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

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.)

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

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