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HOW TO BUILD A HIGH TUNNEL IN A NORTHERN CLIMATE

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If you live in a cold climate like I do near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in Zone 3 then a high tunnel or greenhouse is a gardening game changer. Suddenly, all those heat-loving vegetables that struggle–like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and more–are dare-I-say-easy to grow.

With a high tunnel, you can finally have those huge tomatoes that are red before anyone else’s. In 2022, I’ll be experimenting with using my high tunnel to grow cool flowers earlier and keep my dahlias blooming longer.

In this post, I’ll answer some of the most common questions about building a high tunnel, as well as share the videos that take you step-by-step through the process. Hopefully, by the end of this post, it will help you decide if you should try and design your own high tunnel, or save time and purchase a kit.

What is the difference Between a High Tunnel and a Greenhouse?

Simply put, a high tunnel has open sides, and a greenhouse is enclosed on all sides and will require ventilation. We did not intend to build a high tunnel. Our intention was to build a greenhouse, we just ran out of time and decided that a high tunnel would be good enough for the first year. Our plan is to enclose the high tunnel and turn it into a greenhouse as soon as the snow melts.

As for benefits, a high tunnel is cheaper to build because you don’t need as many materials. The learning curve is also not nearly as steep, and you don’t need to watch the temperature and ventilation.

It may seem obvious, but remember that you’ll have to have some method of watering your plants because the crops inside won’t have the benefit of the occasional rain.

How Much Does it Cost to Build a High Tunnel Greenhouse?

Prices will vary depending on where you live and the price of materials in that area, as well as how big your greenhouse is. Our total investment when building our high tunnel was about $700, which included these different components:

  • Hoop bender
  • Steel posts
  • Greenhouse plastic
  • Wood–leftover on the acreage, so free
  • Screws, clips, string, etc.
  • Irrigation
  • Gas to drive to Calgary and pick up supplies

Is a High Tunnel Worth it?

Oh, friend. Once you have a high tunnel or greenhouse, you will never go back.

In Saskatchewan (or honestly even Canada in general) you never know what weather you’re going to get. Will it be a cool spring? Drought? Hail storms? A high tunnel is like an insurance policy on your garden. While your plants will still die if you neglect them, you have a much better chance of getting a good harvest with them. And, once you figure out the timing to extend the season a bit, you can grow for longer.

Wouldn’t it be nice to eat your spring spinach 3 weeks earlier? Or to have an abundance of peppers instead of struggling with one per plant?

How We Built Our DIY High Tunnel without a Kit

Our greenhouse journey started with purchasing a 12-foot hoop bender from Bootstrap farmer. We purchased it back in November to account for any possible delays in shipping.

In March, Michael took a trip to Calgary to purchase most of the supplies from a greenhouse supply company. At the time, we didn’t know of anything closer, and the cost savings justified the expense of driving. In a non-pandemic year, we likely would have just phoned in an order and got it shipped out. But with the way gardening supplies were disappearing with increased demand, we didn’t want to take any chances.

Once the snow melted in April, we got started with ground prep. The greenhouse didn’t actually get finished until late May. We found that there are so many other things to do garden-wise in the spring, that it’s hard to take time for building projects. Also, we didn’t live on the property, so it was always a juggle of daycare, weather, and Michael’s job commitments.

This greenhouse was entirely the Hermit’s design and doing. My job was to document the process and fill the growing space up with peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. In these 3 videos, we share the plans for the high tunnel. Watch for a fourth where we share our trellising system.

Is it Better to Get a Kit or DIY?

When we first set out on this project, we thought that doing it ourselves would save a lot of money and be worth the extra time. After going through the process, sorting out the materials, and making a few mistakes along the way, I feel like we didn’t really save a lot of money, if any, in doing everything ourselves.

The one nice thing about DIY was that we weren’t limited by shortages or supply delays for kits, as long as we could source the materials somewhat locally.

We tried to source everything as early as possible, to allow for some inevitable delays.

The only large hiccup we ran into was that Mike miscalculated the width of the greenhouse plastic. However, it really wasn’t the end of the world, and we were still able to grow impressive vegetables.

Where can you purchase Greenhouse Kits and Building Supplies?

If you’re just an average person searching the internet, it can feel like the where-to-buy piece of the greenhouse equation is a bit of a mystery. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, here are a few resources to get you started:

Want to follow our greenhouse journey? Follow me @shifting_roots on Instagram, or Shifting Roots on YouTube.


Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Kristen

Welcome!

Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!