Los Sembradores Network building a high tunnnel- Photo by NMAA Staff
By Donne Gonzales, Farm Training Coordinator
Many of us farm out of habit, tradition, love. When we want to turn farming into a profession – a livelihood there are some practices that will enable us to succeed. In the quest to find lucrative models of farming our historic lands, maestro Don Bustos (NMAA Board member) along with others have embraced season extension methods to increase farm revenue. Season extension includes many methods that allow you to grow crops beyond their usual times of production either by cooling or heating the air or soil. In times of climate instability these methods also allow us to adapt practices and prevent damages or losses to our crops.
On March 15, 2017 the Sembradores Farmer Training Program at Chicoyole farm in Chamisal, NM was pleased to host a workshop on season extension. Our workshop consisted of a group discussion on various topics such as high tunnels, low tunnels, green houses, row covers and other methods of season extensions. A high tunnel, also known as a hoop house, is an unheated greenhouse that helps farmers extend their growing season so that they can improve the profitability and productivity of their farms.
Low tunnels are constructed from metal or PVC pipes that are bent in an arc over garden beds, and then covered with fabric row cover or clear plastic sheeting. A green house is a glass or hard plastic building in which plants or starts are grown that need protection from all weather elements. It does incorporate heating appliances, cooling appliances, and various methods of climate regulation. All of these can be used in season extension projects. You can purchase building kits or plan to assemble a primitive home made model. The NMAA offers assistance in applying for programs through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for high tunnels in order to increase a farms year round production capacity. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office. Thanks to our partners at the American Friends Service Committee, the NMAA training site at Chicoyole farm has recently added a 106 x 30 ft hoop house from a kit. We also have a more primitive model that was built from fence posts that we bent and constructed, and this is a 45 x 30 ft model.
The farm apprentices, myself, (Donne the farm Trainer) and my dad, went over the step by step process of putting up the hoop house kit. It consisted of clearing and cleaning a piece of land, hammering in 3-4 feet posts, assembling arches, putting up purlins vertically and horizontally, and constructing the framing for doors. At the time of our workshop, we were not ready to plastic our large hoop house, but were fortunate enough to have a plastic cover and plenty of assistance needed to re-plastic the smaller structure. As a group, we removed our old plastic that was used for approximately 5-6 years. It was sun beaten and had various holes that had been patched up. It was time for a new cover, and it was very nice to have a hands on activity with a group of 20 participants.
We covered many practical season extension details- best crops to grow, timing of planting, and especially access to water. Many acequias traditionally ran perennially, for a variety of reasons many no longer do. This means acequia farmers need to plan for supplemental water sources if the acequia is not flowing. We also introduced the topic of irrigation techniques explaining drip irrigation rather than flood. This uses a smaller amount of water, especially in the cooler late fall, winter and early spring months. I personally felt like this was a wonderful workshop, we had enjoyable participants from the surrounding areas that were eager to learn, listen, and teach. The day went by very quickly, and it was very productive.