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  • Author or Editor: William J. Lamont Jr x
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High tunnels have been used for many years worldwide, but in the United States, the utilization of high tunnel technology for the production of horticultural crops is a relatively recent phenomenon. Single and multibay high tunnels are used throughout the world to extend the production season. One big advantage of high tunnels in the temperate and tropical regions of the world is the exclusion of rain, thus reducing the amount of disease pressure and crop loss while improving crop quality and shelf life. In temperate regions of the world, high tunnels are used to increase temperatures for crop production in spring, fall, and sometimes winter seasons. The use of high tunnels in their many forms continues to increase worldwide, and many different kinds of vegetables, small fruit, tree fruit, and flowers are being cultivated. One impediment in determining high tunnel usage worldwide is the failure of many authors and agricultural census takers to distinguish between high tunnels and plastic-covered greenhouses. In many instances, they are presented together under the heading “protected cultivation.”

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Field studies were conducted in 1984 and 1985 to document the effects of plastic mulches and row covers on soil and air temperatures and yield of muskmelons (Cucumis melo L.) in North Carolina. Treatments included bare ground, black plastic, and clear plastic, each with and without a slitted clear plastic row cover. In addition, both trickle and overhead sprinkler irrigation were evaluated. Soil temperatures were increased by plastic mulches, with clear polyethylene resulting in the highest soil temperatures. Air temperatures were increased by row covers. In 1984, total and early yields were increased over bare ground plots with the use of either clear or black polyethylene mulches. Row covers did not influence yields. In 1985, a warmer year than 1984, no total yield increases resulted from use of either row covers or mulches; however, row covers and clear plastic mulch increased early yield. Trickle irrigation used less water than did overhead irrigation, but did not increase yields.

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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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Four cover crops {alfalfa (Medicago sativa L. `Kansas Common'), hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), Austrian winter pea [Pisum sativum subsp. arvense (L.) Poir], and winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L. `Tam 107')}, alone and in combination with feedlot beef manure at 5 t·ha–1 were evaluated for 2 years to determine whether sufficient N could be supplied solely by winter cover cropping and manure application to produce high-quality muskmelons (Cucumis melo L. `Magnum 45') in an intensive production system using plastic mulch and drip irrigation. Among the legumes, hairy vetch produced the most biomass (8.9 t·ha–1) and accumulated the most N (247 kg·ha–1). Winter wheat produced more biomass (9.8 t·ha–1) than any of the legumes but accumulated the least N (87 kg·ha–1). Melon yields produced using legume cover crops alone were similar to those receiving synthetic N fertilizer at 70 or 100 kg·ha–1. Melons produced on plots with cover crops combined with beef manure did not differ significantly in yield from those produced on plots with only cover crops. Legume cover crops alone, used with plastic mulch and drip irrigation, provided sufficient N for the production of high-quality muskmelons.

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