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Plants still growing inside Chatham's greenhouse

| Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 12:03 a.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Allen Matthews, director of sustainable agriculture at Chatham University, and food studies graduate student Hanna Mosca, 26, remove the plastic covering on beds in a high-tunnel greenhouse at Chatham's Eden Hall campus in Richland on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Allen Matthews, director of sustainable agriculture at Chatham University, removes the plastic covering from beds in a high-tunnel greenhouse at Chatham's Eden Hall campus in Richland on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Lettuce, beets, kale, carrots and cabbage are all growing in the beds.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Chatham University food studies graduate student Hanna Mosca, 26, of Lawrenceville reacts to the growth as she removes the plastic covering from beds in a high-tunnel greenhouse at Chatham's Eden Hall campus in Richland on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Lettuce, beets, kale, carrots and cabbage are growing in the beds.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Chatham University food studies graduate student Hanna Mosca, 26, of Lawrenceville pulls a carrot from one of the beds in the high-tunnel greenhouse at Chatham's Eden Hall campus in Richland on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. Lettuce, beets, kale, carrots and cabbage are growing in the beds.

Temperatures may have been below zero this week, but it was a balmy 36 degrees inside the moveable high-tunnel greenhouse at Chatham University's Eden Hall campus in Richland.

Inside the low tunnels, which protected the individual rows of hardy cold-weather plants, it was even warmer. But was it enough to protect them from sub-zero temperatures brought on by the polar vortex?

When the weather warmed up, Allen Matthews, director of sustainable agriculture at Chatham's Falk School of Sustainability, and graduate assistants Drew Cranisky and Hanna Mosca took the plastic and cloth covers off the plants. It was the first time they'd checked the plants since before Christmas.

“Oh my gosh, look!” Mosca said as they peeled off the covers, revealing the greenery underneath.

All the plants survived the deep freeze remarkably intact. In fact, they were ready to be harvested again, Matthews said.

The high tunnel greenhouse, an unheated greenhouse with plastic sides, retained heat from the sun to protect the plants from frostbite.

Winter-hardy plants like lettuce, beets, kale, carrots and cabbage were planted in the unheated high tunnel greenhouse in mid-November as part of Matthews' graduate classes on sustainability and extended growing seasons.

“The idea is to see how you can extend a season beyond the regular growing season in the summer,” he said.

Anyone can grow plants over the winter using a high tunnel system, Matthews said. It involves relatively little set-up and maintenance.

“There's nothing electronic here, and no external heat source,” he said. “Just the sun.”

The high tunnel was funded by the Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation of Whitehall. Matthews and his graduate assistants have been harvesting the plants for use at Chatham's Dining Services since the beginning of December.

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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