High tunnels help stretch Alaskan growing season

12/24/2013 09:11:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

high tunnelCourtesy Natural Resources Conservation ServiceThe Strawns built the first high tunnel in Alaska's Matanuska Valley.With a season short on warm weather and growing days, Alaska isn't conducive to warm-weather crops.

But Alex and Kelly Strawn, who farm in the Matanuska Valley outside of Anchorage, have enlisted the help of high tunnels and are netting premiums for their warm-weather crops at local farmers markets.

They also were able to capitalize on a cost-share program fro the Natural Resources Conservation Service to help offset part of the tunnel's cost, according to a news release.

High tunnels are often described as a poor-man's greenhouse.

They consist of a series of hoops over which plastic is stretched, and resemble a Quonset hut. They're typically tall enough to allow a human to walk upright inside.

The tunnels also are vented on the ends, allowing for release of humidity and stagnate air that can lead to fungal diseases.

Plants are grown directly in the ground.

The tunnels don't use heaters and rely on the sun's radiant heat to warm the internal air.

In Alaska, the tunnels also protect the crops from untimely rains.

The Strawns are able to produce long-season, warm-weather crops, such as melons, peppers and sweet corn in the tunnels.

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