The Hoophouse Tomato: In the Ground!

| 3/8/2012 9:56:42 AM


hoophouse catBusy robins flutter all around finding bits and pieces of straw and filler to use for new nests. Flocks of geese and ducks are heading back North with occasional detours to nibble green wheat grass or take a swim in a nice size pond.

Here we are! Yes, it is already March and gardens are emerging all over the countryside. Gardeners are chomping at the bit with packets of seeds arriving in their mailboxes. It is an exciting time of year for the gardener, with hopes and anticipation of the growing season ahead.

Our warm spring days have been very windy, and thankfully my new hoophouse (which was raised last May) has stood up to those winds just fine. The weather this year has been seasonably warmer. Moisture has been light and I think a lot of us are leery that this may be the start of another hot dry summer. But, being optimistic, this is also the start of an early garden season full of potential and dreams. I am dreaming of a large abundance of beautiful red tomatoes to sell and to can. I didn't can a single tomato last summer, and it has caused me dreadful sadness. I shall not be completely at ease till I have several quarts of tomatoes stashed in my basement to get us through next winter.

Even if this does turn out to be another season of drought, there isn't any reason why we can't make the most of ihoophousetommiest now. I am continuing to strive for early tomatoes. This first week of March I have gotten 30 tomato plants transplanted into the hoophouse. These tomato plants were started in January by a friend of mine who has an incredible seed starting set-up. It consist of a heated filled water-bed that is kept at a constant temperature. Fluorescent lights are hung across the waterbed which is in a cool basement. Tomato, pepper and other seeds need to have warm soil to germinate. Once they germinate they cannot be kept too warm or the plants will grow narrow stalks and get leggy and fragile. I didn't have luck with the tomatoes I started, they got chilled early on and I think that stifled their growth. The plant varieties I am starting with are “Bush Early Girl”,“Polbig”, “Celebrity” and “Mountain Fresh” (in the order of their maturity dates. I have tried all of these except for “Polbig”. We will plant other varieties and heirlooms in the outside garden later this spring, but these are varieties that may do better in hoophouse conditions and also have staggered maturity dates.

Still Learning About the Hoophouse Climate 

Sherry Tucker
3/12/2012 5:40:27 PM

I am seeing a dramatic decrease in the amount of cool-off during the night now that daytime hours are growing. Of course, we have had a very mild winter and an early spring. The temperature this week will be above average. I will be planting out another row of early tomatoes without a cover, it will be interesting to note any differences in growth. Early spring means opportunity to get more crops out! Makes it hard for a farmer to keep up! Good luck with the hoophouse addition and keep us posted on how it goes!

3/9/2012 10:23:57 PM

Thanks for your quick response...The heat inside a greenhouse is generated by the ground absorbing the sunlight and re-radiating it as heat. If each cover admits only 80% of the incident light, then only 64% of the sunlight actually makes it to the ground under the low row covers. The amount of heat the low cover traps may be less than the heat it prevents from forming if it stays in place during daylight. It'd be interesting to see if there's a difference in growth between rows left covered vs rows only covered after the sun goes down...A thermal mass heater is a mass, like a barrel of water, that cools off slowly afer heating. From the foto of your hoop house, you'd probably need a swimming pool to make a difference...I tried a pile of horse manure in my cold frame last year as a heat source, but didn't see much of a difference. Again, it's probably the ratio of compost to growing area that's important and the loss of growing area as compost volume increases may make it an unfavorable trade off...Like you, I live in zone 5 and late winter, early spring temps can still go down to 20deg at nite. I'm putting up a hoop house for the first time and am concerned that it'll cool off too much at nite. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm gunna give the inside, low hoops a try too.

Sherry Tucker
3/9/2012 1:34:50 PM

No, I am not removing the row cover during the day right now. That may be a good idea, though - because although the cover lets in 80 percent (I can't remember for sure - different covers have differing percentages, but it is a high number), the tomatoes would benefit from more sun. One thing that is interesting about these row covers (and greenhouse covering as well) is that the sunshine, though slightly filtered, becomes diffused and reflected in a way that seems to *wrap* the plants in light. Anyways...I will uncover them some when I know nighttime temps will be warmer - I suspect keeping them covered also helps trap in more radiant heat coming from the warmed ground.

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