Making the Year Longer

by Gary Mount

greenhouse lettuceFarmers are never, ever satisfied with the weather—no surprise there, right? I am part of this disaffection with the weather and I apply it to the inevitable change of the seasons as well. I am so often frustrated that once our harvest is finally progressing smoothly and our marketing is succeeding (i.e., customers are coming), the season changes and the grim reaper visits the farm (grim reaper is the way that I refer to cold, crop killing, weather.) Crops are killed, harvest stops. Oh Darn!

Over many years, we have searched for ways to combat the “reaper” and keep harvest going. Some years ago, we had a wonderful young woman working with us, Lucy Gatchell, who was really, really interested in flower growing. We followed her interest by building an all season, heated greenhouse in order to grow not only our vegetable transplants in the spring, but also daffodils, tulips and freesia in the winter. The greenhouse became a great success and Lucy was happy. AND, extra greenhouse space encouraged us to grow lettuce over the winter. We continue winter lettuce every year—our growing year has become longer and now it never stops.

There was a limit to the longer season. We had just one crop and we needed more. By good chance, the concept of “high tunnels” recently became popular with crop advisors around the country. High tunnels are unheated greenhouse like structures, with no fans or lights and which are placed right on the soil in which the crops are grown. What a great idea.

We now have six high tunnels, each about 30 ft by 100 ft. The crops we grow not only make our year longer but—please excuse—wider. Kale, spinach, lettuce, chard, herbs, radish and salad mix. Planting is done in September and harvest is all winter. The tunnels are terrific. They have to be strong

enough to survive storms and snowfalls. The plastic cover allows the crops to survive the cold and on sunny days, interior temperatures are controlled by rolling up the sides. The year of our first tunnel, we picked fresh greens all winter long—right up to the beginning of our normal, spring crops.

Our “wider” season does not give us crops like tomatoes and peppers all winter but to my delight, Terhune’s season of these crops is stretched on both ends. We can plant tomatoes and peppers in the tunnels earlier than we can outside and keep harvesting later as the tunnels help the plants avoid the “reaper”.

Terhune Orchards is open all year. We go to farmers markets every week. How grand to have our own, just picked produce. When winter comes and the grim reaper visits, don’t give up on us. Our greenhouses and tunnels are full!

high tunnels