Early in 2010, Rick Rutledge of Rutledge Farms was approved by the USDA for the purchase and installation of a “high tunnel” under the NRCS program. Rick, doing due diligence, called Rimol Greenhouse Systems. He began the process of getting a quote for a high tunnel, asking a lot of questions about the frame work, ventilation, coverings and a gutter system for rainwater collection, and within a year has refined his way of doing business.
Rutledge Farms is located in West Virginia. Their outdoor growing season is typically from May 15th to October 15th. Rick’s immediate goal was to extend the growing season by a month so that he could begin growing around mid April, and possibly add a few weeks at the end of the season into November. It was quite a learning process to understand the greenhouse lingo, and visualize what the finished Rimol high tunnel would look like and what it would accomplish for Rick. This year Rutledge Farms began planting around March 20th and hopes to begin to harvest tomatoes by the end of May.
Rutledge Farms purchased a 30 x 72 Nor’ Easter with extended ground posts to create the “high tunnel” in April of last year. The high tunnel has single poly on the roof and end walls, and roll-up sides for ventilation. Unique to the high tunnel was designing a rainwater collection system since Rutledge Farms had no access to water where the high tunnel was located. Rimol designed a system using a 2’ x 8’ hip board at the top of the roll-up sides to allow the poly from the roof and sides to attach to the hip board, creating enough space in between the wire lock systems to install a gutter. During the first winter, Rick learned that the supports for the gutter needed to be placed closer together. Sliding snow can damage the gutter by breaking the gutter supports. Soon after a few supports broke, Rick removed the gutter for the winter, but has reinstalled it for the warmer months of the growing season.
Rick purchased vinyl gutter from a home improvement store for a few hundred dollars. A more expensive option is to have a gutter company install steel gutters which are more resilient to the weight of sliding snow. When the gutter fills up, all of the water runs to one end of the greenhouse. Collection tanks outside contain the water which is then transferred into a tank within the greenhouse. A drip irrigation system uses the collected water for watering the plants. The crops end up having tempered water and there are no pressure issues with the gravity fed irrigation system.
During Rick’s first year, he quickly learned that he could double and triple crop. Growing outside, it was difficult to have more than one turn with a crop. Usually the limiting factor for Rick’s crops is the amount of light, not necessarily the temperature within the high tunnel. Rick has also installed a solar powered hot water radiant heat system for some of the growing beds adding another month to the growing season. The hot water system works well when there is sun, but sometimes Rick has to change batteries to provide power to the hot water system. During periods of cloudy cool weather, Rick changes the battery every twelve hours to keep the system running.
Gary Redden of the Beckley West Virginia USDA office has been instrumental in helping Rutledge Farms and other local farmers throughout the entire process with their planning, construction, agronomy and monitoring of their crops. Rutledge Farms has served the local farming community as showcase for other farmers entering into high tunnel growing. Rick hopes to continue to grow and expand his business with his second Rimol high tunnel this year.