and construction, crop planning, and different crop production.

NRCS recorded the webinar. You can access that HERE.

 

Overall, it was a fun experience.

NOFA-MASS Seminar: Farm Profitability: Season Extension and Marketing for the Small Farm

Ben from NOFA_MASS recorded the sessions-

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/6pge57mfe5gahxr/hRkd5qaqIr

Session 1 – Farm overview, soil, fertility, disease, economics

Introduction: Soils, markets and finances at Kilpatrick Family Fam

Goals and Purpose of Year-Round Farming

Soil Health

Labs

Fertility management

Beneficial insects

Rowcover

Economics of High Tunnel Production

Economics of Winter Growing: budgets, depreciation and labor costs

Equipment

Cultivation

Mulch

SLIDES FROM SESSION 1

MASS 1

Mass 1 b

Session 2 – Farm Systems for Field Production, Tunnel Structure Intro

Washing and Packing Resources
Storage Facilities

Tunnel overview

Transplant/propagation houses
Soil
Greenhouses Manufacturers
Venting options

SLIDES FROM SESSION 2

MASS SE 2

Session 3 – Greens for tunnels and season extension
Irrigation, row cover and other tools of the trade

Seed suppliers

SLIDES FROM SESSION 3

MASS SE 3

Session 4  Marketing the Farm
The Why of Marketing
Educate the consumer

SLIDES FROM SESSION 4

MASS SE 4

Tips to prevent Spinach Diseases in Tunnels

 

The more we grow spinach in the greenhouses the more disease we get. A classic case for better rotation. But, with limited tunnel space and our customers unending need for spinach, we have to keep growing it. Cladosporium Cladosporium on spinach

Unidentified Spinach DiseaseUnidentified spinach disease, any ideas?

There are several ways that we have found to keep diseases to a minimum in the greenhouse. Many of these are just common sense but there are a few innovative tips out there as well.

  1. Keep humidity in the tunnel to a minimum. This may be the most important thing. Moisture in the soil or air helps with the spread of disease. If the inside of your plastic has water beading up on it, it is too wet. We keep our end vents open above 40 degrees as well as 2 small vents that stay open permanently.
  2. Avoid overhead watering or water early on a sunny day so plenty of time to dry out. Some growers have switched to drip, which they are finding works great.
  3. When disease does appear spray immediately to prevent spread. We usually hit it first with Oxidate, which helps kill spores. Then we will spray either Actinovate, which is a preventative group of good bacteria, or copper which protects the leaves and kills spores.
  4. Another way people are preventing disease is hot water treating seed. Many of the diseases come in on the seed, such as Fusarium or Cladosporium. Some extension services own hot water seed baths which they loan out to growers.

While researching diseases in our tunnels earlier this week, I came across this great resource about identifying spinach diseases.

http://www.seedalliance.org/uploads/pdf/SpinachDiseases.pdf

 

 

Moncton, NB Winter Growing Conference

I was super lucky to be asked to present at a 2 day winter growing conference in Moncton, New Brunswick earlier this week. Just where is Moncton?

One thing that was notable about the trip was the amount of snow they get. Even though they are in a similar growing zone (4b), they had between 4-5 ft of snow on the ground when I got there.

They asked me to do 3 talks, the first one on Greenhouse structures, prep, and soils. One interesting thing I learned is while we orient our houses for maximum sun exposure (east-west), they also have to worry about heading the houses into prevailing wind so that the wind blows the snow off the houses.

ACORN Tunnels

The second talk I gave was on succesion planting and profitability. Although we have run numbers on what crops make us per acre(return per year((RPY)), we don’t have numbers on return per week(RPW) of growing season. This is much more important when you are dealing with tunnels and every day needs to be making you money. Adam Montri of MSU did a talk on this this winter and I’m including the slides here as a resource.

ACORN succession planting

Economics of High Tunnel Production Adam Montri

The last talk I did, which was preceded by a delicious, locally sourced dinner, was on how we do season extension on the farm. This talk was open to those in the community and I tried to share how many of the principles could be done on a smaller, even garden scale.

ACORN SEASON EXTENSION

Throughout the day between sessions, there was great conversation had by all. I picked up some tips and tricks that other growers are using and can’t wait to impliment them this year on the farm.