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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Derrick-Mills

Farm Tools 3: High Tunnel

At Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm, one of our farm tools is a large High Tunnel. Both of these pictures are during the winter when temperatures are below freezing, and the wind is whipping as it often does during cold Middletown Valley days. The picture on the left shows the inside, and the picture on the right shows the outside.

Where does the name come from?

It is called a "High Tunnel" because most tunnels are long, half circle shapes that are below ground or go through a mountain (like a train tunnel). This farm tunnel has a similar shape, but it is above ground so it is "high" compared to something below ground.

At Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm, our high tunnel does not have any mechanical heat or ventilation. It is just a series of poles wrapped in giant sheets of pliable plastic with translucent carbon fiber sides and doors on the ends. Happy Construction in PA built this one for us when we moved to Middletown, although we have built others in our previous farm locations with the help of friends.

Why do we use a high tunnel as a farm tool at Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm?

The high tunnel is actually many tools all in one. It

  • prevents erosion of the soil

  • protects the soil and plants from the wind (which dries them out)

  • keeps moisture in when we want that (some plants like a hot, moist environment)

  • keeps moisture out when we want that (sometimes too much rain or uneven amounts of rain are bad for the plants)

  • extends the seasons (allows us to plant earlier in the spring and later into the fall because it stays warmer in the tunnel longer -- see picture above in the middle of winter where it is green in the tunnel)

  • enhances the heat in the summer for plants that are more tropical (like tomatoes)

  • protects plants from getting trampled or eaten by deer

  • provides a structure for creating a trellis for the tomatoes -- see the strings hanging down on hooks; we use those to keep the tomatoes growing straight up -- more tomatoes fit in the tunnel and we can walk around them.

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