Grit Blogs > Weksny Acres

An Early Start

Eric head shotI have learned over the course of the last three years that there is a vast difference between having a casual hobby garden and growing food to help your family become self-sufficient and produce income for the farm. All through my childhood, when the weather started warming up, my dad would start looking at seed catalogs; we tilled the garden and got everything ready for warm weather.  When the weather finally warmed up and stayed warm, that’s when we started planting and weeding.  It was time to “play” in the garden.

It’s a little different when you are growing to feed your family and others.  At least it is for me, anyway.  I find myself thinking about the spring plants when most people are shutting down their gardens for the winter.  With the usually mild winters here in South Carolina, we can grow three gardens a year, spring/summer, fall, and winter.  It means a constant rotation of planting, seed starting, and the like.

Here on the farm, we started the seeds for many of our herbs and vegetables during the first week of January.  I know that you are thinking that it is way too early to start plants, even in South Carolina!  But I have learned a few things along the way.  Last year we started using low tunnels to cover crops that we planted, and actually had good success with it.  This year, we finally got to add our first greenhouse to the operation. 

Hoop assembly for greenhouse 

It was made of simple construction with ¾” PVC, 6 mil plastic, and a wooden frame.  The treated wood frame was secured to the ground with posts set 3 feet deep. We gave the hoop frame more strength by placing a 10 foot piece of ½ metal conduit piping inside the top piece of the PVC assembly. 

The hoops were attached to the wooden frame with metal conduit brackets  The end hoops were attached to the base with treated 2x4s and conduit brackets.  It took two of us to install the hoops to the frame, and it went nice and quick. 

Hoop greenhouse construction 1 

I placed two sheets of plastic over the hoops for the cover, to make an air cushion to help insulate the air inside.

Greenhouse door 

 For the door, we repurposed a broken storm door by cutting it to size for the doorway.   The greenhouse measures 12 by 14 feet with a height of about 7 feet in the center. We have had our cool-spring plants inside since the beginning of February, and they are growing great.  In fact, I walked inside the greenhouse the other day and it felt like an 80-degree day.  Outside the greenhouse it was 40 degrees.  We have been able to duplicate the temperature conditions of Florida in our simple greenhouse. 

Plant trays 

This week, we are repotting about 250 tomato seedlings into bigger trays.  Then they will be heading out to the greenhouse, to make room for more seed starts. 

We are excited about our greenhouse and how it’s performed so far.  In fact, I am already looking at building 3 more just like this one, so we can grow year-round here.  If you like the idea of eating fresh vegetables during the winter and early spring, consider building your own green house.  They don’t have to be expensive to build or very big, but they are well worth the effort.

eric slatt
2/27/2012 9:33:42 PM

Pamela, I'm not sure what the winds are like in your area. I know that I haven't had any problems with winds hurting it so far. In the past week we've had 2 storms that has wind gusts of 25+ mph and no damage to the greenhouse. It is protected on two sides by woods that are around 40 feet from it.


eric slatt
2/27/2012 9:31:35 PM

The dimensions are 12 foot by 14 foot. and it uses 10' sections of PVC pipe.


eric slatt
2/27/2012 9:24:03 PM

The pvc pipes are 10 foot lengths and 3/4" in diameter.


eric slatt
2/27/2012 9:22:53 PM

I would have never thought about growing tomatoes like that/ Very ingenious. I am really interested in hearing how it works out.


chuck pemberton
2/26/2012 6:02:43 PM

What are the lengths of the pvc?, Thanks, Chuck.


pamela miller
2/24/2012 5:47:31 PM

I was wondering how it holds up to wind. I'm in the Pacific NW on a small island and we get whooped by winter and spring winds. Some on neighbors built similar hoop houses but took the cover off during winter. I'd like to build for wind so as to use it all winter. I was think maybe a double hoop at each point?


a wright
2/24/2012 5:23:45 PM

What are the dimensions of your foundation, and the lengths of the PVC? Thanks


charlie greene
2/24/2012 2:54:55 PM

Great job! It is just wonderful what one can do if you only think about at and then put your thoughts into action........I have a tomato plant growing out on my fish cleaning deck with lots of buds and actualy two little green tomatoes about the size of my thumb........It is the result of my wife and I thinking things through and no money to spend on a commercial green house. We drilled 1/2 inch holes in to three 4x4's, each 15 inch's long. We put the plant into a 15 inch pot, put 6- 1/2 inch dia tomato stakes, each 5 ft tall, into the 4x4's, and one 6 foot tall stake into the middle of the pot. We got a plastic bag from Wal*Marts that was used in a bananna box. It was in one piece and had little 1/2 inch holes in it. We slipped this over the stakes and used it as the bottom cover. It came up the stakes about 3 feet. We then slipped a clear, extra large garbage bag over the top of the whole thing to keep the rain from drowning the plant......The plastic is held in place with clothes pin's and they really work. The clear plastic keeps the wind out and still allows the sun shine in. Our winter temp's have dropped to 28 deg.'s and this simple covering has protected the plant. The entire set up was the cost of the clothes pins at our local dollar store.......Please keep us posted on your good works!


eric slatt
2/22/2012 5:02:43 PM

Dave, So far the greenhouse is working well. There seems to be plenty of light coming through the double layer of plastic. I've got probably 100 plants inside thee right now and they seem to be growing nicely so far. I will make sure I keep you updated on the success or failure. 250 tomato plants does seem like a lot. All but three of them are old heirlooms so we want to make sure we have plenty to put up and sell and grow the seed inventory. So about a third of the plants go to seed, another third goes to crops for us and sales, the rest are sold as tomato plants. Last year I started 500, but a sudden spring hail storm wiped them out. So I've got my fingers crossed for this year.


nebraska dave
2/21/2012 2:54:09 PM

Eric, very nice plan for the green house. Let us know how this works out. I'm interested especially in how well the double thickness opaque plastic lets the light through to keep the plants healthy and growing. That was a great way to recycle the storm door. I'm all about recycling things for a new life of usefulness. You are certainly correct in the opinion that hobby gardening and survival gardening are completely different. I am moving closer to the preserving for winter consumption gardening but it will be a couple more years before I finally reach a full force garden big enough to supply all my friends, neighbors, and family with summer fresh vegetables and have enough to put away for the winter. My philosophy is that those around me should benefit from gardening as much as I do. It's already inspired some neighbors to have a couple tomato plants and maybe a cucumber or two. Two hundred and fifty tomato plants? Holy Moley what on earth do you do with 250 tomato plants. That has to take up a huge part of your garden. I had only five last year and it was more than enough for me. This gardening year I plan on have quite a few more but other than my normal give away and preservation the overflow will go to the homeless kitchens in the city. I'm looking forward to more of your gardening ideas. Have a great day in the green house.