Inspiration is a funny thing.
Gardening Know How asked me to write a piece about building hoop houses. I didn’t know a single thing about building hoop houses. So I researched it, and then I wrote my authoritative article, and then I built one of my own. In that order.
This little guy is my boyfriend, Ben. I enlisted his help because he loves building projects, and he loves trips to the Home Depot. He’s never been too keen on squishing around in foamy buckets of fermented fruit, so this was a good opportunity to do something together.
We’re hovering right around the first frost date for our area, depending upon who you ask. Some say it’s as early as October 3rd, and some say it’s as late as October 31st. Looking at the forecast, I’m more inclined to believe the latter. This wild map suggests that it varies by a few weeks within the city, with the line following, as far as I can tell, the contours of the hills.
So I may be a few weeks early. Or I may not be. I have too many frost sensitive plants that are just starting to produce in earnest to want to cut it close, though.
Construction was a breeze. My plot is roughly ten feet by three feet. We bought four ten-foot lengths of PEX tubing and sunk them deep into the soil. This made a tunnel just high enough to cover everybody. The trellis didn’t make the cut, but the cucumbers and melons on it had all but given up for the season, anyway. It was a mercy killing.
The cross beam was… improvised. Across the top we zip-tied three wooden stakes I’d been using as a trellis. The ends were still wet with dirt. The plan is to replace them this weekend with an irrigation pipe of some sort. But for now the stakes are performing admirably.
We draped a single translucent plastic tarp over the whole thing. It’s ten feet wide, so it overlaps just right with the sunken ten foot poles. It’s roughly a million feet long, so even with plenty of slack to fold up securely on either end, we cut off quite a bit extra that I plan to rig up into a smaller enclosure for my container garden by the house. We attached it to the structure with a bargain bag’s worth of plastic clamps.
And that’s it! From inside, it looks like a veritable tropical paradise!
From outside, it looks like that scene from Independence Day.
After just a few minutes, it definitely felt warmer inside. It was a windy day, though, so I suspect this came more from the plastic functioning as a windbreak. I’m sure the plants will appreciate that as the wind gets nastier.
There was some room on the end where I’d ripped out the cucumbers and melons. I had planned on planting peas there, but since the trellis didn’t make it into the enclosure, it wasn’t in the cards. Rather than planting something new, I decided to fill the space with as many hot weather containers as I could fit.
This is my secret garden – the three-foot-wide strip of concrete along the side of my house. It gets full sun, it’s not in anyone’s way, and while it’s a pain to water, it gives me a steady supply of tiny eggplants.
Plus, the cat loves it.
After some agonizing, I picked out my strongest producers and carted them down to the garden. I fit three eggplants, a pepper, and a tomato, which I removed from its cage and stretched lengthwise along the kale. You can see one little arm reaching up in the distance. Quarters are tight, but they live in buckets. They’re used to it.
And that’s that! The thing that distinguishes a hoop house from a greenhouse is that it’s labor intensive. Where greenhouses rely on heaters and fans to regulate temperature, hoop houses rely on the sun and wind. The sun is absorbed passively. The wind, however, is left to human intervention. The ends have to be opened up daily to allow for air circulation, otherwise the heat from the sun will get so intense it’ll just cook your vegetables where they stand.
Since it’s still warm out, I’m leaving the ends perpetually rolled up, and I’m treating the hoop house mainly as surprise frost protection. Once the temperatures start dipping lower, I’ll have to roll the ends down at night and up in the morning. With any luck, this will keep the warm weather guys alive long past their unprotected neighbors. With even more luck, pollinators will be able to find their way into and out of this thing.
I’m expecting the eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and squash to give up the ghost eventually. The days are going to get too short and the bees are going to go into hiding, and any tomatoes I eat in January will come from California. For the leaves and roots, however, I have high hopes! With some mulching, and maybe a flap cut into the roof in preparation for access through the many feet of inevitable snow, there’s a chance I could be eating fresh vegetables on Valentine’s Day.
It’s just like they say: Beets are a girl’s best friend.