Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Extending the Growing Season

Rayburn High Tunnel ~ Hamilton, Kansas

Gene Rayburn is a cattle man, by trade. "I raised cattle. I grew feed for the cattle. But this is all new. I wanted to learn how to grow things, how to feed my family, how to be a little more... sustainable."

Rayburn put up his high tunnel two years ago and brought some of his product, gorgeous leaves of lettuce, to the indoor season of Emporia Farmers Market in 2010/11. The learning curve wasn't so much on how to actually get things to grow -- Gene seems to be naturally green thumbed -- but figuring out how to distribute so much produce once it was grown.

"I can grow enough to feed a lot of people," he said. "But people around here, they don't want to pay for it. They don't care that it's better than what is at the grocery store." 

The exception was tomatoes. "People will drive here to the house for tomatoes," he said. Following up on last year's greatest successes, he has filled his hoop house with tomato plants this year, and has lettuce lining only one side. There were more than several plants with small green bulbs already on tomato plants with healthy looking, thick green stalks. 

Rows of tomatoes inside Rayburn's High Tunnel. Young lettuce grows along the right side.

Rayburn should have ripe tomatoes early this season.

High tunnel is a word that has gotten a lot of press in recent years. I've also heard them called Hoop Houses. It's a greenhouse, of sorts, but it sits right on the ground. High tunnels are constructed of PVC pipe and covered with plastic. The idea is to extend the growing season here in Kansas where a typical April might still bring snow and freezing temperatures and October usually marks the end of a long season. The sides of a high tunnel can be rolled up to let in air as the temperatures warm or dropped all the way to the ground to keep out the cold.
Gene Rayburn harvesting baby Romaine lettuce from his high tunnel. 

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