Sattin Hill Market Farming Course Module 8: High Tunnels (FSFS246)

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Episode Summary

This episode of Farm Small Farm Smart features the eighth module of the Sattin Hill Market Farming Course, where Josh Sattin talks about the benefits and considerations of adding high tunnels to your farm.

Today’s Guest: Josh Sattin

Josh Sattin is a farmer at Sattin Hill Farm in Raleigh, North North Carolina. As an educator and professional videographer, Josh has published hundreds of educational farming videos on his YouTube to help make a difference in the local farming and foodscape.

            Josh Sattin – YouTube | Instagram | Website

In this episode of Farm Small, Farm Smart

  • An overview of the Sattin Hill Farm Course Module 8 (00:42)
  • Some reasons why you should consider using tunnels on your farm (01:12)
    • Season extension (01:35)
    • Better climate and environmental control (02:18)
    • Protection from the elements (02:57)
    • Irrigation, trellising, and shade cloth (04:16)
  • Permanent tunnels vs. temporary tunnels (04:55)
    • More cons than pros with DIY kits (06:02)
  • A look at the Farmer’s Friend Tunnel (07:15)
    • Choosing the shape: Gothic vs. Quonset (08:00)
    • Choosing the size (08:37)
    • Options and accessories (10:18)
  • Got questions or looking for specific recommendations? Call your tunnel manufacturer of choice (11:27)
  • Ground prep for tunnel installation (13:11)
  • Making tunnel modifications (14:10)
    • Installing end walls (14:21)
    • Baseboards (15:45)
  • Considerations for irrigation, trellising, and using shade cloth (16:44)
  • High tunnels and dealing with storms (17:50)

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FSFS246 (SHFC 8)

[00:00:00] Diego Footer: Welcome to Farm Small Farm Smart. I'm your host Diego, DIEGO. Today, it's the Sattin Hill farm course module eight on tunnels. In this module, Josh is going to go into his theory about why he's chose to grow everything under tunnels. If you want to watch Josh's presentation of this module, you can do so on his YouTube channel using the link below.

[00:00:25] And if you want to find additional resources related to this module, you can do so at, which I've also linked to below. Now, let's get into it. It's module eight of the Sattin hill farm course on tunnels.

[00:00:42] Josh Sattin: Welcome to module eight of the Sattin hill farm course. This module is all about tunnels and before we get into it, I just have to have a huge thanks to Paperpot Co. for sponsoring this entire course. Without the help of Diego and Paperpot Co., aone of this would be possible.

[00:00:58] And more on them later. In this module, I'll get into why you might want to use tunnels on your farm, the different types of tunnels, how you can choose the right tunnel for what you need, building tunnels, modifications, irrigation, and some overall tips.

[00:01:12] There are many reasons why you might want to consider adding tunnels to your property. And I've already mentioned in previous modules how instrumental these tunnels are for the operation on my farm. I probably get about double the production out of these tunnels that I would get in open field growing and having these tunnels has been huge in terms of efficiencies predictability and high outputs and yields for my farm.

[00:01:35] Reason that people most think about when they think about adding caterpillar tunnels, high tunnels or greenhouses to their farm is for season extension. And I agree that that is definitely part of why I own tunnels, but it is not the main reason. So when I talk about season extension, what I'm saying is you can extend your season.

[00:01:50] You can plant out earlier in the spring and you can extend your crops later into the fall. And depending where you are, you might even be able to grow through the winter time. Here in North Carolina, I do grow a winter without adding any supplemental heat to my caterpillar tunnels. And I'll get into that more into the winter growing module, but depending on where you are, and depending on the types of tunnels you have, if you have fancier tunnels that have, you know, other bells and whistles and are more expensive, like heating and stuff like that, and you can push the season a little bit further.

[00:02:14] So seasonal tension is definitely a benefit, but it's not the main reason why I have tunnels. The biggest reason is that I can control the environment and create consistency as all of, you know, if you've ever grown food before you are, you know, the mother nature is going to do whatever it wants and you have no control over that.

[00:02:29] And we still don't have control over that, but we have a little bit more control. And what I mean by that is it doesn't rain in here so I can control them waster a lot better than I can if I was just out in the field. And cause when we get heavy rain, And you can't control that, but here you can control that.

[00:02:44] You can also control the temperature quite a bit in here because you can close up the tunnel and keep it warm and you can open it to ventilate it. So you can create a little bit more consistency in terms of the environment for the plants to grow. And you can also protect the soil and the plants from the wind.

[00:02:57] And that's the main thing here is protection from the weather protecting it's the rain, the wind, and the erosion. And I've realized over the last few years, growing both here and at Raleigh city farm was the production out of a tunnel is just so much better. And I lose a lot less crops. Now we get big, heavy thunderstorms here in the south.

[00:03:16] We get a couple inches of rain in a couple of hours, and it can create a lot of damage. We can either lose crops. We can lose soil from erosion, or we can, if you have prop improper drainage, you can get flooding and things like that. Also, if you have really hit heavy clay soil, it can soak up a lot of moisture.

[00:03:31] The plant roots get really unhappy and you can lose crops when you have a ton of rain. This. The last meets who control that because none of the rainwater gets in the tunnels and I can control that independently. Also, we get we're a couple hours inland from you know, colors inland. And when we have hurricanes that come up the coast, we generally get those come through here.

[00:03:51] They're usually a little bit more mild or tropical storms at the time they get here. But in my first season in 2018, we had two that came through about three weeks apart. I lost everything. The first time I replanted everything. I lost everything the second time. And it, it was really frustrating here. I can just close up the tunnels and I have no stress about it whatsoever.

[00:04:11] Sees the extension showing the elements, creating consistency is important. There's a couple of other reasons why you might want to consider having tunnels. Irrigation is super easy to install. There are these great irrigation kits that you can hang up from the top that allow really awesome overhead irrigation and misting.

[00:04:24] I also have drip in here. So as I said, a lot more control with the moisture in here, trellising is super easy. You can run some pipes along the top here and easily just tie up strings and stuff. So you can do taller trellising crops like tomatoes and cucumbers. You don't have to have other structure in the ground, super easy.

[00:04:43] And the last thing about tunnels is that you can add shade cloth over top. If you live in an area that you get full sun and in the summertime, you want to keep it a little bit cooler in here. You can add shade cloth.

[00:04:55] There are a lot of different types of greenhouses out there, but generally speaking, I think about them in two different styles you have this year, which is a caterpillar tunnel. And this one is pretty inexpensive, easy to set up and not permanent. And then you also have high tunnels and greenhouses, which are much more permanent.

[00:05:12] And the other thing about those is that you generally have to level the ground here. I didn't level the ground. I mean, there's some, there's definitely a lot of benefits live in the ground, but I didn't have to here and I'm just working around it. My nursery is more of that permanent style and I will get into all the details on the nursery in a later module when I'm talking about nurseryman.

[00:05:29] And those sorts of things. This is my nursery greenhouse, and I got this from Rimmel. Ah, this is a very fancy little greenhouse. This is actually a custom build. They don't actually make the sizes of 16 by 24. It's bigger than I need I'll. I said, I'll get into all the details with this, with the nursery module, but this has louvers and fans on thermostats.

[00:05:45] It's double-walled has a sliding door. I also installed overhead misting. This thing is totally tricked out and a total luxury, but it is a really nice thing to have and making sure you have. a space for your nursery starts, if it's part of, one of your tunnels or a separate tunnel is super important, but it said I'll get into that in a later module.

[00:06:02] Now, people ask me all the time about DIY kits, and I strongly discourage people from building your own from scratch. And there are a few reasons for this, but the biggest thing is I did this when I first started my farm in 2018, because I wanted to do everything myself. I thought it'd be cheaper. It took so much time.

[00:06:18] I probably spent the same amount or more than I would spend on a kit. It was an inferior build,, and I couldn't move it or make any changes to it easily. And so when it was time to move it, I basically just scrapped it. And that was kind of a bummer. And so when we're so busy focusing on all these other things, I highly recommend you buy a kit, it comes with anything you need and you put it together and you move on.

[00:06:38] And generally speaking, you'll probably even save money, and you'll definitely save time. So lots of different�different types of tunnels and stuff out there. And I can't get into all that and I don't really have very fancy, automated stuff. So I can't really speak on that. These are from farmer's friend.

[00:06:51] And this video is not sponsored by farmers friend, but I want to get into a lot of the details here, because I know a lot of people are thinking about getting tunnels from them. And I've done a lot of great videos about the farmer's friend tunnels, and I'll leave them all linked down below for you check out from building them and modifying them and all those sorts of things.

[00:07:09] So let's get to some of these. About these huddles specifically.

[00:07:15] I want to get into some of the details specifically about the farmer's friend tunnels, because that's what I'm using. And I know some of you probably already very familiar with these. A lot of growers are using them now for obvious reasons. They are�have great value. They're easy to set up and they allow a lot of flexibility.

[00:07:29] And there's a great product. This video, as I said, is not sponsored by farmers. I have been sponsored by them in the past. So in full disclosure, I just want to let you know that, but I will leave a link down below for if you want to go check out all their products. I highly recommend that you do. They're a great company.

[00:07:41] Customer service is awesome. They're great people over there, and I've really enjoyed working with them and using their products. And I wouldn't recommend them to you if I didn't use them and absolutely love them. So let's get into some of the things about the farmer's friend tunnel if you're considering these, because I think they're a great option for most people, especially getting started or just looking to cover more space.

[00:07:59] So with these tunnels, there are two different shapes. This one is the CU sorry, the Gothic, which is the pointy top. And then the other one is what's called the Kwanzaa and that's the round top. Now I decided to go for the Gothic because I felt like it added a little bit more height inside the tunnel.

[00:08:14] And I felt a little bit less closed in when I was working here. But I think the main reasons for going for the Gothic is for shedding snow load. So if you live in a more Northern. The pointy roof will help shed the snow a lot better. I've also heard that the Quanzit because of the round shape allows the wind to kind of blow over easier.

[00:08:30] But those are what I've heard. I just want them to off it. Cause I wanted it to be a little bit taller and I liked the look of it and those sorts of things. The length of the width is some you're going to have to decide on. So they come in 50 feet and 100 feet. These are the 14 by 100 foot Gothic pro tunnels.

[00:08:46] That's what I have. I have three of them. And so I really recommend that you get a hundred foot tunnels if you can squeeze them in wherever you're trying to put them. Because if you, for example, have six 50 foot tunnels versus three, 100 foot tunnels. You only have 300, three tunnels to open and close versus six.

[00:09:03] And that does take up a lot of time. Opening, closing tunnels. It's also easier to regulate temperature and stuff like that in a bigger tunnel. So I highly recommend that. Now, I know a lot of people want to say all, just get a hundred and I'll put into two. I've talked to Jonathan about this and I've interviewed him and he said, you're actually going to lose money because there's a lot of other things that you need.

[00:09:21] So if you need 50 foot tunnels buy the 50 foot kit, if you need a hundred foot tunnels by the a hundred foot kit, don't try to split them. You're going to cause more headache than it's worth. And you'll probably spend more money in terms of the width. These are 14 foot tunnels. They also come in 16 foot wits.

[00:09:36] And if I could do it over, I would get the sixteens. And let me explain why I have four 30 inch beds in here with 12 inch wide. And six inches on the side. The walkways are very tight. If you had a 16 foot wide tunnel, I could put much wider walkways in. I'd be much happier. So you might be asking yourself why Josh, do you not have the sixteens?

[00:09:55] Well, I didn't have the room for it. So as I've mentioned before, and plenty of times, this is a very tight space that I have these tunnels. And if I added two more feet of width on each tunnel, that would be another six feet. And I literally didn't have six feet in the space. So for me to be able to squeeze three tunnels in here, I had to go over the.

[00:10:11] I also think that the 16 foot tunnels, the hoops are made out of stronger steel. So that's a benefit there too. So let's talk about some of the options and sort of accessories and stuff that you can get with these tunnels. I don't know all the different packages they have now or what comes with what, but when I got the Gothic pro it came with all this stuff.

[00:10:27] So the options that you have to choose from the first thing is the lift kit. And these are these like 16 or 18 inch bars that go under the hoops and raise the whole tunnel up. Highly recommend. If you're going to spend any of the extras, I would definitely get that. It doesn't feel as claustrophobic allows you to work in here a little bit easier, not hit the top of the tunnel with a broad fork and those sorts of things.

[00:10:47] And the walls are much straighter. They go up straight, especially with the Kwan the Gothic style, and it doesn't feel very tight in here. I absolutely love the lift kit and the other things are these cross braces here, which add rigidity and also allow you to hang pipes for trellising. I love them.

[00:11:04] The CRA the wind bracing on the sides here. That helps with stiffening up the ends of the tunnels and really adds a lot of rigidity when the storms are rolling through. And there's a lot of wind awesome as well, came the Gothic pro kit. The last thing you have to decide on is a four foot versus a five foot bow spacing.

[00:11:19] I went with the five foot because I don't have heavy snow loads here, but if you do have a lot of snow, I'd recommend you get the four-foot kit because it'll be a lot stronger. And if you have any questions at all, or just, if you are going to order something from farmer's friend or another greenhouse or tunnel manufacturer, please give them a call and tell them what your constraints are, what you're worried about.

[00:11:39] If it's wind, if it's snow, if it's water, whatever you're concerned about the soil type, they'll say, Hey, you need these kinds of anchors. You should get this style tunnel. They'll tell you what you need because they have customers all over the place that have lots of experience. So I highly recommend these tunnels for a lot of reasons.

[00:11:56] The main one being that they're inexpensive, they're quick to put up, and they just come with everything you need, and you get amazing yields out of them. I've been absolutely loving them. And I think they're a great resource for most people to have on their farm. Let me jump in here real quick and take a minute to talk about sponsor, Paperpot Co.

[00:12:12] as I mentioned earlier in this module, this entire course wouldn't be possible without the support of Diego and Paperpot Co., Diego's not just the owner and founder of the company. He's also an incredible podcast or in YouTube. And I highly recommend you check out his podcast, including farm small farm smart.

[00:12:29] He's interviewed hundreds of farmers including myself a few times. And the podcast has provided a lot of inspiration and knowledge for growers and farmers all over the place. And just recently, he launched a new podcast called carrot cashflow, or he focuses on the farm business off something Diego loves nerding out about and has a ton of knowledge about. In addition to the podcast, I highly recommend that you go to Paperpot Co. to check out what they have for sale tools, equipment, and supplies.

[00:12:52] They focus on high quality, soft that's very efficient. They have great customer service and they're reliable place to buy things from. Also, there are additional resources for this course over there at Go check out what they have and let them know that you're enjoying the course. Back to the module.

[00:13:11] After you've either picked out the tunnels or maybe already have them, you need to prepare the ground and get ready for putting, installing the tunnels. And I can't stress this enough about taking the time to really think through where are you going to put them and those sorts of things. And that goes back to a previous module about farm design, which already got into a lot of that stuff.

[00:13:28] But part of the decision making process for you in picking out tunnels, I'm sure is part of that whole design of how many you need, what size, where they're going to go and all those sorts of things. Make sure you take the time to prepare the ground. Like I mentioned in previous modules, because that definitely takes a lot more time than building these tunnels.

[00:13:42] You can put one of these tunnels together in a day or two with a couple of buddies. They go together super quick, and they're fun to build. I made a video about my experience going through that process from delivery to installation. And I'll leave that link down below for you check out and really to go through it again here also, I'm not in the process of building wants.

[00:13:57] I can't really show you, but take the time to prep the land, dig your drainage dishes. Like I mentioned, I can't stress that enough is playing out the drainage because a lot of people don't do that and they have a lot of problems.

[00:14:10] There are a couple modifications. I just need settles. I want to talk about those first of which the tunnels don't come with end walls. And so you have to figure that out on your own. And it's kind of a bummer. I mean, they do sell kits and you can go with those, but I found these two work really well, and I made a video detailing all of the pieces and steps and everything.

[00:14:25] Again, I'll leave that link for you guys to check out, but these are what's called scissor doors. I talked to a lot of other growers and it seemed to be the most simple and most effective way to do this. And basically the way it's built is there's two pieces of fencing, top rail here and here, and the plastic clips onto them.

[00:14:41] I got these clips from Johnny's and they tie into the top there. And the operation is pretty simple. I have them tied up right now with a bungee, but basically they just pull down like this.

[00:15:03] And then at the bottom, I use this tie here to time together and it works really, really well. it's pretty inexpensive and they're pretty quick to build. I highly recommend this scissor doors the original design for these that was listed on Johnny's website, but a lot of people were using, there was actually a pole in the middle.

[00:15:20] To hold them together, but I haven't had any problem in that's another ship hazard for me. So just tying them together with this gear tie and then dropping a sandbag, there has worked wonderfully, and I've had any issues at all. This system worked great. there are a lot of other fancier and walls and stuff.

[00:15:35] a lot of people like to build more rigid. I haven't felt the need for it here. Most of the year they're open anyways. And I just closed them on cold nights and also like on storms and stuff like that. The other modification I want to show you is these baseboards that I have installed here, and this is not a necessary modification.

[00:15:51] Having end walls, of course, is necessary. You need to go to closing your tunnels, but these aren't absolutely mandatory. And if you're interested in how I put these together, there will be a video link down below where I go through and where we put these on, but they're super simple. They're just decking boards and attached with a pipe clamp on the inside.

[00:16:07] And they're stitched together with a piece of wood between the boards. And it's super simple. But the reason for this is that with the drainage ditch that I have here and adding all the material in here for the deep compost mulch system, it wants to fall out. So we put these in here to contain the.

[00:16:21] All the material inside it's been working really, really well. Other benefits, it adds more rigidity to the the tunnel, which I don't think it really needed, but it's, it is a benefit for sure. And then also when you pull down the plastic, it creates a really nice seal at the bottom. And those are just other benefits, but having the baseboards has been really important for keeping the soil in place inside the tunnel.

[00:16:44] Couple of things I want to talk about here. And some of these, I did mention briefly earlier in this module, but first of which is irrigation, make sure you take the time to set up irrigation system. Of course, it's not going to rain in your tunnel. So all that, the water that your plants need, you're going to have to provide.

[00:16:58] So make sure you take the time to set that up. Trellising, as I talked about earlier is great. You can put poles down the length of this using these cross braces here, but keep in mind, you can really only do trellising crops in the middle two beds because of the height restriction of the tunnel. If you have bigger high tunnels and greenhouses, you can probably use every bed.

[00:17:14] It's a restriction here, but you know, I can get, I can crawl us in half of the beds here. So if you have enough tunnels, not really a problem. If you're going to be using shade, cloth makes you have that on hand before you get into summer. Otherwise, you're going to be, you know, having some trouble there. If you do go to the farmer's friend kit, they do sell shade cloth in the sizes.

[00:17:31] They fit these tunnels, which makes it really handy. Also keep in mind that the S the plastic will reduce the sunlight by about 10%. So in the summertime, if you have the ends all the way up and the end walls completely open, it really shouldn't be much hotter in the tunnel than it is outside as long as you have proper ventilation.

[00:17:45] And that's another thing I love about these end walls is they open up completely wide and allowed a maximum heat to come out. And lastly, I want to talk about storms. So I did talk about earlier how the tunnels can protect your crops during storms, but also keep in mind to protect your tunnels from the storms, and the best way to do this is to just close everything up ahead of time, close all the sides, end walls.

[00:18:04] And I put a lot of sandbags on the end walls, and I haven't had any problems shortly after starting at Raleigh city farm, we lost the plastic on our high tunnel. I think the main reason. Was the fact that one of the sides wasn't really attached very well and the wind came in and just lifted the plastic up, like a big kite and it just ripped it off the frame of the, of the high tunnel.

[00:18:23] And it was a super bummer. So if you have concerns about certain environmental issues, like wind and storms and stuff like that, again, reach out to your manufacturer of your, your tunnels, your greenhouses, and let them know what you are expecting there. And they'll give you advice on different anchoring situations and all those kinds of things.

[00:18:40] I love tunnels. I think they're a great investment. They really helped me increase my yields and my predictability and all the things I mentioned earlier in this video. So I highly recommend you invest in them whenever possible. The next module it's on nine will be all about winter growing. So to really follow up nicely to this module, remember live Q and A's every Monday at 3:00 PM. Hope to see you there.

[00:19:00] Diego Footer: There you have it. Module eight of the sadden hill farm course. If you want to watch Josh's presentation of this module, you can do so using. Below. And if you want to find additional resources related to this module, you can do so at

[00:19:17] Thanks for listening until next time. Be nice. Be thankful and do the work.


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