They are a hot new trend on Nevada farms. Drive through Nevada’s rural counties, and you’ll see them popping up everywhere. It’s not a new crop, but rather a new way to grow crops in our region. They’re hoop houses, also called high tunnels. You’ll likely see more high tunnel designs on Nevada farms, as they have flat, rather than curved sides, allowing more growing space. A traditional hoop house is more like a Quonset hut. Many people interchange the words, and that’s ok. Either way, they’ve had a big impact on Nevada farming.
A hoop house or high tunnel is a simple structure, built using curved pipes covered with greenhouse plastic. It’s the low tech, and unheated cousin of a modern greenhouse, using just sun and wind to control the temperature. Another difference is that greenhouse crops are often grown in pots on shelves, hoop house and high tunnel crops are generally grown in the ground using native soil.
Hoop houses began popping up in Nevada about 15 years ago, but really gained popularity over the past five years. Credit the area’s harsh winters, unpredictable weather, high winds and short growing season for that. A hoop house can extend the traditional growing season by at least two months, and some farmers are able to grow cold-hardy crops year round inside a hoop house.
Lattin Farms was an early adopter of hoop houses and high tunnels. Rick Lattin now has 19 on his property in Fallon. This winter he is growing and harvesting carrots, kale, spinach, and several lettuces. Not only do the houses benefit his farming operation, they also benefit Fallon residents who are able to eat local, fresh produce in the coldest months. Much of the produce is delivered to the Fallon Food Hub.
Lotspeith Family Farms near Elko is in its second season of hoop house farming.
Dan Lotspeith says his winter spinach and carrots are exceptionally sweet and flavorful. He’s also growing Swiss chard and snap peas. He says despite subzero temperatures this winter they will have a nice harvest next month. Dan agrees that hoop house farming is a great idea and he is planning to triple his number of structures.
Holley Family Farms grows cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, greens and some root vegetables in six hoop houses on their Dayton farm. The houses allow them to get a jump start on the growing season and have fresh produce at the early farmers markets in Western Nevada. Rob Holley and all the farmers we talked to, say not only do hoop houses extend the growing season, but they also help produce a better crop of tomatoes and peppers in the summer. The structures protect the plants from Nevada’s hot and dry winds and create a better growing environment and better produce which is more appealing to consumers.
It’s not always easy to find local produce in the winter, but the Fallon Food Hub in Fallon and Great Basin Community Food Co-op in Reno are two good places to look. You can also find it in some local restaurants. City Green Gardens in Reno just harvested winter kale for The Old Granite Street Eatery in Reno, and they also provide produce to 4th Street Bistro, La Strada, Roxy’s and Grateful Gardens.
There’s no reason to believe that the popularity of hoop houses and high tunnels will wane anytime soon as there is really no downside. We’re betting more and more hoops and tunnels will be setting down roots across the state. Want to learn more? Go to www.hightunnels.org.