Choosing Hoop House Crops

brgcuviOctober 7, 2013

Our first hoop house will be going up in a couple of months (14x95). We grow a decent selection of fruits / veggies but I'm still debating on which to designate in the new hoop house. For those of you growing in hoop houses, which crops do you find benefit most from being in the house?

In reading many posts I see that quite a few of you grow/sell several Brassica varieties. Do you find that the return they bring is worth the effort/space required to grow them? Broccoli. Do you sell just the center heads (like Cauliflower) or do you also pick & sell the smaller side shoots.

Also, I found a link in this forum some time ago that showed a hoop house home-made out of PVC. I cannot locate the link, if anyone has it would you mind to re-post? If familiar with this option, has anyone built and used in snow prone areas? If so, how did it hold up under snow load?

Anna

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randy41_1

when i choose what to grow inside i look first at the potential return per foot of a particular crop. the top 2 for me so far are tomatoes and strawberries. the biggest difference between growing outside and in from my experience is how much more marketable yield there is from inside grown crops.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 6:02AM
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boulderbelt(5/6)

This depends on when you use the hoop house. On my farm we use them in winter, so the crops are things that grow well in winter-kale, leeks, spinach, lettuce, radishes, spring mix, etc..

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 7:14AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

On your other question, I definitely let broccoli keep going for side shoots and get tons but few people do that really.

I think it is indeed hard to know what will be worth it in your area. Spinach is generally a good choice. I would think crops that can be harvested and another put in the space would be good. But I have read strawberries are the most profitable high tunnel crop.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 9:07AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Personally I don't find Broccoli worth the time or effort in the spring. In the fall/winter it does better in our climate. I have always been able to sell our cauliflower, but broccoli never seems to sell well.

About high tunnel crops, you can grow any crops in a high tunnel you want, some will be more profitable, other will not. Now I wouldn't load up a high tunnel with Sweet Corn, Pumpkins and Okra, that wouldn't pay out very well, unless you were in Alaska where I hear a pumpkin can bring a pretty hefty price.

We use our high tunnel space to give us a longer window of production and to be the first or last to market with many crops. Tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions, and spring greens to name a few.

I have built my own PVC tunnels, if you search Gardenweb for jrslick and high tunnel or pvc tunnel you will find all the posts I have made about them.

Jay

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 9:46AM
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cole_robbie(6)

'Grow what you can sell' is the general rule. Early tomatoes are gold; they will always sell. Tomatoes are by far the #1 high tunnel crop.

I'm hoping to finish my second high tunnel of top rail this winter, and I'm going to add some cucumbers to my tomato crop. Parthenocarpic varieties like Sweet Success and Diva are what I will be growing. I grow them in containers now, but they get root-bound and quit on me after the first crop comes in.

I'm also interested in high tunnel raspberries, but it takes a bit longer to re-coup the initial investment.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 1:30PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Also, don't forget about Parthenocarpic Zucchini. It is a crazy fast crop and the labor involved is far less than tomatoes. We are usually selling zucchini 30-35 days after transplanting, usually transplant early April, picking by early May. We get $1 a zucchini for many weeks in a row.

Also, if you can get people hooked on them, Parthenocarpic little cucumbers, Vertina and Excelssior from Johnny's are what I grow. There are others too. THey out produce slicing cucumbers and are ready in 40-45 days after transplanting.

Jay

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 2:54PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

Thanks for the tips.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2013 at 8:57PM
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2ajsmama

HT berries sound interesting - though I think a low tunnel is good enough for strawberries. Problem is excluding the SWD while allowing pollinators.

Parthenocarpic zukes sound interesting - the SVB got my zukes this year (though Early Prolific Straightneck is still going, not a lot but still getting fruit!)

I'm thinking also maybe just low tunnel/covers for starting tomatoes early - the early ones will sell, but is it worth devoting HT space to them? Tomatoes are still producing now (after a late start this year) but no one's buying. Maybe in a couple of weeks (after the first frost) they'll be interested again but I think customers at last market (9/25) were "tomatoed out" since all I sold was Cherokee Purples (marked down to $3/lb instead of my usual $4 - and certified organic farm was trying to sell Mountain Fresh at $4/lb!). I was trying to sell mine to another organic farm down the road with a big store on main highway, he won't even take pastes/plums and would only give me $2/lb for heirlooms, $1.75 for hybrids, says business is really tapering off, he can sell the purples, blacks, some pinks since his HT tomatoes are ending (?) but is having to mark a lot down for "canning" now since they're not selling in good time.

Unusual that we haven't had a frost yet (with a couple of scares in early Sept that got me to pick early and ripen in basement), the hybrids are a good size, loaded but still green, cherries are going crazy, heirlooms are ending but Cosmonaut Volkov that looked terrible the past 2 months (diseased, I kept trying to pick off spotted leaves and they were practically defoliated) are now getting new suckers and look great! Obviously not enough time for any new fruit to ripen, but my volunteer BW in the corner of the compost bin has fist-sized fruit on it!

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 8:54AM
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cole_robbie(6)

Wow, I never get more than $2.50 a pound for tomatoes, even in the early spring.

This was my first year with the high tunnel, and I estimate 2/3 of my plants were either a wrong variety, or got broken off and killed by strong winds due to not supporting them well enough. So I'm thinking that my 18x48 high tunnel will produce about $1,500 worth of tomatoes in the two month season. I'm also going to plant more indeterminates next year; even though garden tomatoes come in by July, the high tunnel tomatoes are still more attractive, with fewer splits and bug bites. I think $2,000 in a spring/summer is feasible. That is more than the high tunnel cost to build, which would be in line with what I have read, a high tunnel of tomatoes should pay for itself the first year. If I can build one per year, within a decade, I might have enough income to approach what the government calls "the poverty level" :)

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 3:57PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

Cole,

I forget where you are located. We started out the year at $3.50 a pound for tomatoes. It was such a cold, late spring home gardeners tomatoes weren't ready until the end of July/early August. We held $3.00 a pound until the first week of August. The dropped to $2.50 a pound until the last week in September. Now the demand has dropped some, and supplies are still high. We are at $2.00 a pound and I will not go any lower.

High tunnel tomatoes are the most profitable crop, especially early ones. However, I have found that they are nicer looking than outside tomatoes and people first buy with their eyes. If it looks good, then it is good. I don't care if you have the best flavored tomato around. If they are all split up with bug bites, then they will never sell.

About $$, in an 18 by 48, you could plant 4 double rows of determinates, spaced two feet apart, with a population of 192 plants per tunnel. Those 192 plants, with a very conservative yield of 10 pounds per plant, yields 1,920 pounds. At $2. a pound, that is $3,840.

Even if you only planted 4 single rows of Indeterminates planted 18 inches apart (about as tight as you would want to go), gives you 128 plants, at 1,280 pounds and $2,560 gross income.

I would double or triple that yield estimate and you will see that if you have the market for tomatoes, why they are one of the most profitable crops.

Then you can tear them all out and plant lettuce for the winter and sell it for a good price too.

Just my $0.02!

Jay

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 4:24PM
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2ajsmama

This year the problem was so much splitting or bug bites (except some stink bugs on the heirlooms) it was the late season and catfacing due to the weird temp extremes.

Organic heirlooms usually go for $3.50-$4/lb here at the peak of the season, early ones don't really go any higher than $4 at market (which starts in June) but early (June) and late (like now) I see them for $5 in the grocery store. Guy with the farm store is selling his for $3.50/lb now but was $5/lb early, he grows in pots in the HT and prunes to a single stem, so he's not getting many now, that's why he said he'd take any heirlooms I had for $2/lb (but I don't have too much since last week).

I have to check my records, but I don't think I sold any paste/plum tomatoes at all this year and those (Grandma Mary's) were among the better producers - where last year I sold all the Speckled Romans I could grow (the GM produced more). Then again, last year I had people asking for Brandywine by name, this year (different market) I sold a few but really it was the purple/blacks that were selling, and one lady asked for yellow. Amazing how markets in towns less than 20 miles apart can be so different.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 7:03PM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I don't sell many tomatoes because no one sells them at our market, BUT many people will not buy the blemish free high tunnel tomatoes and prefer my nice but obviously homegrown heirlooms. I sell for $3 a quart now since 2009. It is ridiculously low and will go up if I get into another market. Because I think the basket is close to 2#. I sell boxes of tomatoes for maybe $1per pound. Anyway my point is that you would think customers would want the perfect high tunnel tomatoes but when it comes to tomatoes they want something that looks tasty but still is near perfect.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2013 at 11:33PM
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cole_robbie(6)

Thanks, Jay. I will try for four rows next year instead of three. It is your high tunnel design that I copied in the first place, so obviously I trust you on the layout.

Do you have a variety pick for a red determinate slicer? I have everything but that one picked out. I had great luck with Taxi as a yellow, Orange Blossom as an orange, Terrenzo as a determinate cherry, and Northern Delight as a saladette, as well as Big Beef as an indeterminate red slicer. I am also going to follow your lead again next year and plant a few Cherokee Purple in the high tunnel as well.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 4:37AM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

The Cherokee purples are a good choice, my only issue with them is that most years they almost stop production mid summer. If you succession plant them, inside then again some outside you will be able to keep them producing. The plants look good, bloom, but the blooms don't set very well in high heat that we have had the last several years. Also they will be your first producer every year!

For a determinate red slicer, I like the BHN varieties. I haven't had one that wasn't good. I also really like Florida 91. It is a little later maturing, 72 days, but it can really crank out big slicing tomatoes and they taste good too (My customers saying this, not me). I also like Polbig. It is a very short tomato plant. You will be on your hands and knees picking them. With that said, it is an earlier maturing variety that is super productive too.

If you like Orange Blossom, BHN 871 is much better, IMO. I have grown Orange Blossom, but wasn't 100% satisfied.

Jay

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 2:54PM
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boulderbelt(5/6)

I am thinking of growing ginger in our new high tunnel next spring. that is usually a very popular crops and local ginger in the Midwest os very unexpected.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 8:06PM
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cole_robbie(6)

Thanks again, Jay. Orange Blossom was my best variety of all; the plants set so many fruit that they collapsed under the weight. And I liked the taste. I had an older BHN red cherry that was a poor performer, and I have not had much luck with Polbig. I will definitely try the Florida 91 and look for some determinate red slicers in the BHN varieties. And I'll plant the BHN 871 as well, to see how it does next to Orange Blossom.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2013 at 10:08PM
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randy41_1

ginger is probably the only tunnel grown crop that yields more $ per foot than tomatoes. its on my list to grow too. just need more space. more time. more energy.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 5:28AM
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2ajsmama

Hmm, I wonder if there's a market here for that much ginger - maybe restaurants?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 4:53PM
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boulderbelt(5/6)

The last time I grew it, I did not grow much maybe 10 pounds and it was sold within an hour of getting to the farmers market and I believe for $10 a pound. I could have easily sold 10x what I brought just at market in one day as everyone wanted some and the ones who did not get any were very disappointed.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2013 at 4:01AM
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2ajsmama

I thought the same thing about edamame after doing a trial planting last year - no one wanted it this year. I think it depends on the market.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 11:37AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

After getting the Dixondale catalog yesterday I was wondering if growing short day onions up north in winter was possible. In a high tunnel I mean. Onions are my most profitable crop. I would be cool to have big sweet onions in early May.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 8:28PM
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jrslick (North Central Kansas, Zone 5B)

I did that last year Minnie. I won't say it wasn't successful, but I had lots of problems with bolting. It was also the latest spring we have had and one of the coldest. I planted them in late February. Another reason I did this was our little one was born in March. I knew I was going to be stretched very thin to get things planted, so I just went for it.

They did produce some bigger onions, but the Superstar were just as big, almost as early too. If I did it again, I wouldn't plant as many.

Jay

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 11:34PM
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randy41_1

i grew a bed of onions and beets in a high tunnel last year...about 30'. i direct seeded the beets in november and transplanted onions i had started in a flat. i was the only vendor with beets and green onions in very early spring last year. the onions were not short day onions. i did the same this year but on a bigger scale (45' bed, beets 3 across) and a seperate bed for onions. in spring everyone has greens but few have root crops.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 5:49AM
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little_minnie(zone 4a)

I found this study on onions.

What I wonder about is short day onions that would be growing down south uncovered and how they would do up north in a high tunnel.

Here is a link that might be useful: UMass study

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 10:29PM
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