Our new caterpillar tunnels will make all the difference!
First off, thank you NRCS for the all the help in allowing us to make these purchases of tunnels. A special shout out to Maria who worked very hard in helping me with the paperwork and putting up with my sometimes less than pleasant attitude (if you know what I mean). She was great!
I'm not sure when I first contact anyone about the hoop house program, but I remember what I heard; you've got two weeks to finish the paperwork and have it submitted and approved. Apparently, I waited too long to make that phone call. Nevertheless, it was on. So I hustled through the paperwork, submitted it, and had Maria come out to the farm for approval. Because we have two location, I was able to get approval for a hoop house at both places along with irrigation, crop rotation, and winter cover crops. I was beside myself with joy. This grant would allow us to take the space we had and utilize it from early spring (much earlier than we were able to do in the past) all the way through late fall. This extended growing season will mean all the difference at the markets next year, letting us sell our produce versus buying greenhouse produce from some of the local growers. That alone will help with the bottom line.
Instead of a traditional hoop house, I decided to invest in caterpillar tunnels from Farmer's Friend LLC. They come in two lengths: 50x14 and 100x14. They are easy to install about two; hours for the 100-foot model, are quickly moved to a different location and well made and durable. In addition to having a plastic (6 mil) cover, they also have the option for a shade cloth cover. Shade is less of an issue for most crops, but we are known for our Farmer's Mix lettuce, arugula, and spinach, and these types of plants do well with a little shade. More importantly, though, the shade cloth will also provide an excellent cover to protect everything from our typical Colorado hail storms. Two years ago we were wiped out after a big hail storm and barely missed being in the same boat this last year. There is no way we can ensure that hail won't batter our crop, even in a polycarbonate greenhouse if the hail is big enough it's going to do some real damage. At least with the tunnels, we have a fighting chance that the smaller hail will be less of an issue.
So this winter I'll be assembling hoops, measuring diagonals to square up the tunnels, driving rebar, and getting everything set up for a fast start at the farm and the house. If you are interested in more information about these tunnels, I'll include a link at the bottom of this post. I don't have any affiliate agreement with Farmer's Friend; I just think that they have some great products (I own many of them) and would recommend them to anyone. In the future, I'm sure I'll post more about the tunnels as things progress. If anyone would like to talk to me about my experience with them, I love to share, just contact me, and we'll discuss.