A little late due to Irene, but here’s the recap from the “Worry-less Winter Production” workshop at Kilpatrick Family Farm. Kilpatrick has had a lot of success using growing infrastructure and good storage techniques to extend their season. They currently have three CSA seasons: Summer (May – Oct), Fall (Nov-Dec), and Winter (Jan – March).
Growing Infrastructure at Kilpatrick
1. Heated High Tunnel: Used for greens in October, replant lettuce in January, plant tomatoes in April. Costs $4-10/square foot to instal. In-ground heat costs $5,000-7,000.Stands up to wind and snow if high quality (Rimol/Harnois); Large air mass, easier to grow in year round.
2. Transplant House: 17 ft x 48 ft. Used for all farm transplants and microgreens, back-up space for mesclun. Structure cost Kilpatrick $2,500 (used), but in hindsight they wish they had 30 ft x 50 ft with roll up sides. Transplant house has air and bench heat, they hoop the benches in the winter with several layers of row cover for heat retention. If you have heated benches, keep the water in the pipes under 120 degrees and put antifreeze in to protect it.
3. Haygrove: Used for three-season growing (early greens, summer crops, and then late greens).
4. Hoophouse: Used for summer tomatoes, peppers, winter spinach, kale, extension of other crops. Snowload can be damaging, especially in blizzard conditions. Gets colder compared to the high tunnel.
5. Mini-tunnels: Used for kale, spinach, chard, over wintered onions. Do NOT depend on them for product over winter. DO weigh down with a ton of sand bags. Labor intensive.
Basic Greenhouse Principles
- Test soil under covered structures twice a year (saturated medium test); organic matter kept at 4-8%
- Heat: Major goal is heating the soil, not the air; have a soil-heating system (1” pipes laid 18” under soil, propane takagi flash water heater) that can raise the soil temp 3 degrees overnight; sun is able to raise temp 5 degrees and the air temp 40 degrees when it’s clear out- we’re just supplementing the solar gain
- Venting For unheated houses, this is very important in the fall as it helps plants acclimatize/harden off (rapidly dropping temperatures will cause plant death, keeping cooler houses in the fall is more gradual than hot up until winter)
- Some say to not worry too much, it’s about average temperature rather than extremes; Others say always in the 50-60 degree external temp to keep air flowing and mitigate fluctuations
- Peak vents (up high in the end walls) for winter ventilation; Roll-up sides for spring, summer, fall
- Covering plants during winter: remove as soon as covers are no longer frozen in the AM, replace at about 4 or 5pm—this maximizes growth and minimizes disease; closely cover, but don’t let cover touch plant; plastic may have advantages, can use either plastic or rowcover- 90% growers using rowcover though.
- Watering: let plants dry out before night! Water seeds in and then water again only when soil looks very dry (sunny days in the early morning)
Some More Tips about Greenhouses
- Greenhouses are expensive (both the upfront cost and the maintenance if you want to heat), so use them to their fullest potential. Make sure the soil in them is awesome. Kilpatrick puts compost down in the spring and in the fall. Most folks suggest that you let the soil rest. You could do a summer cover crop.
- Ventilation is key with greenhouses. You need vents to help prevent diseases and molds. During the winter Kilpatrick looks for a sunny day in the 30’s. They’ll water in the morning, open up the house during the day to get out the humidity, and button it back down during the evening.
Kilpatrick modified a shipping container for their refrigerated storage: $15,000 investment (40′ x 8′ x 9′ container cost $5,000; Refrigeration cost $8,000; Wiring and misc associated costs equaled $2,000). It holds $60,000 worth of product.
Outfitted the container with a 3 HP condenser and two evaporators for humidity control (keep at 90%, hose down bags, then stack on pallets for organization). The container has stainless walls, slatted floors, and is moveable. It would be ideal to buy a low velocity evaporator for better retention of humidity. They keep it around 34-36 degrees F and throw gallons of water on floor to keep humidity high. In future they’ll move to a mist system.
*TIP: Know your crops, what kind of storage they need, and then create that environment. Some want cold dry (onions, garlic, shallots), some want warm wet, some cold and wet (beets, carrots, kohl rabi), etc.
Resources from Kilpatrick
High Mowing http://www.highmowingseeds.com/
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://www.southernexposure.com/
Territorial Seeds http://www.territorialseed.com/
Rimol Greenhouses http://www.rimolgreenhouses.com/
Harnois Greenhouses http://www.harnois.com/
Roeters Farm equipment http://www.roetersfarmequipment.com/
Takagi USA http://www.takagi.com/
Delta T Solutions http://www.deltatsolutions.com/
Nolts (717) 656-9764
M. Leonard http://www.amleo.com/Default.aspx
Picasa Web http://picasaweb.google.com/116401991299857685258
Video Presentations http://www.youtube.com/user/stihl441michael
Other Random Tips from the Workshop
- Kilpatrick uses a John Deere 5325 tractor with big tires for veggies. They found it used online. Recommended places to find used equipment:
Iron SearchMachine Finder
- Look at NRCS for high tunnel grants
- Winter production is important for Kilpatrick because it allows them to keep some of their farm crew full time, year round and also retains customers.
- Kilpatrick uses some interesting marketing. They offer recipe cards at their farmers market and have a weekly newsletter. Every shareholder gets a Kilpatrick shirt with their CSA. If they wear it to the market when they pick up their share they get a discount on veggies. They also have a “try it for a week” no-obligation CSA so folks can decide if they want it or not.
Want more material from Kilpatrick Family Farm? Check out their pictures and videos (some from other workshops) on their website: http://www.kilpatrickfamilyfarm.com/Media.html