AmericanFarm.com

Things looking up for Muth’s vegetables with high tunnels

By RICHARD SKELLY
AFP Corrrespondent

ATLANTIC CITY (March 15, 2015) — Bob Muth doesn’t just think about season extension when using high tunnels. To him, they also act as insurance against severe and unexpected weather.
“If you’re going to use tunnels, spend a little more up front to get something that’s going to structurally take the elements we have here anymore,” Muth said while presenting at the recent New Jersey Agriculture Convention and Trade Show. “Our weather has changed and tunnels that have lighter tubing, I really have to question if they can take the elements.”
Muth, operates Muth Family Farms in Williamstown, N.J., and will have 30 high tunnels on his 18-acre vegetable farm in 2016.
He noted that late last June, his part of South Jersey had a 90 mile per hour wind storm blow through one afternoon and evening and it was devastating to many Gloucester County farmers.
“So spend a little more for your high tunnel up front and get something that’s going to be able to take those elements,” he advised.
In protecting against bad weather, “you get some marketing leverage, you get consistency in the marketplace, so many people grow good stuff, we got great farmers in this area, some of the best in the world right here,” Muth said. “But you can get an untimely event and you’re screwed. This way, each week you’ll get into a better market, so that people you’re selling to don’t have to get any excuses from you, like, ‘Well, we got 3 inches of rain this week.’ 
“When you’re under cover you keep right on going, it’s almost like a factory set-up,” he said, adding he started with one tunnel about 15 years ago when he began transitioning his father’s farm to organic production.
“You have better yields, better quality,” he said. This year, he said, his 30 tunnels will be devoted to specific crops, including peppers and tomatoes. Muth and his employees will be building additional high tunnels this winter and early spring at his property, situated not far from Scotland Run Golf Club in Williamstown, a part of Monroe Township, Gloucester County.
Muth said he likes to move his high tunnels every two years to prevent soil degradation.
“There are special plastic sheets that you can use to prevent condensation, and ours are very low-tech,” he said, and he doesn’t spend a lot of money on automatic controls, “because I’m in there several times each day.
“When you’re in there, you can scout the crop much closer. You can’t be growing stuff from the computer console with your greenhouses a mile away. You need to be in there checking on things. And if you aren’t, you need to have hired somebody who will check in on the plants.
“If you’re venting, it’s important that you are in there several times a day, you want to check in there, you don’t want to have it get excessively hot on you and you don’t want to have it get too cold either. You’ve got to check your plants and keep moving.”
While protection from severe weather events during spring, summer and fall is critical, he said, “in this area of South Jersey, you can also extend your growing season several weeks, right up until Thanksgiving.