High tunnels are portable, greenhouse-like structures with a single or double layer of plastic that may or may not have heat, power, or ventilation (Wells, 1996). In this article, the term “high tunnels” is used to refer to greenhouses without supplemental heating.
Although tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) remains the most widely grown high tunnel crop in northern New England, bell pepper (Capsicum annuum) is also commonly grown in high tunnels (Carey et al., 2009; Fitzgerald and Hutton, 2012). In fact, a recent survey of high tunnel producers in the region found bell pepper to be the second most popular crop grown in tunnels (Sideman et al., 2016). Growers have reported greater yields and gross income for bell peppers grown in high tunnels compared with open field conditions (Fitzgerald and Hutton, 2012). This may be because tunnels lengthen the potential harvest season for green bell peppers and also facilitate production of ripe colored fruit, which is difficult in field conditions when the growing season is short.
In the northeastern United States, growers commonly use the same cultivars for field and high tunnel production, whereas in other regions of the world, cultivars selected specifically for greenhouse or high tunnel conditions are used. In 2015, seed suppliers in the United States began to offer and promote bell pepper cultivars that had been developed specifically for high tunnel and greenhouse production systems.
Several extension reports describe 1-year high tunnel bell pepper cultivar trials conducted in Iowa (Taber et al., 2009), Indiana (Maynard and Calsoyas, 2015), New York (Reid et al., 2011), and Pennsylvania (Bogash and Elkner, 2011). In northern New England, bell pepper cultivars have been compared under field conditions (Hutton and Handley, 2007), but performance of bell pepper cultivars in the high tunnel environment has not been described in the peer-reviewed literature.
This article reports the results of a 3-year study comparing bell pepper cultivars grown in high tunnel conditions. Specifically, we sought to compare colored fruit yields for several cultivars and to determine whether cultivars bred for greenhouse and tunnel conditions would outperform standard field cultivars (in terms of yield or production season) when grown in the high tunnel environment.
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