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Build a high tunnel greenhouse



In Putnam County, children at Eleanor’s George Washington grade school learn how plants grow, many for the first time, in the school’s high tunnel greenhouse, built by Hudson Farms, with the help of WVU Extension and Putnam County master gardeners. (Photo: Kenny Kemp, The Charleston Gazette)


Terry Houser, Tucker County High School agriculture teacher shows customers around the school’s greenhouse where students grow thousands of plants for the cafeteria and for sale. Photo: Kate Long


A “high tunnel” greenhouse is essentially heavyduty plastic sheeting stretched over a frame shaped like half a tunnel.  High tunnels cost less than traditional greenhouses, but they work well too.

Tucker County High School has three greenhouses, one a high tunnel. In the spring, students raise the salad for the school cafeteria, plus local restaurants. Local people stop and buy vegetable seedlings the students grow.

Agriculture teacher Terry Houser gives students starter plants for home gardens. “Our goal is to get the community gardening again,” he said. “The kids learn to garden at school, then they go home and bug their parents to plant a garden.”


The hydroponic system in Tucker County High School’s greenhouse grows thousands of heads of lettuce per year in mulching medium. Other hydroponic systems use Styrofoam holders. (Photo: Kate Long)

He encourages students who want to grow food as a business. “We’re building a business component into the program, and the program give students a built-in lab,” he said.

A high tunnel greenhouse is comparatively easy to create, he said. He teaches students to build an effective temporary high tunnel with little more than tubing and plastic sheeting.

For the past few years, several students have made thousands of dollars in summer, raising vegetables in fields and high tunnels, then selling at farmers markets and through the Farm to School program.

A high tunnel for school or home will cost as little as $2,000 or as much as $10,000, depending on the size, the amount of volunteer labor, and the extras.



One of three community greenhouses in Williamson feeds the city farmers market. Photo courtesy Mingo County Diabetes Coaltion.

High tunnel in the community: A community high tunnel can feed other community projects: In Williamson, Southern Community and Technical Community College students helped put up two high tunnels across from the Williamson senior citizen high rise, next to the community garden. The high tunnels help feed the farmers market year-round.

“A high tunnel could feed the Senior Center or the food pantry,” said Jenny Sue Hudson, director of the Mingo Diabetes Coalition. “There are lots of potential uses.”





Want to explore ways your school and/or community might use a hightunnel greenhouse?


Andy w tomatoes

Tucker County High School student Andy Minear earned more than $2,000 in summer 2013 by selling produce he grew in a temporary home greenhouse his teacher showed him how to build. He credits the high school high tunnel program. (Photo: Kate Long)

  • West Virginia University Extension Service has an excellent high tunnel program, with statewide consultants. They can help schools or other organizations establish a high tunnel program. On their Web site, you can find design plans, construction, temperature management, advice on production and selling, and winter crops, and more:
  • Greenhouse or high tunnel? Here’s a good comparison from Mississippi State Extension Service:
  • How-to-build-a-home high-tunnel video:
  • Type “how to build a high tunnel” into a search engine and choose from all the plans that pop up.


    Teenager Andy Minear constructed his summer greenhouse from plastic sheeting and flexible poles to extend his growing season. Photo: Kate Long

  • Visit a school or community high tunnel program. Ask your extension agent to locate a nearly program.


    • Putnam County’s George Washington Elementary in Eleanor story:

      Children at George Washington School develop a love of gardening, then get their whole family gardening at home, Putnam Extension agent Chuck Talbott said.

      Putnam County Extension Agent Chuck Talbott helps children at George Washington School develop a love of gardening. Many then get their whole family gardening at home, he said. Photo: Kenny Kemp

  • In Hampshire County Schools,horticulture teachers used no-circulation aquaculture to grow lettuce and a wide variety of vegetables on floating Styrofoam strips.
  • Read about a Barbour County farmer who increased his income and sales by building a high tunnel and selling to a farmers’ market.


Also see these related Try This pages:  school gardens, encourage community gardening, encourage home gardening


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