WSU Cougar Head Logo Washington State University
WSU Insider
News and Information for Faculty, Staff, and the WSU Community

Hoophouses give WSU organic farm an early launch

By Scott Weybright, CAHNRS Communicationspicking spinach

PULLMAN, Wash. — When you’re a teaching farm at a university, the winter and early spring months require creativity and innovation.

“There just isn’t much for students to do in the fields in the spring semester,” said Brad Jaeckel, manager of the Washington State University’s Eggert Family Organic Farm. “So using season extenders, like our hoophouses, is really valuable for them to get some hands-on experience.”

Low-tech but efficient

The farm has around 4,500 square feet of farmable soil underneath three separate hoophouses, Jaeckel said. The buildings, constructed with a steel frame that’s wrapped in insulating plastic, work much like greenhouses, though without any extra heating or lighting.

bringing in harvested spinach
WSU senior Tuong Vu carries several pounds of spinach he just picked in the Eggert Family Organic Farm hoophouses

“They’re really low tech, but are so useful and effective, especially this year,” he said. “Because of the late-arriving warm weather and the wet conditions,we’re really behind in getting many of our summer crops in the ground. These hoophouses have kept our students busy and provided food to organizations that need them.”

Optimal crops and timing

In order to figure out which crops would work best in the hoophouses, the farm did extensive research, he said.

“We had graduate students spending several winters to figure out the optimal crops and timing for when to plant them,” Jaeckel said. “And we can share that information with interested farmers in the region. But basically, spinach and kale work the best, and we plant in late September or early October.”

For the last month or so, and continuing into May, the students have been tending to and harvesting spinach and a little kale grown on the farm.

Spinach harvest bountiful

These veggies were all planted early last fall and went dormant over the winter, Jaeckel said. And even in a winter as harsh as this one, they came right back much earlier than a plant growing outdoors would have.

In fact, the spinach harvest this year has been one of the best the farm has ever seen, with around 136 pounds of spinach harvested just last week. All this fresh produce feeds the Palouse, getting sold and served up by local organizations.

The three biggest customers for the Eggert farm’s early spinach are the Moscow Food Co-op, both the produce section and the deli, the WSU student-athlete kitchens, and the Whitman County Council on Aging.

“It’s really great to provide these important organizations with fresh, organic produce at a time when there just isn’t much available,” Jaeckel said. “And knowing that the spinach is being enjoyed by WSU athletes and folks at senior centers means a lot.”

Early budget bonus

By selling the produce, the farm gets an early-season budget boost that helps at a time of year when there are more expenses than profits.

That income is put to good use, paying for important expenses like seed for summer crops or equipment maintenance, Jaeckel said.

Sometime in May, when the spinach starts to taper off, they’ll till those plants under and start planting their summer hoophouse crops: tomatoes, peppers, basil, and cucumbers.

 

Media Contact:

Next Story

Applications open for Smith and TCI IDEA grants through March 13

WSU faculty with ideas to advance teaching and learning are invited to apply for the Smith and IDEA grant awards. Both funding opportunities must attend to issues related to inclusivity, diversity, equity, and access.

Recent News

Applications open for Smith and TCI IDEA grants through March 13

WSU faculty with ideas to advance teaching and learning are invited to apply for the Smith and IDEA grant awards. Both funding opportunities must attend to issues related to inclusivity, diversity, equity, and access.

NSF CAREER Award bolsters wearable technology research

Ganapati Bhat, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will use the National Science Foundation-funding to create more flexible, versatile devices that can be worn in regular clothes.

New mandatory ethics training

The new training requirement is part of an overall update of the university’s ethics policy that took effect in December. The policy serves as a key resource for WSU personnel trying to navigate state ethics laws.

Amir Gilmore’s non-exhaustive reading list

Reading lists can be a great starting point for providing context and understanding of the sociality of Black life. They do have limits, however. First, they’re worthless unless you actually read or listen to an audiobook of the material. Second, reading lists don’t necessarily lead to solutions or absolution; they lead to more reading. Third, […]

Find More News

Subscribe for more updates