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DIY

Do-it-yourself projects and plans for anyone who can swing a hammer.


DIY Low-Tech Hoop Houses: They’re Not Just for Cold Weather!

 

Hoop houses — this is my third year of using them. The first year, I put hoops over only one raised bed as an experiment. I used a plastic drop cloth for the covering, with various clamps and bricks to hold it in place. I wasn’t completely thrilled with it. During sunny days, even if the temperature was cool, the house would get incredibly hot because plastic doesn’t breathe. So I had to constantly vent the plastic by opening and closing the ends. The bricks and clamps were a lot of work.

But that year, I planted about three weeks before our so-called last frost date, tomatoes and all, and things went very well: I had an earlier crop that produced an amazing amount of vegetables. The no-longer-needed plastic tarp was stored under my potting table, where it promptly disintegrated from being exposed to the elements. The hoops were removed in early summer and stored under the shed, to be put up again in the spring. My garden had an obvious head start that year. Hoop houses were the solution I was looking for. A better design and a second hoop house were in the plans for the next spring.

After some Internet research, I found Agribon cold weather row cover cloth that was recommended by a few different sources. I ordered 50 feet of the stuff during winter in anticipation of getting an even earlier planting going the next spring.

It seemed flimsy to me, like a very lightweight interfacing you’d use in sewing. My fingers did punch through a couple of places where I tugged a little too hard while setting it up over the hoops, but it proved its strength and usefulness a couple of weeks later when it withstood several inches of heavy spring snow and several nights of temperatures in the 20s. I’ve gotten two years of use out of the fabric and will be able to use it again next year. It has a few holes poked in it, but so far they haven’t been a problem. I’ve even gone to the point of doubling up the fabric on especially cold nights and placing a space heater in the hoop house.

The tomatoes started blooming under several inches of snow! I figured out a way to make new, inexpensive and easy-to-use clips to hold the fabric in place. Now we’re talking! For the second spring of using hoop houses, I planted an entire month early and had the best garden yet. You can read more about that on my Herban Farmer blog.

 

By then I’d discovered the unexpected bonus of leaving the hoops up all summer. HAIL PROTECTION. Every spring, summer and fall we get several hailstorms that can be devastating. But the nice thing about hailstorms is that they usually come with an early warning system. Storm clouds that contain hail will have areas that have a distinctly greenish “iceberg” cast to them.

Because I work at home and am also attuned to the weather, I have the ability to run outside and cover the hoop houses with fabric when I see those hail-laden green clouds headed my way. I’ve gotten it down to about 10 minutes to cover both beds. Sometimes my efforts are in vain and the hail never falls, which is fine. But on those days when the hail comes pounding down and I have the fabric in place, I do a little happy dance and pray that the hail does not reach golf-ball size. Because nothing can withstand that kind of pounding.

There have been times when we get into a weather pattern, with violent storms every afternoon. At times like that, I leave the fabric up for several days in a row and it doesn’t cause any problems. The fabric breathes, keeps water evaporation down and I think the plants welcome an occasional break from our sometimes-relentless sun.

So, I’m completely sold on hoop houses. Next year’s plan is to get a track system working so the hoops can be slid back to one end of the garden to make soil cultivation and planting easier. And that will be yet another post!

Building a Simple Hoop House

Materials, to make a hoop house for one 4’ x 8’ raised bed (it should cost you less than $50)

• Four 1/2-inch (interior diameter) x 10-foot pvc pipes
• Eight 1-inch 2-hole conduit clamps, 16 screws
• Eight 1-inch (interior diameter) x 4-inch pieces pvc pipe
• 1/2-inch poly sprinkler tubing, cut into 3 inches for the clips (you’ll want 12-15 of these, this tubing can be bought by the foot; see clips instructions below)
• 1 package Agrigrow or other landscaping fabric (25 feet should be plenty for 1 bed)

Instructions:

1. On each of the long sides of a raised bed, attach four fairly equally-spaced clamp/1-inch x 4-inch pvc pipe assemblies, as per the diagram. See detailed photo below to see the pipe/clamp assembly.

2. Place each end of the 10-inch pipes a few inches down into the 1-inch pipe fittings, so they are secure.

3. Place fabric over the pipes and use the black plastic clips to secure the fabric to the pipes. If it’s cool out, you may have to spread open the clips first.

4. Tie the excess fabric around the 4 corner pipes. In the cold weather, if you need to make the beds more airtight, you can use 2x4s, bricks or pavers to secure the fabric to the ground around all sides.

To make the clips:

Cut a 1/2-foot lengthwise strip out of each of the 3-inch pieces of black tubing (see photo) with tin snips or some other tool that will cut through the plastic. Smooth the edges a bit using a file or even a heavy-duty nail file.

 

That’s all there is to it! Comments? Questions? Please feel free to ask, I’m here.

Deb Tejada is an urban farmer, foodie, do-it-yourselfer, graphic designer, illustrator and web developer living in sunny Colorado.  When she’s not in the kitchen or garden, you can find her at The Herban Farmer.


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debt
1/15/2016 5:26:00 PM

Ladybug47, great idea with the fabric shower curtains! They're made to tolerate moisture and stronger than the row covers. My beds are probably too big for that, unless I patchwork them. Gitana, I hear you on the brick and clamp mambo. I've gotten it down to a science--with all the threats of hail storms we get here I've had a lot of practice. But handling yards of gauzy fabric in gusty wind is a real challenge...


gitana
1/15/2016 1:01:27 AM

I built a nearly identical hoop house in my front garden raised bed. It worked great until a storm hit with lots of wind. The force of the wind snapped some of the conduit clamps (mine were hard plastic, not metal). I added a ridge pipe the second year and that solved the problem. It added rigidity and stability to the hoop house and I haven't had a problem since. Now I need a more customized cover so I don't have to do the brick-and-clamp mambo every time I want to harvest some cilantro. That's a project for next season. - Gitana the Creative Diva


ladybug47
1/12/2016 4:08:50 PM

Here in the mile hi mountains of AZ we learned to put a tent over veggies so they don't get burned up. White fabric shower curtains from Goodwill are just right. Once set up they're easy to work with...


debt
10/20/2015 10:27:40 AM

Hi there, I'm new to blogging here and just found out I don't automatically get notified when someone comments. I haven't had that problem since my plants are not 4' tall that early in the season. When I cover plants to prevent hail damage, between my tall tomato cages and the height of the bowed PVC pipes, the most important part of my plants are protected.The peak of the arch of the pipes is 4', high enough to make it through the summer protecting at least the majority of the plants and the areas that have the fruit. I figure the only way I could protect my plants 100% would be to get a greenhouse. But considering we sometimes get golf-ball sized hail here, even that's not insurance against damage.


pfletch
10/10/2015 10:42:27 PM

Patricia, We use pipe fittings for the PVC. At the top center, for example, we use a +shaped fitting to connect the tall pipes from the 2 sides to a pipe that runs down the center top. With the frost cloth clipped on, everything is fairly stable in a high wind. Hope this gives you some ideas. Pat


patricia
9/19/2015 11:10:31 AM

These work GREAT for spring, however I live in the frozen north and my 4' tomato plants won't fit under it anymore. I tried cutting longer lengths of pvc to accomodate their height but they won't stand up. I've tried to think of what to do besides going to galvanized pipe... do you have any suggestion? Meanwhile I've constructed a make-shift tipi with 1x2 and used the row cover to wrap the bed up. Thanks for any idea you may have.