High tunnels extend Minnesota's growing season
Extension high tunnel research helps growers increase the quantity and variety of produce so Minnesotans can enjoy more locally grown food.
Early University of Minnesota Extension research on high tunnels has helped growers learn to build and use them for cold-climate fruit and vegetable production. Now the simple hoop houses also serve as a nursery for Extension horticultural research.
"The consistent weather inside of a high tunnel allows us to trial a larger variety of plants for more months out of the year," says Extension horticulture educator Terry Nennich, who helped bring high tunnels to Minnesota in 1999.
The University's first research high tunnels were built at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center in Crookston. By 2007, there were approximately 150 high tunnels in Minnesota; the state is now a national leader in this area with more than 800 in use.
While high tunnels are proven problem-solvers, they aren't without their challenges. Now, a
- getting beneficial insects like bees in, while keeping pests out
- growing warmer-climate foods, such as baby ginger, which has unique health benefits and appeals to local chefs
- working with tree fruit and other edible crops not normally grown successfully in cold climates
- improving plant metabolism to increase yields
- increasing phytonutrient levels of plants to increase health benefits
"High tunnels have extended the growing season in Minnesota, increasing farm-to-school programs and farmers markets," says Nennich. "Continuing research will make that food healthier, while boosting production and economic opportunities."