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A Minimalist Approach to Ensuring Fall Through Spring Vegetable Harvests

Interest in marketing locally-grown, freshly-harvested vegetables fall through spring is strong and increasing among high tunnel growers in the Midwest, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South, and Northeast. Scanning the agendas of industry meetings and listening to growers and others in these areas makes clear that fall through spring harvest and marketing of high tunnel-grown crops is an established and increasingly common practice. Importantly, some growers have transitioned to cash cropping their high tunnels only fall through spring and leaving summer to grow cover crops and focus on other priorities, including field-based production. Conversations with and public presentations by these growers and other experts make clear that fall through spring income from high tunnel production can be significant if the correct crops and varieties are chosen and suitable practices are used.

We have long wondered which crops, varieties, and practices may be ideal for Ohio high tunnel growers looking to harvest fall through spring. Much of our previous research focused on a relatively small number of crops and the use of various tools and practices (e.g., films, fabrics, and/or soil heating). Our goal was to describe potential production outcomes when high tunnel growers invested in the process to various levels. Results from those experiments suggest that yields are likely to be greatest when investments are also highest, for example, when soil heating, plastic films, and row covers and the effort to maximize their utility are used. Those studies were summarized previously in this blog.

We are asking a different question in Winter 2023-2024. As the three panels below describe, seven crops were seeded in two high tunnels in October-2023 and grown without any supplemental heating, films, or row covers. This “minimalist” approach explores the worst-case scenario, the minimum that can be expected from these crops under the conditions they have experienced since seeding. This approach may appeal to growers unfamiliar with fall through spring production and/or those who are unwilling or unable to invest much time, money, or effort in it, at least at this time. The test outlined below is one example of what can be expected but many others exist. Of course, different outcomes may be possible when other varieties, planting dates, and growing practices are used. Upcoming evaluations will push the “minimalist” approach further as all crops capable of being grown and harvested fall through spring do not require a high tunnel.

Source : osu.edu

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