Try Quick Hoops: Easy-to-Make Mini-Greenhouses

Extend the growing season and bring fresh, local food to the table year-round by adding quick hoops to your winter vegetable garden.

| March 12, 2013

  • Quick hoops gardener
    Gardeners at the authors' Four Season Farm in Maine spread row covers over hoops to protect winter crops.
    Barbara Damrosch
  • The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook
    Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman are organic gardening pioneers whose Four Season Farm in Maine produces year-round vegetable crops. In their new book "The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook," Barbara and Eliot guide readers through growing, cooking and eating their own food.
    Cover Courtesy Workman Publishing Company
  • Quick hoops shaping
    Heavy-duty quick hoops are shaped using a bending form bolted to a picnic table.
    Johnny's Selected Seeds
  • Quick hoops covered in snow
    Quick hoops protect plants from freezing cold and snow.
    Johnny's Selected Seeds
  • Quick hoops sandbags
    Sandbags prevent covers from blowing away.
    Barbara Damrosch

  • Quick hoops gardener
  • The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook
  • Quick hoops shaping
  • Quick hoops covered in snow
  • Quick hoops sandbags

Eating doesn’t get any more local than your own backyard. Learn how to grow what you eat and cook what you grow with the help of The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook (Workman Publishing Company, 2013) by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman. The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook is two books in one. It’s a complete four-season cookbook with 120 recipes from Barbara who shows how to maximize the fruits — and vegetables — resulting from your labors. And it’s a step-by-step garden guide that works no matter how big or small your plot, with easy-to-follow instructions and plans for different gardens. In this excerpt, learn how to extend the growing season through the winter months by building mini-greenhouses.  

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Four Season Farm Gardener's Cookbook

Gardeners through the ages have tried to extend summer. A sheltered area in a winter vegetable garden used to protect plants from cold and wind can often take plants past their normal season. Even the south side of a board fence or a thick hedge, blocking the cold north winds, will provide a slightly more benign climate. Old-time gardeners took advantage of these warm, sheltered spots to keep the fresh harvest going as long as they could in their winter gardens.

Quick Hoops 

Harvesting winter fare is so satisfying that, after you try it, you’ll probably want to extend your repertoire. But adding more cold frames to winter gardens means more time and money spent acquiring them. That’s why we came up with simpler, lighter, and less expensive structures we call quick hoops. They're just sheets of clear plastic or row cover material supported by 10-foot lengths of pipe, bent into half circles and poked into the ground. Quick hoops look like 3-foot-tall mini-greenhouses.

You can use two types of pipe material to build quick hoops. One is plastic electrical conduit, which is cheap, lightweight and easy to bend by hand. This option is fine in areas that receive no more than a few inches of snowfall. But to support the amount of snow we get in Maine, we needed 1/2-inch galvanized metal conduit, sold as “EMT” at most hardware stores. In addition to its strength, the advantage of EMT is that, after bent, it holds its shape permanently.

To give EMT a curved shape, bend it around a quick-hoop bending form. You bolt the form to the top of a large, flat surface such as a sturdy picnic table. You just insert one end of the pipe, pull it against the curved surface of the form, slide it in farther, and pull again until you achieve the desired shape. The form itself is reasonably priced and could even be purchased by a group of friends and made available to everyone for use in year-round gardening. (Bending forms are sold by Johnny's Selected Seeds.)

If you take a 10-foot length of EMT and bend it into a half-circle bow, it will have a 6-foot diameter. That 6-foot width will cover two of our 30-inch-wide beds with a 1-foot path between them. We make 10-inch-deep holes with an iron bar on either side of the two beds, and insert the ends of the conduit into them, placing one of these conduit bows every 5 feet along the beds. Just three bows will cover a 10-foot-long area.

Then, we drape a 10-foot-wide piece of floating row cover material over the bows. This spun-bonded, white polyester fabric lets in water and light, conveys up to 4 degrees of frost protection and excludes insect pests. We cut it long enough so that it can drape down to the ground, plus about 2 feet at the ends of the structure. We then secure the edges of the row cover around the perimeter of the structure with sandbags. These can be recycled plastic bags filled with soil. Be gentle with the row-cover fabric, but try to secure it without any slack so the wind is less likely to catch it and blow it around in your winter vegetable garden.

Clearly, you can plant much more ground under quick hoops than under a cold frame, and you can also grow and protect taller crops for more extensive winter gardening. You might start seedlings in one covered bed and grow early salads in another. Because spun-bonded floating row cover is self-venting, there’s no need for automatic arms to prevent overheating. And the row cover lets in both sunlight and water. Access to the crops is achieved by removing the sand bags and folding back the cover.

Another trick is to add a layer of clear plastic over the row cover for extra protection during extremely cold weather in winter gardens. With added plastic in place on mini-greenhouses, you can overwinter crops such as spinach, lettuce, and onions without worrying about the snow load, which can rip row-cover fabric. The plastic layer can be held down with sandbags along the perimeter and ends, just as with the row cover. But, because we live in a windy area, we also use form-fitting plastic clips to secure the plastic to the bowed pipes. When the temperature inside quick hoops can rise to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need to vent the plastic by opening the ends, or remove it entirely so only the underlying row cover material remains.

 This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, published by Workman Publishing Company, 2013. 

11/10/2014 10:21:46 AM

Dear Barbara and Eliot, In your 4 Seasons Gardening book you mention tying the ends of the low tunnel cover plastic and securing it to a stake. Can you give any pictures/details about this? I am using 6-mil plastic and the covers are 70-75 feet long. Do I just 'stretch tight' the mid-section and leave the sides to be held down -- how? Please illustrate/describe. Appreciatively, Mt. Harmony Farm, 1800'/Zone 4/Windy area, NEK, VT

11/4/2014 8:26:09 AM

Do you have a link to the bending forms? I went to Johnny's Selected Seeds website and searched on that term but came up with nothing. I also looked through their entire tool category of their catalog but didn't find it that way either.

10/4/2013 11:15:11 PM

Check out this video on how to make a free tubing bender



February 15-16, 2020
Belton, Texas

Join us in the Lone Star state to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me