Extending Your Gardening Season with Hoop Houses

| 11/23/2011 5:09:36 PM

A photo of Allan DouglasIt is mid-November and most of the gardeners I know have pulled up the last of their crops, turned the soil over and put the garden to bed until spring. Last year I did the same. This year I decided I wasn’t ready to quit yet.

from BetterGreenHouses.comI had been doing some reading on cold frames and greenhouses. Then I picked up a copy of the Winter Harvest Handbook, found that many root crops and some leafy greens will grow in the cold of winter and I decided I could do this: I’d just have to do it the mountain man way.

All of the instructions I’d seen on building a normal greenhouse start with “find a flat, level spot…” I have no flat, level spots. But I had installed 4’x4’ raised garden boxes as a way to keep my crops from washing down the hillside every time it rained hard. Could I not simply build on that? The following was my solution.

Allow me to preface this with the disclaimer that I am not a master gardener, nor a greenhouse engineer. At this point the whole thing is newly built and untried. I’ll be happy to let you know if it works out (or not) as we go along.

My idea was to build mini-greenhouses that will fit over my garden boxes to protect the plants inside from damaging winds and snow. The Winter Harvest Handbook – written by Elliot Coleman who runs a year-round farm in Maine – offers a whole list of vegetables that will grow in cold weather and many helpful tips on winter gardening without hot houses (heated greenhouses). The big thing is to protect them from the wind. And by retaining some solar heat on nice days, the plants will grow a little better than if left exposed to the normal winter temps. Requirements for me were keeping the cost down, keeping complexity down, and making them easy to either re-purpose in the spring or break down and store compactly.

I decided to use ½” ID PVC tubing because it’s light weight, flexible, and inexpensive. This design uses tubing and Tees, some plastic sheeting and duct tape. Getting the measurements for all the pieces was the hardest part. Once I had those worked out cutting the tubing to length and assembling the frames took only a few minutes per house.

Bill Cathey
1/30/2012 2:38:55 AM

Good article Allan...I'm new to the blogs but your hoop houses caught my eye. I experimented with building one over the New Years weekend and it's pretty much like yours. I'm in the Gulf South so our winters are milder than yours with no snow, although we do catch a few mid 20's here and there. With that I can keep a fall/winter garden pretty much with no problems. I wanted a hoop house as mainly a seed starter. I used the same size pvc but glued the joints together. I have mine on flat ground (that's all we have down here, lol) and locked it down by placing the pvc on 24" re-bar hammered about 12" down. The downside is, rather than building it first as you did, I put it on the re-bar as I was building it. As such, the stress on the sides of the pvc keeps it from being easily removed. I then covered the frame with 6-mil plastic and weighted it down with 2x4's and bricks. There's a thermometer hanging from the ridge pole and on a sunny 70 degree day it can easily hit 100 inside. But the plastic can easily be pulled up for ventilation and tucked back in at night. Right now I have just a couple of flats of tomatoes growing to see how they get through the frosty nights and so far so good. The whole cost was about $50, the roll of 6-mil plastic was half of that and I have enough left for a second hut if this one is successful. Your hoops look like they are fairly straight for 6 or 7 inches, try re-bar stakes and see how they withstand the wind. Good luck.

Sharon B.
12/2/2011 11:34:22 PM

I am experimenting with Winter Veggies up here in Kennewick, Wa. We have been lucky this year as we have not had the heavy winds we have had in past years. I used metal hoops with Frost Cover (heavy row cover). So far so good. My Cabbages are having problems with tiny little grey bugs, so I will have to tackle that next year. I have Collards that aren't under cover. They are still going strong! Collards may be the "Survival Food" of the garden. JMHO

Nebraska Dave
11/29/2011 8:33:24 AM

Allan, it looks like you have been one busy little beaver building hats for your gardens. I'm going to try an experiment this winter too. Mine will be in the basement with grow lights. I'm just not into tromping outside in the snow and cold if all I have to do is trot on down to the basement to harvest a salad. Maybe I'll try some Mesclun weed salad in the house and see if it can survive the inside temperatures. The basement is about 10 degrees colder than the rest of the house which is at 68 degrees during the winter months. I hope that's not too cold. Have a great day in the fall/winter garden.

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