This article is part of a 4-part feature on Untiedt's Vegetable Farm, one of our local Minnesota Grown farmers. Click here to read from the beginning.
In addition to being a farmer, educator and businessman, Jerry Untiedt is part chemist, zoologist, botanist, politician, engineer and tech enthusiast. While that tech may not fit in the pocket of a pair of coveralls, it's way more useful and way, way more expensive.
High tunnels present the epitome in high-tech specialty crop agriculture these days, and while they are new (and uninsurable as of yet) in our country, they’ve been employed in Europe for some time. These tall metal structures tightly covered with lightweight polyethylene protect crops from the natural elements and produce plant-friendly microclimates. Tunnels are kept tightly closed during the early beginning and late ending of the season to trap heat, reducing the risk of a hard frost and raising the soil temperature for optimal growing conditions. By creating an environment to retain natural solar energy (otherwise known as heat), spring arrives three weeks earlier than normal and fall departs three weeks later. The end results are earlier planting and longer harvests, meaning more locally grown products available earlier and longer than similar crops grown in traditional ways.
The use of drip irrigation lines in the tunnels allow conservation of water resources by only watering a narrow area alongside each plant, leaving the aisles dry and unwatered. Traditional irrigation wets the entire area of the tunnel or field. Combined with mulch, drip lines conserve precious water, positively increase soil temperature and substantially prevent weed growth. When weeds do grow, every square foot of high tunnel area is weeded by hand. Untiedt's never uses herbicides in the tunnels - EVER!
Other benefits of high tunnel production include:
- protection of the soils through decreased nutrient leaching and reduced soil erosion
- risk reduction in the form of protection from strong winds, hail and torrential downpours
- protection from harmful insects, which substantially reduces the need to apply low-toxicity pesticides