This is the second blog covering the topic of my hoophouse purchase, set-up and use. It is, and will be, a lot of work to get it up and going. It has already to been the source of some sore muscles, and skinned nose (luckily not broken from being hit by the rock bar), and nightmares (about not getting the posts set in time). But, I am very excited about it and will soon be having sweet dreams about picking ripe tomatoes in May and sweet blackberries in November. So, please read on...
Now that I've signed up for the EQIP program from the NCRS that is helping me buy a hoophouse, I must purchase and set it up. I researched and looked at hoophouses from several manufacturers. Everything must be considered: roof style, post sizes, how high the sides are, how the sides lower or raise, lengths and widths offered, straight sides or curved.FarmTek has some pretty economically priced kits that come in very customizable sizes. Rimol is the manufacturer of some very durable hoophouses that may be a good choice, especially if you deal with bad weather or possible snow loads.Haygrove hoophouses were similar to Rimol, featuring plastic sheeting covering that is held tautly across the hoops and tightened down with ropes. Then, rather than the sides being rolled up for ventilation, they could simply be pushed up or pulled down. I liked the simplicity of this, rather than having to crank up the sides. They also have side posts that auger into the ground, which would seem to really anchor them in. The ground here is full of clay and rock underneath the topsoil and would probably be too hard for a hard plastic auger tip to bust through. The Haygrove tunnels can also be connected side to side if used for large growers needing massive square footage for their production.
I have chosen to go with the Zimmerman High Tunnel distributed by the Morgan County Seed Company. They are located in Central Missouri, which makes it local to me. It is a very well supported hoophouse that is comparable in price to some of the cheaper made kits. The length of the house is customizable, so I am going with the 72 foot length. This length makes the most out of the square footage offered to me by the grant without going over and leaving me with more expense out of my pocket. Something that is also great about this kit is that you can either get raise up or pull down drapes across the sides. I have opted for the roll down sides. I have heard from other growers that this is better for most plants because the cooler air will then circulate up higher, rather than below which could leave the plants with cold feet.
Before purchasing my house I went to a hoophouse installation workshop put on by the local University of Missouri Extension specialists. I got to see the specialists and the Zimmerman High Tunnel distributor direct the raising of this exact hoophouse as we (the participants) helped in the process while learning and asking questions. When asked if I would be interested in holding a hoophouse installation workshop, I enthusiastically agreed! The option of having University Extension Specialists present to help me and others install my hoophouse is a dream come true! Sarah, the Lincoln University Agent that set this up has distributed information about this among the local growing community and it will take place May 18-19. Besides having the kit ready to go, and the extra lumber and supplies on hand, we also needed to have all the posts installed before the workshop.
I am installing the hoophouse in an area that is currently planted in fescue. This will actually make installation easier because working on grass is better than dirt or mud. After installation I will have to decide how to deal with the sod, and at this time I am considering covering it all with black plastic or landscape fabric. Also to be decided is which way to orient the hoophouse, and after attending the hoophouse workshop last summer I decided that an East/West orientation was the best option for our area and winds that we expect.
Last weekend my husband, kids and I worked on getting all the 26 posts installed. At an earlier date some friends helped me measure out and square up the dimensions. I wanted to use the post hole digger that attaches and works off of the PTO of the tractor. The tip of the digger was getting old and worn and wouldn't work at all, so I bought a new one and it works like a charm! First we dug out and set one corner. After that we measured 30 feet and dug and set the next corner. At this point it becomes important to measure and make sure the corners are squared. Using the Pythagorean theorem (sometimes called the 3,4,5 rule in construction) is probably one of the best ways to keep things square. The measurements that we are using is 30 squared (the width) + 72 squared (the length) = the length from one corner to the other corner opposite of the right angle(the hypotenuse). This dimension ended up being 78. Once we got all the corners cemented in, we then had to put 11 posts in between each length exactly 6' apart, level, the same height, and in line with each other. Not to mention they were almost 3' into the ground. Oh, that was a lot of work, and it isn't perfect! We dug and set each post. The rock and clay that we have would make it hard to drive the posts without damaging them.
I'm now ready for when the help arrives, and with the posts in, maybe there will be no more nightmares. Getting all the hoops up and then seeing the plastic pulled up and over the whole thing will be a site to see! I can't wait!
photo credit: setting a post and keeping it level (top), lining up the post hole digger to begin a new hole (bottom) photos by Noah Tucker