Helpful Resources for Kenai Peninsula Farmers and Market Gardeners
Table Of Contents (click on a heading to jump to it):
- Local Networks
- High Tunnel Overview
- Soil Preparation – soil testing, soil building, soil quality
- Selecting Your High Tunnel
- Constructing Your High Tunnel
- Planning To Plant
- Tools And Equipment
- High Tunnel Management – Temperature vs. Humidity
- Business Planning And Marketing
“High Tunnels: Using Low-Cost Technology to Increase Yields, Improve Quality and Extend the Season” 72 pages of solid information on site and structure selection, construction tips, environmental management, soil and crop management, pest management, and marketing. Free download from University of Vermont Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Make sure to use clean implements, and dry your samples before sending them to the lab. The UAF Cooperative Extension publication, “Soil Sampling” provides step-by-step instructions.
Brookside Labs in Ohio provides low-cost soil tests with a quick turn-around time. Mail this form with your samples and payment. At the bottom of the page, choose “S001AN” for outdoor soils (standard N-P-K, pH, + available Nitrogen) or “S0005” for high tunnel or greenhouse soils (standard N-P-K, pH, + available Nitrogen, soluble salts). The cost is $24 per sample. To expedite the process, have the results emailed so you can easily forward them to NRCS or Cooperative Extension.
Labs that offer additional testing geared to organic growers (but don’t meet the NRCS requirement for Nutrient Management incentives) include:
If you are a participant in the EQIP program administered by NRCS, email your soil test results to Dave Ianson at NRCS. He will ask you to fill out an accompanying information sheet and forward it and your soil test result to a NRCS Soil Conservationist for analysis. Dave’s email is David.Ianson@ak.usda.gov and he can be reached by phone at 283-8732 ext 104.
If you are not an EQIP participant, you can get your soil test results interpreted at the local Cooperative Extension office by uploading at them with this handy form. (https://www.uaf.edu/ces/districts/kenai/agriculture-and-horticult/soil-test-interpretation/) The Cooperative Extension office is in Soldotna in the same building with ADF&G at 43961 K-Beach Road between Poppy Lane and Subway. If you need help, call the office at 262-5824.
- Earth Works, Soldotna, 262-9205 — topsoil mix
- Kenai Feed, 283-1929 — compost, peat, topsoil
- Matti’s Farm / Blair Martin, 252-8070 — compost
- Stuart Northup, Sterling, Mile 77.5, 262-6458 — peat/sand/topsoil mix
- TNT / Fritz Miller, 398-8851 — locally-made compost and planting medium for raised beds
Anchor Point Greenhouse, 235-7288 — peat, potting soil
- Alaska Mill & Feed, 276-6016 (For bulk orders, call 222-2047.)
- Alaska Sea-Ag sells a variety of amendments, including Alaska Fish Bone Fertilizer.
- Alaskan Organics, 262-5214 — organic fertilizers, fish bone meal
- Anchor Point Greenhouse, 235-7288
- The Central Peninsula Garden Club sells Sea-Ag fertilizer as an annual fundraiser.
- Cad-Re Feeds, Soldotna, 262-4698
- Ground Control Landscape Services, Homer, 235-1521
- Kenai Feed, 283-1929
- TNT / Fritz Miller, 398-8851, sells locally-made compost extract and fish fertilizer
There is a national organic certification program, and a variety of regional and alternatives. For information on USDA Organic certification, see the FAQ’s on “Becoming a Certified Operation”. NRCS can help with the planning and costs associated with transitioning to organic production. Contact Dave Ianson at David.Ianson@ak.usda.gov or 283-8732 ext 104. Some Kenai Peninsula growers have opted for the Certified Naturally Grown program.
This is one of the most frequently asked questions. In general, gothic-style high tunnels are more expensive, but are preferred for their snow-shedding ability. If you’re going to remove the plastic for winter, that’s not an issue. Regardless, choose a structure that has been shown to withstand your wind and snow conditions, and plan for regular snow removal if you keep it covered for the winter.
In addition to the space you have available, you’ll also want to consider how much time and effort you want to put into your high tunnel, both during the growing season and in terms of winter maintenance. The NRCS high tunnel program will cost-share up to 2178 square feet, e.g. 30’ by 72’. A high tunnel that size is a lot of work for the typical home gardener, and even commercial growers seem to prefer 20’-26’ wide structures. Keep in mind that a high tunnel is generally part of a growing system that includes greenhouse (for starts) and outdoor garden for the crops that thrive in Alaskan conditions.
According to the Cooperative Extension publication, “Controlling the Greenhouse Environment,” double layer polyethlene is 67% more efficient than a single layer. Typically, the layers are inflated with a small electric or solar-powered fan.
NRCS strongly recommends using drop-down or roll-up sides in order to achieve adequate ventilation. In some cases, big doors and high gable end vents provide enough air movement, but movable sides add a lot of flexibility. This feature can also be added after initial construction. Proponents of drop-down sides say they keep critters out and maintain warm air temperature at the soil surface. Proponents of roll-up sides say they facilitate weeding the perimeter of the high tunnel with a weed whacker or flame thrower.
Zippered ends have been consistently problematic. Other options include wood frame covered with plastic or polycarbonate. Door options include: single doors, double door with removable center post to allow tractor access, sliding barn door, double-fold “closet door.” Think about what equipment you will be using for bed preparation, planting, harvesting, etc., and plan accordingly. Venting options include: manual, solar-powered automatic, and electrically-powered automatic vents. Think about whether you will be around during the day to adjust the venting and temperature. If not, an automatic option is highly desirable.
This is not an exhaustive list, but they are the manufacturers that have proved the most popular in the Kenai Peninsula so far.
- Golden Pacific Structures www.gpstructures.com
- Grower’s Supply www.GrowersSupply.com
- Oregon Valley Greenhouses www.ovg.com
- Rimol Greenhouses www.rimolgreenhouses.com
The Palmer Experimental Farm chose Atlas Manufacturing when they put up their high tunnels: http://www.atlasgreenhouse.com
The high tunnel site should be accessible year-round (even during break-up) and be convenient to water and electricity (if desired). Good drainage is essential, and the site should be graded to divert water if necessary. The ideal site has full sun, good air flow in summer and protection from the wind in winter. Make sure there is room for snow removal on both sides. Do you need to plan for future expansion?
NRCS requires that you follow your manufacturer’s instructions. Here’s a good video series to walk you through a typical process in advance:
“Building a Hoophouse” Video Series from Michigan State University http://youtu.be/z5dyGHurXdA
If you don’t have previous experience with building construction, you might want to get help from another high tunnel grower or a contractor with high tunnel experience. Builder/high tunnel owners in the Kenai area include:
- Rupert Scribner 283-1929
- Calvin Yoder 953-2303
Ask around to find other resources.
- If possible, prepare your soil before construction, e.g. by leveling and planting a soil -building cover crop.
- Avoid compacting the soil with heavy equipment.
- Take care to build your structure SQUARE & LEVEL
- An air-powered post driver is handy for driving posts. Use a laser level or chalk line to make sure posts are level.
- Make a jig for assembling consistent bows, ideally on a flat open area.
- Consider 3′ instead of 4′ spacing of bows for a stronger structure.
- Cover seams in bows with tape (e.g. vapor barrier tape, or duct tape) so as not to rip the plastic.
- Stretch plastic on a calm day, ideally “not too hot, and not too cold.”
- Construction may take 2 to 3 times the manufacturer’s estimate. Don’t be surprised!
Local growers have been doing lots of experimenting to answer that question, and more data is needed. In general, high tunnel space is especially valuable for warm season crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, beans, corn, celery and melons, or cool season crops that you want to harvest early in the spring, or late in the fall.
- Homer Garden Club Variety Survey (2011)
- Kenai SWCD Varieties for High Tunnels (2011)
- Kenai CES 2010 Produce Variety List
- Alaska Fruit Tree and Berry Crop Trials http://www.uaf.edu/ces/ah/fruit-tree-trials/index.xml
- Growing Raspberries Fall to Spring with High Tunnels and Greenhouses http://www.hort.cornell.edu/grower/nybga/reports/greenhouseraspberries.pdf
- High Tunnel Primo-cane Raspberry Experiment http://hightunnels.cfans.umn.edu/08Conference/NCROC_HTRhandout.pdf
Tools and Supplies
Shop locally whenever you can, of course, but here are some on-line sources recommended by Kenai Peninsula Growers:
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds – wide variety of hand tools, seeders, seed-starting equipment, etc.
- Earth Tools Walk -Behind Tractors
- MechanicalTransplanter.com – good prices on plastic mulch and row cover
- GrowOrganic.com – the on-line home of Peaceful Valley
Installing drip irrigation with an automatic timer is one of the most effective steps you can can take to control humidity and prevent mold and fungus in your high tunnel. Good ventilation and not over-crowding plants help too. Sources of drip irrigation supplies:
- Ground Control Hydroponic & Garden Supply in Homer, 235-1521
- Anchor Point Greenhouse in Anchor Point, 235-7288
- Don Adams in Sterling, 394-6524 (Don also carries seed-starting supplies)
- Drip Depot
What do I need to meet NCRS requirements?
If you are in the NRCS cost-share program for irrigation management, you’ll need to a moisture meter to test moisture levels before and after watering. We’ve been hearing good things about Lincoln Soil Moisture Meters available at Forestry Suppliers. Unlike less expensive plastic alternatives, this meter can be calibrated. If you get one with a 24″ probe, you can get a reading without getting on your knees! An in-line flow meter built into your drip irrigation system is highly recommended for tracking water consumption. Options range from an inexpensive digital usage meter like this one to a flow and pressure in-line gauge like this one.
You’ll also want a matched set of thermometers for tracking indoor and outdoor soil and air temperatures. Some experienced growers suggest placing inexpensive thermometers all over your high tunnel to become familiar with with its temperature variations.
More info coming soon…
In Soldotna, contact Elaine Howell at soldotnasaturdayfarmersmarket.com for information about the Soldotna Saturday Farmers Market held Saturdays, 10 am – 2 pm at the corner of Kenai Spur Hwy. and E. Corral. For information about the Farmers Fresh Market at Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, held Tuesdays, 3 – 6 pm call 262-3111. Two additional outdoor markets welcome farmers and their produce. For information about Soldotna Wednesday Market at Soldotna Creek Park and the Old town Marketplace in Kenai, call Annette Villa at 252-7264. For information about the Nikiski Market Monday at Nikiski Hardware & Supply call Stacy Oliva at 776-7500.
If you have information about additional farmers markets on the Kenai Peninsula, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alaska Farm Services Agency Palmer Service Center (907) 761-7754
“Financing Your Farm: Guidance for Beginning Farmers” from ATTRA National Center for Appropriate Technology
- Resources for Beginning Farmers – Well written, downloadable publications on sustainable farming from ATTRA. Many are free.
- http://nebeginningfarmers.org/ Many on-line courses and video library.
- http://buildingfarmersinthewest.org/resources.html Resources include free business planning software and a workbook.
- http://nebeginningfarmers.org/videos/ Video Gallery
More to come…