Thursday, July 7, 2011

Cafe 305 Field Trips: Federal Point Farms Hoop House

Yesterday, I paid a visit to our friends Dave and Christin at Federal Point Farms. They've undertaken a very interesting project recently. They applied for a grant from RAFI - the Rural Advancement Foundation International. These funds in particular were available to reinvest in non-tobacco agriculture in North Carolina. Christin and Dave won the grant and built a warm-weather hoop house for crops. The idea was to build a large, open shaded and cooled area where they could extend the spring season. In case you haven't heard me mention it a few thousand times, it gets hotter than stink here in Coastal North Carolina. Our growing season is early, which sometimes sparks a little jealousy from our Northern neighbors (hey, Tony!) but long about mid-June, it's humid and beastly, and you can normally kiss nice lettuces and the more delicate herbs goodbye.

Enter the shaded hoop house. Check the soil temperature inside.

That's 81.8F (for you scads of international readers - about 27C)

Now check it just one step outside the hoop house.

 105.8 F (41C). Perfectly horrible no matter what scale you're using.
So let's let Dave tell us about RAFI and the hoop house. (Christin was busy weeding and stuff.)

The setup is pretty cool. They have the shade screen over the top of the hoops, which provide gradient shade - you can order what gradient you want. Then they have the misters which lower the ambient temperature inside the shaded hoop area.

A hundred years ago, I visited Phoenix, Arizona, and they had these things downtown to help cool people off. You don't see them in the South for People Purposes much because lord knows we have gracious plenty moisture to go around. But it was noticeably cooler inside the wide open hoop house than it was outside. So I hung out in there for most of the visit. They also have overhead irrigation inside that comes on twice daily.

It's pretty efficient, water and power-wise. Dave explains how it works.

This allows them to plant things like arugula, baby lettuces, sorrel and chard much later in the year than is normal. And even the hotter weather stuff seems to like it better. Shall we compare?

Gorgeous, lush, in the cooler hoop house basil...

Sad, pitiful, wishes it was in the hoop house but it's out in the hot sun basil

Happy tomato plant...
Not so happy remnants of a tomato plant. Similar to what you might see on the surface of Mars, for example.

Charred Chard. I crack myself up.

It's the scorching hot soil temperatures and sun that causes this tiny leaved output and yellow shrivel up. Which is why down here, you don't usually see lettuces and arugula and herbs stuffing the Farmer's Market stalls past late June. It's just hotter than Hay-Bees down here. (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I've called it that since I was old enough to talk. It's all mine.)  But Dave and Christin have conquered the hay-bees heat and are going to have a nice crop of stuff that's normal to our spring, which for this year, they'll provide to local restaurants.

This year, they'll keep the hoop house open. Next fall, they plan to put plastic over the top and as a roll-up option on the sides so that they can trap heat and also do the traditional cool weather season extension. And with a year under their belts, they hope to be able to provide some of that extra produce for the Farmer's Market, as well. It's a great way to naturally extend both seasons.

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