A Hoophouse on the Horizon, Part 4: Learning Curve

Reader Contribution by Sherry Leverich Tucker
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During this summer growing season I have had my first experience growing plants in my hoophouse. It has been exciting to see veggies flourish in that environment. Some things have been surprising, and other things I expected. There is a lot to learn about how to grow in the hoophouse and also what to grow, when to grow, and how to manage.

Peppers do not like heat?

When the hoophouse went up, the floor of it was still in grass. I quickly started covering all the grass with remnant pieces of plastic sheeting that covered the hoophouse. I was amazed at how quickly the grass died from the heat and being covered with the clear plastic. Killing the grass so that the sod could decompose over the rest of the summer was important as I am hoping to disc the soil up this fall. I soon bought a roll of clear 4mil plastic and covered a section and planted 30 pepper plants. These pepper plants suffered through the heat all summer and are only now recovering and producing. I was surprised that they couldn’t take the heat. But, the heat we endured this summer was remarkable, and it stayed even hotter in the hoophouse. The endwalls and side curtains of the hoophouse were always completely opened up and it was still sweltering in its interior! After peppers I planted tomatoes, which I lost nearly half. That, too, was due to the high heat.

Cucumbers love the heat?

I didn’t have much of a plan this summer, other than just wanting to fill the hoophouse with some plants and get a feel for how things worked out there and what would grow good. My neighbor shared some cucumber seeds that he had bought that in the description said that they grew well in hothouse conditions. So, I tried them and they took off! I started some other cucumbers and they grew well, too. I also planted some watermelon and cantaloup. All of these plants grew well and never wilted even on the hottest of the hot days. I was surprised by this because in the garden all these plants normally wilt during the heat of the day.

The cukes and cantaloup grew and set on fruit very well. The cucumbers have been crisp and sweet and the cantaloup have been the sweetest I have had all year. I just gathered the last cucumbers and cantaloup this week and am in the process of tearing them all out to make way for fall garden plants.

The Aphid Factory

I battled the worst aphid infestation I have ever seen in my hoophouse this summer. It started with the cucumbers. I noticed a few leaves with aphids one day and waited too long to address this issue. By the time I sprayed the problem was moving across all the cucumbers and into the cantaloup and watermelon. I sprayed with several concoctions with no luck. I finally resigned myself to let them do what they may and preventively spray the tomatoes to keep them aphid-free, otherwise I would just hope to get most of the cantaloup harvested before it got too bad. That seemed to work fine, but next time I see any aphids, watch out! I’m going to pounce! One helpful strategy in battling aphids, and saving space in the hoophouse is to grow all these plants vertically. Aphids suck on the  underside of the leaves, and it is ineffective (and nearly impossible) to spray for them when they are hiding under the wide cucumber leaves. Growing them vertically makes it far easier to get to aphids living under the leaves.

So, onto fall gardening with spinach and lettuce. I have started some cabbages and broccoli that I will transplant as well. I am also going to experiment with planting some oats on the sides of the hoophouse to turn under in the spring. I am hoping that it may provide a little insulation at the side walls to keep those cold winter winds at bay a bit. I am expecting I will have to cover the spinach and lettuce with another “low-tunnel” as the days turn to cloudy and bitter cold during the winter.

The tomatoes are setting on lots of very nice healthy tomatoes and it will be a treat to see those ripen in the next month. The peppers seem to be healthier now and starting to produce. I am hoping for Thanksgiving tomatoes, but we’ll see!  I hope to enjoy and share spinach all winter long as I research and plan for next summers hoophouse growing season.

photo: young cucumber plants growing rapidly and thriving in the hoophouse this summer

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