University of Kentucky High Tunnel Research Facility

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High Tunnel Tomatoes Planted

Posted by UKHTRF on April 7, 2014 at 9:40 AM Comments comments (1)

Hello all,

Last week, we got all of our tunnel tomatoes in the ground--we are using the variety Arbason this week. Since this is a research farm, we do lots of experiments. This year with our tomatoes, we are experimenting with planting dates (see our previous post), but we are also experimenting with strip tilling tomatoes in the tunnels. Last fall, we seeded winter wheat and red clover in one of our tunnel beds and two weeks ago, we mowed it down with the flail mower attachment on our BCS 853. This past week, we ran a chisel plow down the middle of the beds, added fertilizer and compost, and then used the stip tiller attachment on the BCS to prepare a tilled strip. We planted tomatoes into this strip on 18" spacing. We will compare leaching, nutrient availability, and other markers of soil quality between this bed and another we planted with landscape fabric mulch. 


Above: The strip tilled plot of Arbason tomatoes. Left, overview; Right, Detail

Below: Overhead view of landscape fabric mulched tomato bed

It should be interesting to see how these beds compare in terms of yield, in addition to the soil quality and nutrient data mentioned above.

This conservation tillage work is supported by the KY Natural Resource Conservation Service, who is partnering with us to work on bringing conservation practices from the field into the tunnels.

Visit to Grow Appalachia tunnels in London, KY

Posted by UKHTRF on March 7, 2014 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Hey everybody, feels like the spring is about to explode. Our big plantings are about to start (Tomato trial planting dates already happening, Beets mid March, and everything else takes off in April). 

Last week we headed out to one of the many Grow Appalachia sites at the Laurel County African American Heritage Center in London, KY. This is one of the state-wide sites at which we are doing some soil and temperature monitoring this year. They are also working pairing solar pumps and gravity fed low-flow drip irrigation, and we are doing our best to help them with that in whatever ways we can. 

They have 3 tunnels on this site currently.

Here is a look at part of their low-flow drip system.

We'll keep you updated on this stuff as we have more to share, but it is too exciting not to share a little bit now.


Planting on our minds

Posted by UKHTRF on January 31, 2014 at 9:45 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello Everyone!

Despite the continual frigid temperatures, we know that spring is just around the corner. For tunnel growers, spring comes even a little bit earlier than it does in the field. We are starting some of our transplants now (tomatoes and peppers for April 1st, and 15th plantings) and will do some bed prep later in the month of February. While this site is dedicated to our tunnels, we thought we might feature a little information about another technology we grow in: a "solar greenhouse" adapted from designs found globally. These greenhouses use water barrels or sand filled structures to trap heat throughout the day and then release that heat slowly overnight. It's still no active heating, but the passive solar capacity of the structure is increased. 

We have a planting date trial for tomatoes in these structures as well as in the field and in our tunnels. The planting dates are as follows:

Solar Greenhouse

2/15, 3/1, 3/15, 4/1

High Tunnel

3/1, 3/15, 4/1, 4/15


4/1, 4/15, 5/1, 5/15

As you can see, we are going into that solar greenhouse VERY soon. We actually started some of our transplants back before Christmas. Since our planting date is coming up soon, we actually got out and worked ground in the solar greenhouse over the last few weeks. 

This picture was taken yesterday. It was hot enough inside that tunnel that we were sweating in short sleeves. It felt like June!

Our general approach is:

1. Flail mow the cover crop (using a BCS)

2. Let the residue sit for a week or so to begin breakdown.

3. Till in residue

4. Form beds.

5. Wait a few more weeks for more breakdown.

6. Final bed prep/fertilizer application.

7. Planting.

All the while, we will be promoting breakdown by applying water. We lay drip tape first and then cover the ground with landscape fabric to suppress weeds. This landscape fabric has holes burned in it big enough to plant the tomatoes into.

It's pretty a strange feeling to be making beds like this in January, but we want to see how far we can push this season extension thing!

After the Polar Vortex

Posted by UKHTRF on January 13, 2014 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

We--like many others--are assessing damage to our crops after the chilling temperatures and winds blew through the Bluegrass in the early days of the New Year. Surprisingly, we only lost a few crops during that incredible cold. In our beet beds, the Red Ace variety survived the best, while the Golden Beets fared the worst. We lost enough Goldens and Chioggias to call them crop losses, but we still have our fingers crossed on the Red Ace. We lost a few head lettuces here and there, and some of our greens had some frost damage, but by and large, we still appear in good shape. The biggest shock of all was probably the survival of some tiny arugula and spinach that had just poked up before the cold came.

We have been using frost blanket (row cover) inside the tunnels over the nights when temps were expected to dip below the mid-20s Fahrenheit. This provides a little more insulation and helps keep any frost that might form in the tunnels off the plants. We take the blanket off the crops during the days to allow the little bit of winter light that comes through to reach the plant. 

How are your tunnel crops faring after the Big Chill? Let us know!