February 23, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Coldframe greenhouse crops, such as lettuce, greens, spinach, etc. are a very viable alternative agriculture option for Kentucky's farmers. Coldframe greenhouses simply are unheated greenhouses, with a small fan for air circulation.

The Kentucky Cooperative Extension service held an informative meeting about coldframe crop options at the Kentucky State University Research Farm in Frankfort, Feb. 17. The meeting is part of a series that has become known as that "third Thursday thing" at KSU.

Meetings are held once a month and they cover all sorts of topics from Paw Paw's to Horticultural crops to goat production and beyond. KSU's Marion Simon, an Extension small farms specialist, likes to showcase some local farmer's products at each meeting.

"If we're working with alternative crops and enterprises, it's a more successful program if the audience can taste, touch or see the product we're focusing on," Simon said. "They'll have a better relation to the product. It also creates a small market or outlet for producer who is bringing in the product that day. Also, it lets people see what they're learning about (like coldframe crops) and see that it is successful."

Alison and Paul Weidiger, Edmonton Co, have been in the coldframe business for some time and are a picture of how to make the enterprise a success. The Weidigers brought some of their greenhouse products to the KSU meeting to show other small farmers what can be done in the low-cost coldframes. Their products were used to feed the large crowd a soup and salad lunch.

"We produce our crops all winter long in an unheated coldframe, grown in raised beds in the ground," Alison said. "We produce many different kinds of lettuce, spinach, mescalin mix and many types of gourmet salad greens and retail them directly to a consumer's market in Bowling Green."

Alison is convinced there is a large market in Kentucky for these crops if producers learn how to grow a marketable product and follow it through, learning as much as they can along the way.

"It's very doable in Kentucky; the market is terrific. We haven't even tapped the beginnings of the market yet," she added. "Things like today make people aware. If the small farmer in Kentucky is going to survive, he's going to have to find a niche market and this is a very low-cost, high-profit, niche market."

Alison estimates the cost of a 12 X 96 ft. coldframe greenhouse to be near $2,500. She added that the greenhouse will pay for itself the first winter season.

John Strang, University of Kentucky Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, was on hand to discuss the current opportunities for coldframe greenhouse crops.

"Any of these crops, for a new grower, have a learning curve," Strang said. "I was talking to good grower who told me it took him six years to really figure out tomatoes and do a good job. Anytime you start something new you're going to make mistakes."

Strang encourages people to start out slow; to try it on a small basis and learn as they go. It doesn't matter how much they read or know, there's always some things they'll get caught on until they have more experience.


Marion Simon 502-227-6437