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  • Writer's pictureLaura

2020 High Tunnel Success

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

This was our first full year growing in our high tunnel and I'm in love. Something about that thin piece of plastic spread over the plants makes them think they are living a lovely life somewhere in the Mediterranean, and who wouldn't like that? It’s like magic. I would love to put in about four or five more, but do not know if this is something we are really ready to take on.

This shows the high tunnel in late September of 2019, just after we had put on the plastic covering. The eucalyptus was in its first full year of growth, the lisianthus on the right was giving us its second flush of flowers and zinnias were protected from the first frosts.

This spring we picked overwintered snapdragons from the high tunnel that were 5-6 feet tall! They were a fantastic addition to one of our only weddings of the pandemic season, a private family affair. They were so tall it was hard to manage them and we broke more than a few in cutting them and getting them into the cooler. This unglamorous shot inside the cooler (below) shows the white snapdragons cut and ready for use. They are almost as tall as me, in the bucket.

Overwintered 'Rocket' snapdragons producing for a second year.

In the spring of 2019 we planted one of the 96’ long 4’ wide rows with lisianthus. Their first winter many overwintered and produced just as well the second year. Wherever there was a gap the second year, we planted strawflowers. The strawflowers grew and grew and then started blooming and bloomed constantly for the entire summer and fall season. The plants got so tall that we could no longer see the tops. They were fully 8' tall in some areas. By contrast one plant was planted just outside the high tunnel and it was half the height and never flowered until September. The pink strawflowers were the most incredible high tunnel crop this year.

Cut at the end of the season to clear out the high tunnel, a crate of pink strawflowers waits to be taken to the barn to be hung to dry.

Pink strawflowers eight feet tall!

Lisianthus flowering in its second year.

Last November I was lucky enough to get surplus plant plugs from another grower's order and planted snapdragons in the very late fall. Madame butterfly and chantilly snapdragons were planted in a couple of colors in mid-November with hope that they would survive winter. By spring they were absolutely amazing. My only regret is that I did not put up net to support the madame butterfly plants which are very heavy.

Chantilly snapdragons in light yellow, bronze and pink.

Snapdragons in the high tunnel. It was just at this point that I realized my mistake in failing to give them support!

In February 2020 we planted a long row of sweet peas that had been started in January. These sweet peas exceeded all expectations and bloomed until late July. It can be difficult to repeat success, but I’m hopeful that we are able to do this again next year and have started the seeds this fall so the plants can grow over the winter. If we have a mild winter this should produce earlier flowers. Fingers crossed.

Current sweet pea plants planted in the fall and waiting to go out into the high tunnel (January 2021)

June 2020 sweet pea bouquet. Heavenly.

End of the season plants. Sweet peas must be picked daily and once temperatures become hot they must be picked twice a day. In this picture you can see the seed pods that will develop in what seems like hours on a warm day if we fail to come out and pick. No rest for the busy or the weary. :)

High tunnel in late May.

My plan last spring was to grow ranunculus and anemone, but we were traveling in the early spring and I was unsure whether I should plant before we left home or not (I should have!) The corms were waiting and ready to go when we returned and we planted in mid March. We got very lucky with a long cool spring. The plants produced extremely well and bloomed until May when the weather became warm, but I won't press my luck like that again. This year we are planting in the fall and will plant a second round again in the winter.

Mauvy pink butterfly ranunculus and light orange regular ranunculus

ahh, what a beautiful sight

Anemones picked in the high tunnel.

March in the high tunnel. Ranunculus on the left, sweet peas in the middle and snapdragon on the right.

'Sylphid' celosia in the high tunnel during the summer.

A bucket full of bright pink and orange crested celosia in late summer.

After taking out the spring crops of ranunculus, anemone and sweet pea we put in celosia which was a fantastic summer crop. Being able to pick on a rainy summer day in the high tunnel is a wonderful luxury and the beautiful light green 'Sylphid' celosia and other celosias grew perfectly.

There are four 4' wide rows in our high tunnel and one is entirely filled "permanently" with eucalyptus (I put this in quotes because really, is anything in a garden permanent? A very cold winter would no doubt end my crop of eucalyptus). This was done on the recommendation from another cut flower grower and it was good advice. We are now able to pick year around and have a crop that adds to any flower arrangement. There are three types of eucalyptus mixed together and after two seasons of growth they are huge!

At the end of 2020 we cleared out everything possible in the high tunnel and planted 96 feet of various snapdragons and prepared for two 96 foot rows of Anemone and Ranunculus. The first batch were planted in the fall and have grown beautifully. If our winter is not terribly cold we should start to harvest flowers in March. Already in January we’ve had a few early Anemone blooms.

Anemone, red-twigged dogwood and bear's foot hellebore in January

Anemone plants in January braving cold nights under frost cloth in the high tunnel.

Anemone and ranunculus on the left in the high tunnel. In the middle are a few foxglove plants and on the right is the forest of eucalyptus. All quite happy in the cold January temps.

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