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  • Author or Editor: William J. Lamont Jr. x
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High tunnels offer growers in temperate regions the ability to extend the production season. Past research has shown that these low-input structures also reduce disease and pest pressure. These characteristics make high tunnels extremely attractive to organic growers. Tomatoes (Lycopersiconesculentum Mill.) are the crop most often produced in high tunnels in Pennsylvania and many producers are interested in combining both high tunnel and organic production methods. Growers may be hesitant to transition to organic production due to conceptions concerning reduced yields specifically during the 3-year transition period to USDA certified organic status. A field trial investigating tomato production in high tunnels during the first year of organic transitioning was conducted in 2004 at The Penn State Center for Plasticulture, Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center, Rock Springs, Pa. The objective of this research was to evaluate yield of the four cultivars Big Beef, Mountain Fresh, Plum Crimson, and Pink Beauty in an organic system relative to a scheduled fertilization/irrigation regime and a fertilization/irrigation regime employed using T-Systems International's Integrated Agronomic Technology. Data collected included total weight, total fruit number, weight by grade, fruit number by grade, total marketable yield, and fertilizer and water usage. Yield across cultivars ranged from 4.96 kg/plant to 6.83 kg/plant. `Pink Beauty' exhibited the lowest yields in both treatments, while `Plum Crimson' and `Mountain Fresh' exhibited the highest yields in the IAT and scheduled treatments, respectively. This experiment will be repeated in 2005 to further evaluate the performance of these cultivars.

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Mulches usable in organic production were evaluated in high tunnels for their ability to suppress weeds. Mulch treatments were shredded newspaper, sheets of newspaper, straw, and a no-mulch control that was weeded once. Four cucumber (Cucumis sativus) cultivars were also evaluated. Yields were highest and fruit largest from ‘Sweet Marketmore’ and lowest from ‘Lemon’. Yields were unaffected by mulch treatments. Weed populations were highest in control plots and lowest in those with shredded newspaper. Cultivars did not affect weed populations. Sheets of newspaper degraded the most, followed by shredded newspaper and straw. Yields were not influenced by any mulch treatment, indicating weed populations remained below yield-depressing levels regardless of treatment.

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Plasticulture technology, especially high tunnels for extending the production period of a wide variety of horticultural crops, is an accepted production practice worldwide. In particular, high tunnels offer a production system that minimizes the effect of the environment on crop production and allows growers to continue to farm in densely populated areas. Only recently has the use of high tunnels in the U.S. been investigated and this research has been centered in the northeastern U.S. In 1999 the High Tunnel Research and Education Facility was established at Pennsylvania State University that resulted in the development of a unique high tunnel design. A detailed description of the new design and construction is presented in this report.

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To provide growers with regional and statewide recommendations, 23 cultivars of bicolor and white synergistic sweet corn (Zea mays) were evaluated in southwestern, central, and southeastern Pennsylvania. ‘Temptation’ was the standard. Despite differing production practices used in all locations, all cultivars were not different or produced more marketable primary ears compared with Temptation. Paydirt was the only cultivar to produce lower marketable yields by weight than Temptation in 2 site years or more. However, ‘Paydirt’ has an early maturity, which improves its acceptability. Very few ears were unmarketable. In terms of ear size, measured as diameter and length, overall all cultivars were not different from Temptation. ‘Temptation’ is early maturing and ear size was expected to be smaller than later maturing cultivars. This was not observed. Ease of hand harvesting was determined by measuring two factors: distance from the base of the primary ear to the soil line and ease of picking (1–5 rating scale where 1 = difficult and 5 = easy). The closer the primary ear was to the soil line was thought to be more difficult to harvest. ‘Synergy’, ‘Espresso’, ‘Kristine’, and ‘Paydirt’ ears were lower than ‘Temptation’ on the culm in 2 site years or more. ‘Whiteout’, ‘Synergy’, and ‘Mattapoisett’ were rated as more difficult to pick than ‘Temptation’ in 2 site years or more. Distance from the soil line to the primary ear and picking ease ratings were not observed to be closely related to each other and a combination of these and other factors may more accurately reflect the ease of hand harvesting. Overall, growers in our region have access to a lot of synergistic sweet corn cultivars with acceptable yield, quality, and ease of hand harvesting characteristics giving them a wide range of options.

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The Center for Plasticulture's High Tunnel Research and Education Facility was established at Pennsylvania State University in 1999. Since its inception, applied research has been conducted at this facility by a team of researchers and extension specialists on the development of a new high tunnel design. The development of crop production recommendations for vegetables, small fruits, tree fruits and cut flowers grown in high tunnels has been a priority. To complement the applied research program, an aggressive extension education program was developed to extend information on the technology of high tunnels to county extension personnel, growers, industry representatives, students, master gardeners and the general public. The extension programming effort consisting of demonstration high tunnels, field days, tours, in-service training, publications and presentations made at winter meetings will be discussed in the report below.

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High tunnels are becoming an increasingly important production tool for vegetable, small fruit, and cut flower growers in many parts of the United States. They provide a protected environment relative to the open field, allowing for earlier or later production of many crops, and they typically improve yield and quality as well as disease and pest management. Producers, ranging from small-scale market gardens to larger scale farms, are using high tunnels of various forms to produce for early markets, schedule production through extended seasons, grow specialty crops that require some environmental modification, and capture premium prices. The rapid ongoing adoption of high tunnels has resulted in numerous grower innovations and increased university research and extension programming to serve grower needs. An informal survey of extension specialists was conducted in 2007 to estimate numbers (area) of high tunnels and crops being grown in them by state, and to identify current research and extension efforts. Results of this survey provide an indication of the increasing importance of these structures for horticultural crop production across the country.

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At the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) High Tunnel Research and Education Facility, a system of production of high-value horticultural crops in high tunnels has been developed that uses plastic mulch and drip irrigation. The Penn State system involves small-scale, plastic-application equipment that prepares and applies plastic mulch and drip-irrigation tape to individual raised beds. It differs from the production system developed by researchers at the University of New Hampshire in which drip-irrigation tape is manually applied to the soil surface and then the entire soil surface in the high tunnel is covered with a black plastic sheet. An overview of the production system used in the Penn State high tunnels is presented in this report.

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