By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Ag Communications
BILOXI – Biloxi homeowner Jesse Aguilar got a little help installing a high tunnel in his backyard from two Mississippi State University horticulture scientists and the traveling home improvement show “Ask This Old House.”
Aguilar asked the Boston-based television show how to lengthen the growing season of his home garden. The show, which airs on the Public Broadcasting System, travels nationwide to answer viewer-submitted questions about small projects with broad appeal. When traveling outside the Northeast, the show’s crew depends on local experts for advice specific to the region.
They turned to Mississippi State University for help and found Gary Bachman and Christine Coker, both associate Extension and research professors of horticulture with MSU’s Extension Service and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. Bachman and Coker helped the crew decide on placement and materials for the high tunnel, which is an unheated greenhouse that extends the growing season later into the fall and earlier into the spring.
“With landscaping projects, local climate, soil conditions and other environmental factors can affect the types of plants grown and their proper care,” said Heath Racela, “Ask This Old House” producer. “We often turn to a local Extension office to provide climate-specific advice. Gary and Christine offered an appropriate solution to the challenge of growing year-round vegetables in Mississippi, and we are excited to partner with them.”
Bachman and Coker visited Aguilar’s home, evaluated the site, planned the construction and bought and prepared the supplies before the crew arrived.
Bachman, Coker and several agriculture technicians constructed and then disassembled the high tunnel the day before the Oct. 9 filming in Aguilar’s backyard. Bachman also was on-hand during taping to provide guidance to “Ask This Old House” landscape contractor Roger Cook and the filming crew. Other MSU employees provided construction support to the seven-person television crew.
“Extension is a great resource that not enough people know about,” said Chris Wolfe, senior series producer. “We use Extension resources for our show on a regular basis. Their experts are knowledgeable and have the latest research-based information. Our viewers are looking for reliable sources of information, and Extension is one of the best. We like to work with them whenever possible.”
The high tunnel was constructed using pressure-treated lumber and polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, pipe for the framework and a plastic drop cloth from the paint aisle of the hardware store. The structure was installed over an existing raised bed Aguilar constructed.
“I wanted a way to have fresh vegetables as long as possible,” Aguilar said. “We appreciate the help from Gary and Christine and ‘Ask This Old House,’ and I know we will enjoy the vegetables we are able to grow beyond the first frost.”
High tunnels are often used for commercial operations, but they are easily scaled down for home gardeners across the country, Bachman said.
“It’s not just a Southern thing,” he said. “High tunnels can be used anywhere. They add several more weeks to the growing season in the spring and the fall. They can be constructed inexpensively from materials found locally.”
A small high tunnel constructed with pressure treated lumber and PVC pipe, like the one built in Aguilar’s backyard, costs about $400, Bachman said.
Cook said homeowners look to the show for advice on small projects they can do without professional help.
“People love to do things themselves, but many of them are afraid they are going to break something or cost themselves money,” Cook said. “Segments like this give them the confidence and the know-how to do a project correctly.”
The segment is scheduled to appear on a spring 2014 episode of “Ask This Old House,” which airs on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. For local airtimes, visit http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/tv/ask-toh. For more information on high tunnels, visit http://msucares.com to download Extension information sheet 1674, or visit the local Extension office.
The “Ask This Old House” crew spent three days filming on the Gulf Coast. They filmed the installation of a claw-foot tub in Mobile, Ala., on Oct. 8 and the installation of a whole-house dehumidifier in New Orleans on Oct. 9. It was the first time the show visited Mississippi and the Gulf Coast.
“Ask This Old House” began its 12th season Oct. 3. It is the sister production of “This Old House,” which has been on the air since 1979.