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NMSU's Alcalde science center to offer winter field day on hoop house vegetable production

ALCALDE, N.M. - Passive heating techniques in low-cost hoop houses are proving to extend the vegetable growing season in northern New Mexico.

New Mexico State University researchers have explored the viability of three hoop house designs and are ready to bring growers up-to-date on the progress of the three-year study with a field day from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, or directions, contact the Alcalde center at 505-852-4241.

"We invite people to come and see the kind of growth possible during the winter in these unheated structures," said Steve Guldan, the project's lead researcher, an agronomist in NMSU's Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences and the center's superintendent.

"Even with the short days and cold temperatures that are a normal part of January, the spinach and lettuce are growing fairly well inside the hoop houses, especially the plots that were planted in late October," Guldan said. "As of Jan. 5, October-planted spinach in the 'double-layer plastic with barrels' house was about 4 inches high and lettuce 7 inches high."

Six hoop houses, also known as passive-solar high tunnels, are located at the science center. The timing of the event will allow participants to see fall-planted Trout's Back lettuce and Bloomsdale spinach as it reaches a harvestable size.

There are two examples of three different hoop house designs at the Alcalde center. The simplest design has a single layer of plastic sheeting; an intermediate design features a double layer of plastic and a fan to blow air between the layers, increasing the insulating properties of the structure; the top-end design is a double-layer version with the addition of a row of dark-colored 55-gallon drums filled with water, which absorb heat during the sunny hours and slowly release it during the night.

The study will include analysis of productivity and of the various economic factors involved, including the cost of building and operating the various designs and the anticipated income from the sale of locally grown greens in the off-season.

Del Jimenez, NMSU Extension agriculture specialist with the Rural Agricultural Improvement and Public Affairs Project, has been developing low-cost hoop houses for several years and came up with the basic designs used in the study. The structures measure 16 by 32 feet and feature PVC pipe frames and translucent plastic sheeting. They are equipped with overhead sprinkler systems.

Jimenez will participate in the field day with a discussion of the construction and durability of the hoop houses; Guldan and Mark Uchanski, a horticulturalist in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, will give an overview of crop and temperature results to-date; and David Salazar and David Archuleta, staff members at the Alcalde center, will be available to answer questions on day-to-day maintenance of crops and hoop houses.

To learn more about the project visit http://youtu.be/w7o8DzJbf7o.

The research is funded by a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture's Western division of the Sustainable Agriculture, Research and Education program.