JEFFERSON - If you build it they will come - and help.
A two-day workshop, sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa, provided a hands-on high tunnel building learning experience for more than a dozen attendees.
With the help of high tunnel builder Jeff Mikesell, of Ag Roofs, the crew constructed the 30-by-96 foot Four Seasons Tools high tunnel on the Chris and Tracy Deal farm to be used as a part of their family's business, Deal's Orchard, located near Jefferson.
Chad Deal sets the beam of the high tunnel structure built on his farm during a PFI workshop. Over a dozen attendees had the opportunity to learn hands-on experience on building high tunnels.
Liz Kolbe, horticulture coordinator for PFI, said the workshop provides the training needed for those interested in a high tunnel to possibly learn enough about the building process to construct their own.
"With Jeff from Ag Roofs, he is here to teach these folks how to do it and they can save a lot of money when they do the installation themselves," said Kolbe.
She added PFI has helped with four other high tunnel builds in the past, with plans to do one again later this spring.
The high tunnel, which is made up of wooden sidewalls and endwalls, and a plastic covering, will help jump start the Deals' growing season, according to Kolbe.
"These structures provide protection for crops from weather conditions such as cold temperatures, heavy rains, hail and, depending on the use, even pests," said Kolbe. "And they help produce crops either early or later in the season."
The polyethylene plastic used to cover the high tunnel, Kolbe said, can help hold in heat from solar radiation during the cold winter months, allowing some growers to keep their building in use all year long, sometimes with the assistance of other heating sources.
As far as plans for their high tunnel, Chris Deal said they hope to get a head start growing their 700 to 800 tomato plants they raise a year.
But they don't plan to stop with tomatoes.
"We would like to try raising some warmer climate fruit," said Deal. "There has been some research going on with peaches and sweet cherries and we would like to take a look at those studies and possibly give them a try."
Deal said they knew a high tunnel would fit well with their business and had the opportunity to learn about the construction process at a PFI field day held last year near Wesley.
"It was an awesome experience," he said. "We learned a ton and it worked out for us to include the organization. Getting the knowledge PFI brings and labor is wonderful. Getting together with everyone has been fun.
"It's been great."
Patty Edwardson, of Churdan, decided she wanted a shot at learning the construction process of a high tunnel.
"This hands-on learning is the only way to learn something, and this is an amazing place to be right now," she said.
She added they have been considering a high tunnel to use in conjunction with their cider orchard on their farm.
"I like the idea of growing some perennials in a high tunnel," said Edwardson.
In addition to fine-tuning her skills with a power drill, Edwardson said the workshop was very informative and overall enjoys the education opportunities gained at PFI events.
"We got to learn from an expert the requirements of high tunnel builds," said Edwardson. "They (PFI) are great at getting people to talk and look at farming in a different way. That's what PFI does."