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Hoop House! (March 3 Garden Project)

November 4, 2010

The hoop house is up!  The hoop house is up!

In an effort to outwit mother nature and provide fresh greens all winter long, Ellen and I thought we ought to give this hoop house thing a try.  We dutifully consulted our Eliot Coleman books and were assured it could be done and that if we put a hoop house up with floating row cover inside over the beds, that double layer of warmth can help maintain some plants we already have (kale, chard, leeks) and also start others like beets, arugula, tatsoi, spinach.  Oh, the hearty greens we’ll eat in the dead of winter!

Here you see my friend Kirk surveying the work on Day One (read all about Day One here), which involved putting up the PVC structure.  Looks like a beached whale:

We’ve covered three 30″ beds and they’re twenty feet long!

There was much engineering going on in my head and I’m pretty proud of the door.  I learned it all from my dad!

photo: Ellen Malloy

Next step was to cover it in plastic.

I was pretty excited to find these at the hardware store.  They’re plastic hangers for PVC pipe.  I hit the bike shop for some used inner tubes to protect the plastic and give the clips a little more purchase.  In all honesty, they hold pretty well, but they do pop off occasionally when the wind blows.  If there’s an Achilles heel on this project, it’s these.  We’ll see how they make it through the winter.

Now I’m thinking caterpillar:

Here’s the north end in place.  The warmth inside was immediately apparent.  Note the ropes criss-crossing over the outside of the plastic.  This is my attempt to contain the plastic as it swells from wind.

And today the south end went on.  As soon as I can get to it I will build two “windows” between the slats that will open to allow heat out.  Hard to imagine right now, but I guess there will be warm, sunny days when it could get too warm, so there will be these two hatches and the door to open for venting.  The A clamps you see holding the center together can also be removed to let hot air out.

Why do all this work?  I guess it’s kind of like being a kid again and building a fort.  Ellen keeps referring to it as the “man cave”.  The other reason, of course, is…

…it is November and we have these beautiful, delicious tatsoi and carrots starting.  They need a safe home!

Will it work?  Who knows.  But we have to try.  Our guru Eliot Coleman says there’s more to winter life than storage crops, so we’re going to give it a go!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2010 12:12 am

    Awesome! I’ll bet that you’re glad you got that poly cover on before the hail! I’m tinkering around for the first time with my own hoop houses. Looking forward to following your progress and learning something along the way. Some gardening pals of mine said they learned about people storing compost inside the house to raise the temperature. We’ll be trying that. Should be nice to be able to start things a little earlier in the spring too.

  2. Ellen Malloy permalink
    November 5, 2010 12:26 am

    Dude, the wind is hollering out! I am up in bed, my bedroom is at the back end of the house near the garden, and I can hear the plastic flapping this way and that. I have never been so grateful for how loud Scout snores as she is occasionally drowning out what I fear is happening outside. Hoop House, Night One: long night ahead!

  3. November 5, 2010 12:49 am

    Yikes Ellen, sorry! Sounds like it needs some tightening!

    Art: if we don’t tear it all down so Ellen can get some sleep, we’ll have to think about your compost idea. Right now we compost in the chicken coop, which we like because they eat some of our kitchen scraps, poop in it, and scratch around in it and in the end it all turns into beautiful soil for the spring. But we could put some of it into the hoop house if it needs warming.

    Stay tuned…

  4. November 5, 2010 1:53 am

    Let me know what happens when it snows.

  5. Nancy Boucha permalink
    November 5, 2010 2:48 pm

    That looks so cool. Or maybe I should say warm. It will be so nice for you to have fresh greens over the winter. You are lucky. And smart.

  6. Kerri permalink
    January 7, 2011 9:10 pm

    OK, so how is it going now? How are the plants surviving? Ellen sleeping? I’m ready for an update!

    • January 7, 2011 10:46 pm

      Inquiring minds wanna know! Fair enough. Here’s an update and long overdue.

      Our (healthy) attitude is that things we do in the garden are a learning process, which is to say that the hoop house has taught us more than it’s fed us lately. Things are mostly staying stable in there, which is fine, but they are not growing. If we had gotten things farther along in the growth process prior to enclosing them in the hoop house, they would just be sitting there in lovely cold storage and we could be eating them. As it is, stuff is pretty tiny, so we’re leaving it alone for the most part waiting for the days to get longer, the sun to stay out more and growth to start happening. I was there two days ago and did notice that our Swiss chard (in pots which we simply carried into the hoop house) are starting to show new growth, so it’s coming! For a while our Tuscan kale was harvestable – they were very mature plants going into the hoop house; so tall in fact that we did not cover them with the second internal layer of floating row cover. I think that eventually did them in because they didn’t have that second layer of protection. Our leeks, also uncovered and fully grown when the hoop house went up, are holding up ok. I pull them and cook with them regularly. So next year we’ll be more diligent about getting the hoop house up over mature plants.

      Regarding its construction, there was an extremely windy and cold Sunday when we had a serious breach in the cover. One end was blown completely open. Luckily the plastic had not ripped but had just pulled out of the little clips. I knew all along those were questionable. I kept resisting putting a screw into them to hold them in place because I was afraid of putting any holes in the plastic. I was afraid that would start a rip. That Sunday I had no choice. I got some little screws put into each of those clips and it’s held up wonderfully since then. Should have done that in the first place. Also needed more internal bracing that day, which I would just do from the start next year.

      Building the hoop house was work and I kept trying to balance labor and materials against structural integrity. I was hoping to get away with minimalism in some cases and well, Chicago winters disagree!

      On the plus side, it is warmer in there and it certainly is warmer under the floating row cover. What this means is that in very early February we will be planting! We will get an extremely early jump on spring planting, which is cool. We have two “greenhouses” we call them which are simple plastic enclosed shelving units that we used last year in February to start seedlings outdoors. It worked very well and this year we will probably put them in the hoop house to speed them up. I have a sorrel plant in a pot on my deck here at home and any day now I’m going to drag it over to the hoop house for the same reason – give it a head start.

      That’s the news from Hoop-house-ville.


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