When the temperatures begin to drop and the leaves start to fall, many high tunnel growers across the country begin to brace for one of the biggest expenditures in any farmer’s annual budget: energy.
All too often, these energy costs can represent a disproportionately high portion of a farmer’s seasonal budget, and can make the time and cost investment in a winter grow out of reach for many. Fortunately, modern high tunnel technology may just be poised to change that.
We know - we’ve been working with our customers and partners to reduce energy expenditures and improve profit margins for decades. Here’s a look at four tried-and-tested ways of bringing those energy costs down while making sure your winter grow keeps on coming straight through until spring.
1. Make Sure Your High Tunnel Can Withstand the Winter
One surefire way to spend far too much money on energy costs in your high tunnel this winter is to let the wind create rips, tears, or holes in your covering material. These gaps - some no bigger than a nail hole or a small rip - can offer an easy way for heat to escape.
We’ve seen our fair share of high tunnel failures, especially among models not built to withstand high wind loads, heavy snow, or intense winter storms. After all, we are New Englanders - and if there’s one thing we know, it’s intense winters.
That’s why all of our high tunnel options come designed for heavy snow and wind loads with extra support for crops, meaning you can keep them humming comfortably even when the wind is whipping up something fierce. Be sure your high tunnel is appropriately rated for your region’s expected wind and snow loads before the winter hits - otherwise, you may spend more time and energy on damage control than on actually growing your crops.
2. Insulate Your High Tunnel Against The Cold
Even in a high tunnel that’s in perfect condition with no rips or tears to speak of, heat will still find a way to escape. That’s why it’s critical to properly insulate every corner of your high tunnel to prevent heat loss and increase your heating system’s efficiency, even through those frigid winter nights.
Insulating your greenhouse does not have to be a difficult procedure. In some cases, it may be as simple as upgrading your high tunnel covering to something designed to hold in heat, including infrared plastic film or double-layered poly.
These can help hold in heat better than glass or a single layer of plastic alone, and may help to drastically reduce heat loss on especially cold days. Well-insulated high tunnels are also designed to perform better year-round, helping to keep cool air inside during hot months as well as keep warm air insulated during the winter. This can help reduce the need for additional heating sources in the long run, and may represent serious savings to your energy bills.
3. Ensure Even, Reliable Environmental Controls
Environmental controls have represented a major development in the field of winter high tunnel growing, allowing growers to keep their high tunnels at optimal temperatures, humidity levels, and light levels all year long regardless of the conditions outside.
Although often used solely for season extension, high tunnels are rapidly becoming tools of year-round crop production thanks to advances in automation for environmental controls. These control systems allow growers to keep tabs on the conditions within their greenhouses at all times through mobile apps and other connected systems, and to make adjustments based on real-time conditions to ensure no sudden changes in atmosphere occur unnoticed.
By integrating your existing heating, cooling, ventilation, and moisture control systems into one automated system, growers can better monitor, track, and control changes within their high tunnels without putting their crops at risk of freezing.
4. Investigate Other Easy Energy Sources
While professional-grade environmental control systems may be among the most reliable ways to ensure consistent conditions in your high tunnel, it is always worthwhile to consider renewable and low-tech energy-conservation options to help bring down energy bills even further.
Solar power, for instance, can often supplement most (if not all) of a high tunnel’s energy needs, even during frigid winter storms. By capturing sunlight for storage and later use by heating and ventilation systems, a high tunnel can achieve near net-zero operational status while keeping crops safe from the cold.
Although not necessarily the best options for every grower, these low-tech heating and environmental control options can supplement or even eliminate your other energy expenditures when properly applied and installed.
Is Your High Tunnel Ready To Take On Winter?
With winter conditions fast approaching for those of us in the north (and the colder season taking hold all across the northern hemisphere), now is the time for high tunnel growers to ensure their grow spaces are properly protected from the worst of what the winter has to offer.
If you’re looking to bulk up your seasonal protection or you’re just getting started with your first high tunnel grow, we can help get you in the ground and growing from the start. Get in touch and see what a Rimol High Tunnel can do to reduce your energy expenditures and improve your year-round grow.