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High tunnel gardening grows in popularity

High tunnel gardening is a way to extend the growing season.

Nearly every gardener who fights with the Minnesota cold each year in order to grow a decent crop would probably like the ability to nearly double their growing season in length.

Through the use of a “high tunnel,” Park Rapids residents were taught how to do just that on Tuesday, April 29 at the Northwoods Bank community room.

The event featured a program presentation, free to all who participated, that began at 6 p.m. and featured information on high tunnels, structures, site selection and environment, crop layout and planting methods, water management and soil fertility, disease and pest management, organic production and the basic economics of production.

A “high tunnel” can best be described as a “DIY” or “makeshift” greenhouse, often constructed by a sole person through the use of common construction materials such as PVC piping, plastic sheeting and wood.

Essentially, once constructed the structure is able to effectively mimic a greenhouse, trapping heat and providing sunlight to crops that are growing. A high tunnel also allows the gardener to monitor other factors such as water level and PH balance, while controlling the environment that plants are growing in.

The event, which was highly attended by nearly 70 people, originated from a single person asking for help.

“A gentleman from Hubbard County who had a high tunnel had called me and needed help on managing and planting in his high tunnel. I connected him with the 4-H kids, who are also here tonight. (4-H participants) were all excited to do their fundraiser of vegetables over the summer, but came to us and said, ‘We don’t know anything about growing in a high tunnel. Can you teach us?’ The light bulb went on, and I said, ‘OK,’ I think I might know the right person,” said Sally Shearer, program coordinator for the Hubbard County Extension program.

The “right person” was University of Minnesota Extension Educator and Master Gardener Terry Nennich, the program’s main speaker of the evening.

“(Nennich) is a professor at the U of M and he teaches agriculture. He has been in the high tunnel production for easily 15 years, if not more. Our county commissioners wanted to give back to the citizen’s for what they give to the county, so we’re giving them education. They gave me three initiatives to do; they told me to teach people sustainable farming, teach people about nutrition, and teach people about water quality. Part of the sustainable farming is growing vegetables and high tunneling,” Shearer said.

“Growing vegetables and gardening is very important – you have to be able to eat. It’s very enlightening to see the response and see how into it people are.”

Some of the attendees included members of the 4-H Park Rapids Pinecones, as well as other community members interested in either beginning a high tunnel, learning more, or perfecting their technique.

“We have one high tunnel and also a garden in addition to it. A lot of the crops we can plant early, and they will get a good start; they also last a long time,” said Norm Leistikow. He and his wife Martha started their first high tunnel four years ago and found themselves liking the method.

“We extended our growing period through October and we start in the first part of March. It’s a really good way of extending the growing season. And just for your own use, you can grow a tremendous amount of vegetables. You can’t ever learn enough, there’s always something more you can learn,” Leistikow said.

“The thing about the spinach coming out of the high tunnel is it tastes better,” said Martha. “The plastic keeps the moisture in much better.”

“We have a project that we’re doing this summer with 4-H in which we are going to be using a high tunnel that was donated to us for use over the summer, so we wanted to learn how,” said Carmen Arellano, an adult volunteer for the Park Rapids 4-H Pinecones whose group teaches students grades elementary through high school about gardening and other techniques.

“We want to teach kids throughout the year about what they’re putting in their bodies, and about organic gardening. I think kids need to know where their food comes from and what’s all involved with the farmers who had to raise it,” said Arellano.

For information on future programs, call the Hubbard County Extension Office at 732-0046.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364