Hill Farm’s High Tunnels

These shelters offer year-round protection to Hill Farm’s “vintage vegetables,” defending them from record rainfalls and bitter winds.

| June/July 2020

Photo by Kurt Jacobson

In 2018, Hill Farm Vintage Vegetables prospered as thousands of other farmers lost most of their crops. The record rainfall that hit much of the mid-Atlantic didn’t adversely affect Scott and Susan Hill’s farm in Louisa, Virginia, thanks to their high tunnels. By cultivating in raised beds under protective high tunnels, Hill Farm grows crops year-round. It profits by supplying customers with early- and late-season crops, and it can survive excessive rain. While other farmers lost millions of dollars in drowned vegetables, the Hills were able to continue supplying produce to customers.

High tunnels, also known as “hoop houses,” are similar to greenhouses, except they aren’t heated. Like most modern greenhouses, high tunnels use a plastic covering to protect crops from excess rainfall while letting in sunshine. During winter, the Hills are also able to grow cool-weather crops, the envy of most vegetable farmers.

Many growing zones are suitable to high tunnels. Hill Farm is located in Zone 7b, but Susan told me she has friends farming under high tunnels in Maine. “If you choose your crops wisely, you can grow year-round in a wide range of growing zones,” Susan says. If your area receives significant snowfall, the “Gothic peak” design will shed snow efficiently. You can grow gorgeous greens all winter long.

An essential factor in determining whether your land is suitable for a high tunnel is finding a parcel that’s flat and easily accessible. Placing the high tunnels close to home, as the Hills have done, makes tending the crops easier. Good sun exposure is also essential, but some shade during the day is OK. For growing crops in winter, southern exposure is important for light and heat.

You’ll also need to consider a water source when siting your high tunnel. You’ll want an accessible source nearby for irrigating plants. The Hills use well water that’s distributed using Scott’s dual-watering system (Homestead Hacks, April/May 2018). High tunnel farming requires daily work, so if you can make watering less labor-intensive, that’ll save valuable time.

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