Anne and Eric Nordell like their hoop houses, but they are also believers in crop rotation and cover crops. That’s what prompted them to come up with easy-to-move “portahoopies” with space in between for cover crops. They recently outlined the pioneering system they have used for 25 years.
“We grow produce in the tunnels for two years, followed by two years of cover cropping,” they say. “This simple rotation reduces weed pressure while preventing the buildup of salt and disease in the soil.”
Their gardens are laid out with alternating 18-foot strips of hoop houses and cover crops. The cover crop strips are planted, mowed, and tilled with a team of horses. Every two years the hoop houses are moved laterally onto fresh soil, and the previously planted soil is rejuvenated for two years.
To move each house, the Nordells take them apart and move the 4-by-4-inch rough-cut beams that run down either side. They are placed on 12-foot centers and are anchored with 20-inch-long, 5⁄8-inch rebar driven through drilled holes every 4 feet. They are driven to a 12-inch depth, leaving 4 inches of rebar above the beam.
“Even in our stony soils, the rebar is easy to pound in and pull out,” say the Nordells.
The hoops are 20-foot lengths of 1-inch schedule 40 PVC pipe that slide on over the exposed rebar. A ridgepole made with 20-foot lengths of PVC pipe are secured to every five hoops with 1⁄4-inch carriage bolts. PVC couplers left unglued connect the ridgepoles.
“To move the portahoopies, we simply tap the couplers apart from the ridgepoles, grab a couple of hoops, and walk the half a dozen steps to the new site,” explain the Nordells.
Once the hoops are in place, plastic is secured to the sill beam with lath. While the plastic helps stabilize the hoop house, it doesn’t allow for side ventilation. Instead, the Nordells limit the length of their hoop houses to no more than 60 feet and use end-door ventilation.
“Originally, we built double doors made from plywood and 1-by-4s. Now as these doors have begun to deteriorate, we are replacing them with a single drop-down curtain made from greenhouse plastic with wire battens. These make the end walls considerably lighter and easier to move.”
The Nordells can also hook the drop-down plastic at different heights to regulate ventilation and keep out pets and wildlife.
Each house has room for three 3-foot beds with two 15 1⁄2-inch pathways. “We plant two rows of lettuce in each bed and then interplant a row of tomatoes down the center of the bed a few weeks later,” say the Nordells.
Their system has served them well. In 2016, they reported sales of nearly $20,000 from the 4,000 square feet of bed space.
The Nordells practice cover cropping across the entire farm. More details can be found in their Weed the Soil, Not the Crop booklet.
Reprinted with permission from FARM SHOW Magazine, www.FarmShow.com.