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!
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)
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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