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Alternative Organics - Reese Tipis as Alternative Greenhouses III
by Henry Carol
Oreganic Producer Magazine

If you read the last installment of this column, you are familiar with Greg Smith of Rocky Ford, Colo. A Reese Tipi was erected at Greg's farm last December, and I wanted to follow up and see how his plans were unfolding. I called him on a Sunday afternoon and immediately recognized the sound of a diesel engine in the background. Greg was plowing a field and so the call was brief, but we talked again later that day.

Greg has some good things to say about the tipis, although he is only using one at the farm because he plans to relocate the other to his retail store later this spring. In fact, Richard Reese of Reese Tipis may be in the area to assist in the move.

The working tipi remains where it was originally positioned and has a bed of mulch in place along with a zoned drip irrigation system, so that Greg can control the needed moisture to the specific areas from a central location in the center of the tipi. In the dynamics of agriculture, Greg has identified that the 12-inch spread in his drip zones may need to be adjusted inward, or closer together, to provide a more uniform distribution of the moisture. Although he has not yet planted as much as he wanted, in late March he did plant a leafy type of lettuce and some others that appeared to be almost ready for harvesting. Some of the other plants growing or to be planted in the tipi include kayo, mustard greens, carrots and Egyptian lettuce.

Greg is really impressed with the performance of the tipi because it seems to be self-regulating and requires little adjusting. Since his valley has an elevation of 4,000 feet, his solar radiation is good. When I spoke with him on Sunday, outside temperatures were approaching 100 degrees, whereas with the tipi venting, the temperature logger showed a fairly constant 86 degrees. Greg knows that too much heat or cold can harm the plants, but this has not been a problem with the tipi.

In fact, although he had been tempted to put auxiliary heat into the tipi, it never became a problem. No heat. No fans. Just a natural airflow that was enhanced by disconnecting a couple of retainers that released portions of the false ceiling to promote circulation and venting. Since making this change, further adjustments have not become necessary. From Greg's standpoint, the tipi essentially adjusts itself.

His intent is to do more planting in the coming weeks that will include broccoli, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, two leaf lettuces, basil, and parsley, along with other herbs.

We also discussed the availability of water in the region, I will save that for a future topic, since it is a very controversial subject in which farmers everywhere may have an interest as they look at the future of this dilemma in their regions as well.

Greg discovered that one of the more gratifying features of the LaCrosse Technology WS-2315 Weather Station is that it uses the data received to excite its programmable alarms feature. Although you can set the alarm for temperature rising too high in your wine cellar or dropping too low in the greenhouse, Greg has his set to the barometric pressure. Needless to say as we consider recent weather events, the barometric alarm sounded with plummeting pressures several times, warning of an impending tornado. Greg and his family were fortunate in that the quick decline in the barometric pressure didn’t result in a tornado in their area as it did in some other locations in the Midwest. Nevertheless, they were prepared with an advanced warning.

Although the tipis at Greg’s farm are 17 ½ and 19 ½ feet in diameter, the winds and weather in Colorado have not been a problem, despite wind speeds as high as 47 mph that were recorded by the WS-2310.

Greg noted that they had a cold snap just before planting a few weeks ago during which the temperatures dropped below zero for a night or two. Temperatures in the tipis typically stay 10 or more degrees above the outside temperature. He also noted that although the temperatures may climb into the 90s during the day, the tipis have been maintaining an average of 86.

Richard Reese had also installed a tipi at the farm of Steve Cole and Audrey Liu in Alamosa, Colo. Steve and Audrey experienced the same cold snap as Greg. Although they had auxiliary heaters going in the tipis, the cold snap was so severe that they lost most of the plants they had planted a couple of weeks before. On the brighter side, seeds planted recently are now coming up and include baby lettuce, radishes and more. Steve will transplant them as the seedlings achieve their second set of leaves.

Steve and Audrey are also being sent a WS-8610 data logger (this system had already been installed at Greg's farm) to monitor their tipis to more accurately track their temperatures and humidity. In the meantime, Davis Instruments sent one of their professional Vantage Pro2 stations to the UniMinds Media Organic Research Facility (UniMORF) in the River Valley area of Colorado. The Vantage Pro2 will measure barometric pressure, temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed and direction, and much more. It has available options that include soil moisture and leaf moisture sensors, as well as a heater for the rainfall sensor for those extreme northern climates that may cause it to freeze up. In addition, if you are technology oriented and wish to log the data on your computer or connect it to the Internet, there is a kit available to connect it to your computer.

Steve also mentioned that he encourages the making of compost with a bin that you can enrich by tossing in appropriate food scraps and other additions. Steve turns the compost bin every two weeks and keeps it moist to keep those beneficial microbes working. He also uses five-gallon buckets in which he plants seeds for a variety of his planned crops that include a cold-natured bamboo, peas, beans and more. Once sprouted, he grabs a bucket and off he goes to plant them in their ultimate destination.

Steve is planning ahead, as we all should do. Although some planting was done before the cold snap, he recognizes that previous experience has exposed him to this learning experience before. The planting of the crops that are most susceptible to frost or freezing should be postponed until late April. I believe that Steve found the magic date of April 21 the easy way--it’s his birthday! Lets hope that he doesn’t get so busy that he forgets--at least not until he’s 50 years older.

Steve’s talents go beyond those of the conventional farmer in more ways than one. First, he already has an orchard going with a broad variety of apple trees that include McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Donegal, Jonathan-McIntosh, crabapple and more. Secondly, Steve’s pesto salsa is catching on. A number of customers have complemented him on it and he may need to expand his use of a nearby “certified kitchen” into some extended hours or justify investing in his own in the next year or two. Presently selling in one of the small grocery chains in his area, it looks as though the salsa may be picked up by the entire chain.

Steve’s planting outlook is optimistic as we approach the magic date. The warmer weather will trigger some rapid growth in the plants that will hopefully not be curtailed by a late spring or early summer cold snap or blanket of snow.

In our next issue we will update how the tipis are performing in two or three locations, including the one at the demonstration site that has not yet been erected. We should also have the installation of the INOV8 furnace that will be used to heat some of the greenhouses at the site completed at that time.


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