Friday, November 9, 2012

Clearwater County gets its first Seasonal High Tunnel

The White family in their seasonal high tunnel this summer.

By Amber Brocke, Clearwater NRCS District Conservationist

In the past couple of years, recognition has been given to the benefits of locally grown produce. Many of you have likely seen information on the USDA People’s Garden and the movement towards locally grown produce and the numerous benefits it is having on communities.

Many people across the nation have chosen to take advantage of USDA programs that provide cost-share incentives to help address resource concerns within agricultural lands such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

As a part of the EQIP program, practices that help to extend the growing season of annually grown fruit and vegetable crops, such as a seasonal high tunnels, have been implemented across the nation and further support the idea of locally grown produce.

Longtime residents of Clearwater County, Jean and Bill White, were the first participants in the county to receive cost share assistance through EQIP to implement a seasonal high tunnel to extend the growing season of their fruit and vegetable crops.

In addition to the seasonal high tunnel, a micro-irrigation system was also implemented to increase the irrigation efficiency and allow the placement of the water directly in the root zone where the plants can utilize it. Less water is lost to evaporation and the health and vigor of plants that are grown within the seasonal high tunnel are greatly increased. The seasonal high tunnel in conjunction with other practices to address resource concerns can help to extend the growing season of crops by up to two weeks at each end.

The White’s, including Bill, Jean, and their son Terry, planted a variety of crops this year in the seasonal high tunnel including numerous varieties of tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, basil, squash, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, beans, and various flowers to attract pollinators. Crops will be rotated throughout the seasonal high tunnel to reduce pest pressure and address fertility in the soil.

This winter the Whites hope to grow cool season crops including kale, chard, and lettuce in the high tunnel. “We are pretty pleased with it,” said Bill White. Terry and Jean both commented on how they are “continually learning new things” with the high tunnel and how to manage the crops inside of it.

As of Nov. 6, the high tunnel was still producing broccoli, tomatoes, eggplants, and hot peppers. They are currently using passive heating techniques, such as compost and black plastic, to keep the temperature within the high tunnel up and the plants growing.

In addition to the seasonal high tunnel, the White’s have additional areas on their place where they grow corn, raspberries, gourds, fruit trees, grapes, and various other crops. As a result of program timing, the White’s were not able to assemble their seasonal high tunnel until the beginning of July 2012. The delay posed some challenges for them; however, they were able to work through them and had a very successful year with their vegetable and fruit production.

In addition to cost-share assistance to implement a seasonal high tunnel, multiple other practices can also be implemented to address resource concerns such as nutrient management, pest management, cover crops, and micro-irrigation systems.

Persons interested in applying for cost-share assistance through the EQIP program can submit an application to the local NRCS office, located in the Forest Service building at 12730 Highway 12, Orofino, ID 83544.

To be considered for 2013 funding, applications must be submitted prior to Friday, Nov. 16. For questions and more details about the EQIP program, please contact the Clearwater NRCS office at 476-5313, ext. 3.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (800) 795-3272 (voice), or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).

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