NMSU Researchers Study Winter Growing

Las Cruces, NM – In late October and mid-November, for the third year in a row, faculty, students and farm crews started planting rows of Trout's Back lettuce and Bloomsdale spinach from seed in a dozen hoop houses, also known as passive-solar high tunnels.

Six of the structures are located at NMSU's Leyendecker Plant Science Research Center south of Las Cruces and the other six are at NMSU's Sustainable Agriculture Science Center at Alcalde, north of Santa Fe.

When the last of the crop is harvested in late winter or early spring, it will provide the final data in a three-year study of the viability of these low-budget greenhouses for New Mexico small producers who want to grow vegetables in the winter.

The hoops houses are basic structures the vegetables. Master student Juliette Enfield describes the houses.

Enfield-"These houses are not the high end model hoop house. It's basically just a wooden frame that is stuck in the ground with PVC pipe and woven plastic material that you cover it with. It's secured with staples and screws and some brackets. It's a very simple structure."

There are three versions of the houses each with upgrades such as extra plastic and black barrels to produce heat. So far, researchers have found the double layer hoop house works best in Southern New Mexico conditions.

The main goal of the project is to determine the best way for growers who want to engage in winter vegetable production to provide for direct markets such as restaurants, year-round farmers' markets, community-supported agriculture projects, and even schools.

Definitive conclusions won't be made until date from the current year's harvest has been analyzed.