Grit Blogs > Of Mice and Mountain Men

Hoop House Update

A while back I explained my plan to extend the garden’s growing season by building  domed covers over my raised bed garden boxes and planting cold-tolerant plants.  I thought I’ll let you know how that’s going and what I’ve learned from the experience.

Hoop Houses in Garden

Fresh Vegetables in January

I planted mesclun lettuce, leaf lettuce, carrots, onions, chard, spinach, garlic, and Brussels sprouts.  On a weekly basis I’ve been able to harvest the lettuces, carrots, onions.  Chard comes in a little more slowly.  The spinach is alive but pretty well stopped in its tracks as far as growth goes.  I think this is mostly due to a lack of sunshine; which I will discuss in a moment.

  I didn’t plant more than a couple of squares of each plant because I didn’t want to be inundated.  That need not have been a worry.  We get enough each weekend to make one good salad, which will provide dinner once and provide a side salad once or twice for lunch through the week.

 My herb bed is also doing well and we can clip rosemary and oregano as needed.  The sage has gone dormant, so I don’t take cuttings from that.  I moved a basil plant into my office and that serves our needs well since I have to clip it aggressively to keep it from bolting.  I’ll plant fresh seedlings in the herb bed in the spring.

What I’ve Learned

The biggest mistake I made was in planting beds that are in a shaded area during the winter because the sun sits lower in the sky in winter than it does in summer and trees along the edge of my property block the sun.  In the summer this was not a problem.  Next year I’ll need to put in more boxes and the winter garden will be higher up the slope where full sun is received most of the day.

This lack of sun is compounded by the fact that the plastic covering the houses is semi-transparent, so it may be blocking some of the sun.  Whenever possible I go out and pull the covers off the beds on warm sunny days.

I was afraid that watering the beds would become a chore since I had to disconnect and drain the water hose for the winter.  But this has not been a problem.  Rain that falls on the cover slides down the sides and into the edges of the box.  The vermiculite in the mix then helps hold the water for the plants.  And because there are not many warm, sunny days where I pull the covers, the moisture that gets inside tends to stay there.  Evaporated moisture condenses on the inside of the cover and falls back to the soil as it gathers into droplets.  I have not had to add water even once so far.

One thing I did think to do was to make slits on the plastic where it wraps around the lower side bars.  This allows the water that runs down the sides to escape and fall back into the soil instead of building up in the pocket this wrapped plastic forms.

I have learned that there are some PVC pipe fittings that would allow me to build a “house” shaped roof rather than bending the piped into a hoop.  The hoop puts a lot of tension into the system and this can cause some problems with joints popping loose and legs not wanting to fit into their sockets.  Building domes with short straight sides and a peaked roof would take all the tension out of the system.


I’d say the project is a success; it is providing us with fresh food and will have a great start on the early spring crop because much of it is already in the ground.  I need to be more mindful of the suns winter position and put out more plants next year.  But it has worked well.

eileen atkinson
1/30/2012 2:53:40 AM

I built raised beds this year and also decided to make a frame for Frost blankets. I found PVC fittings to make a square frame and mid-support for the 4-ft boxes but am having a bit of difficulty trying to put together a frame for the 8-ft box with cross-supports. How does one make a domed top? I had planned to make a frame using rebar and bending PVC pipe but had concerns about the stress and aging over time and went with "squares". Any help with cross-bracing fittings for the 8-ft x 4-ft bed would be helpful for when I put together the 12-ft x 6-ft bed. [for runner crops, cabbage, etc.]. Also I managed to keep a celery plant growing only using a white 5-gal bucket. I would cut the stems whenever they grew long enough. For those 'teens nights, I found that a frost blanket and a plastic tarp and a fleece blanket kept the plants nice and snug. I live in mid-tenn near Kentucky. The winter has been relatively mid this year and not sure how such would work given a more normal winter. I'm zone 6b I think it is.

bill cathey
1/30/2012 2:51:20 AM

Allan, I'm glad it's working for you. I left a comment on your original November post concerning my own hoop house before I found your update. I'm curious to know if you know the temp inside the hut during the really cold times. I keep a regular mercury-type thermometer in mine but you have to open the house to see it (defeats the purpose)...I'm thinking about a battery operated digital that will show the hi/low as well as current, that would help I think. Good luck.

philip hammond
1/24/2012 9:13:09 PM

Allan, Where on the map are you? By the picture you are a bit south of Vermont. Phil

randy pagana
1/22/2012 9:53:12 PM

Great idea. I'll check out my junk guy at Wilkeson and 19th in Tac. Thanks.

hans quistorff
1/22/2012 5:31:10 AM

Glass sliders that have been replaced with double pains work excellent. Have some shower stall doors; used one to cover my sugar peas planted in an old horse trough [the oblong galvanized steel ones] They came through the cold and snow this week just fine. I am just south of you on the Key peninsula. See my raspberry row covers on Facebook under Qberry farm

randy pagana
1/21/2012 10:57:41 PM

Hello Allan. I'm planning on doing the raised beds and covers this year and I want to thank you for the tip on peaked roofs. I've been reading about greenhouses and went on the cheap by thinking like you. I dreaded the bent plastic thing so now I'm thinking about the local junk guy w/used unbroken windows as sides. The lid might have to be plastic. Just running it by you as an idea. I'm open for any suggestions. Thanks, Randy, Olalla Wa. in the slush.

allan douglas
1/20/2012 11:45:07 PM

Thanks Dave, and yes it is great. And next year I'll be less conservative with my planting and maybe we'll get two or three good salads a week. It's all good. And good luck with Terra Nova Gardens; lots of work ahead, but I suspect many rewards as well!

allan douglas
1/20/2012 11:41:08 PM

Our temperatures have run anywhere from 16° to 62°. Mean average would be in the low 40's.

b freeman
1/20/2012 3:59:43 PM

What kind of temperatures have you been experiencing there?

nebraska dave
1/19/2012 7:53:26 PM

Allan, Isn't it great to get fresh salads from the garden in January? Even if it's only one a week with a couple lunch salads, it's still much better than nothing. Thanks for sharing the success of your winter growing. Part of the gardening experience is about how to improve things from the last year. Every year I do things just a little different than the last. Some ideas work and some don't but that's the fun in gardening. Have a great winter salad day.