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  • Author or Editor: Daniel Drost x
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High tunnels have been used successfully in many areas of the world to extend the growing season for numerous crops. However, very little research has been conducted to evaluate the season extension benefits offered by high tunnels for small fruit crops in high-elevation growing areas such as the Intermountain West region of the United States. The use of high tunnels was investigated in North Logan, UT (lat. 41.766 N, elev. 1405 m, 119 freeze-free days) to extend the growing season for June-bearing strawberries. Growing systems included a fall-planted annual hill system and vertical growing systems in two different orientations. Optimum planting date for each system was determined by transplanting ‘Chandler’ plugs at 2-week intervals over 10 weeks. For the second year of the study, a field planting was also included. Over two seasons, the optimum planting dates were approximately the first week of September. The vertical systems were more susceptible to winter injury likely resulting from the temperature extremes in the root zone. Where winter injury was prevented, the vertical systems had higher yields per tunnel area than the in-ground system, but yield increases did not compensate for higher construction and management costs. The production window for the in-ground high tunnel planting was ≈4 weeks earlier than the field-grown plants and increased profitability by $13/m2 of tunnel area.

Free access

Paeonia lactiflora is a high-value crop with a temperature-dependent growth response that requires worldwide production to satisfy year-round demand. The objective of this study was to evaluate production and timing of ‘Coral Charm’ peony as a cool-season crop in the US Intermountain West. High-tunnel and field production were trialed in North Logan, UT, USA (lat. 41.77°N, long. 111.81°W; elevation, 1382 m) with the addition of low tunnels and soil heating methods to advance growth in 2019–21. Soil and air temperatures, as well as the date and quality of harvested stems, were measured. High tunnels yielded 15.7 ± 3.3 to 19.4 ± 2.1 stems/m2 [± standard error (SE)] and the high tunnel alone advanced initial harvest 21 to 34 days earlier than natural field conditions. The field yielded 16.1 ± 1.9 to 20.8 ± 1.6 stems/m2 and staggered production, resulting in a harvest duration up to 38 days across the high tunnel and field. The use of a low tunnel with soil heating advanced the initial harvest date compared with natural (i.e., unmanipulated) high-tunnel and field conditions by 3 and 7 days in 2019, 6 days in 2020, and 16 and 6 days in 2021 in the high tunnel and field, respectively. However, the quality decreased significantly under low tunnels with soil heating within high tunnels, compared with unheated plants, as a result of superoptimal temperatures and humidity that damaged buds and led to an increase in disease and insect pressure. Overall, increasing soil temperature advanced early stages of production when the meristem was below or near the soil surface, whereas increased air temperatures accelerated stem elongation and advanced time to flowering.

Open Access

Seed germination timing strategies and seedling growth characteristics in wild populations have evolved in response to their life history, ecology, and habitat. In this study, we examined the ecophysiological aspects of seed germination and growth in three Allium species native to the Intermountain West (A. acuminatum, A. brandegei, and A. passeyi). Three populations of each species were studied along an elevation gradient resulting in low, mid, and high elevation sites for each species. We investigated seed dormancy patterns within and among species and their relation to habitat. Seeds collected at the study sites were subjected to cold (3 °C) moist stratification in low light to simulate the natural winter environment under snow. Stratification periods ranged from 0 to 24 weeks. After stratification, seeds were placed in lighted growth chambers at 8 °C to simulate the natural spring environment. Germination was observed for 4 weeks. Germinated seeds were then grown at either 12 °C or 16 °C until leaf senescence. Destructive sampling occurred at 2, 4, and 8 weeks. Bulb mass and water content were also assessed after leaf senescence. In the germination experiment, all species responded favorably to cold moist stratification, suggesting physiological seed dormancy. Germination percentages among species varied greatly with 98% germination in A. acuminatum, but only 33% in A. brandegei. Seedling survival and growth varied among species and in response to growing temperature. Observed patterns in seed germination and growth are typical of survival strategies in other spring ephemerals. Seed dormancy traits and seedling growth characteristics in these species have evolved to allow optimal success for their specific habitat.

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Strawberry production in the U.S. Intermountain West is limited by harsh climatic conditions and competition from domestic producers and imports. Using season extension methods to combat climatic conditions may be effective but generally increases production costs. This study evaluates the economic returns to implementing high tunnels, low tunnels, and in-ground supplemental heating to strawberry production (Seascape and Chandler cultivars) in northern Utah. The high tunnel provided a net return of $1,943.57 or $15,548.56 per hectare assuming eight high tunnels per hectare. The addition of low tunnels within the high tunnel led to a positive increase in net returns for ‘Seascape’ but not for ‘Chandler’ production. Supplemental in-ground heating increased net returns by up to 50% for both cultivars, primarily as a result of higher pre-season yield and market pricing. Study results find that season extension technologies can successfully increase net returns to strawberry production through early and increased yields, when strawberries are sold primarily through local direct markets.

Free access