Site a Hoop House for Success

With the right research and construction choices, a hoop house can provide your crops with sturdy protection and a longer growing season.


hoophouse 
Photo by Adobe Stock/Veronika

Hoop houses (also known as “high tunnels”) are plastic-covered hooped frames tall enough to walk under that are used to extend the growing seasons of vegetables, flowers, and fruit. They’re also called “unheated greenhouses,” “polytunnels,” and “cold frames.” They can be used for year-round growing of seasonal crops, and although temperatures inside aren’t much higher than outdoors when the sun isn’t shining, hoop houses manage to facilitate impressive rates of growth and quality crops. Generally, hoop houses have no supplemental heating, and crops are grown directly in the ground. Hoop houses are often double-skinned, meaning they have two layers of plastic film, with a small blower keeping the space between the layers inflated. This provides increased insulation and improved strength against winds and snow or ice loads, and lengthens the life of the plastic by preventing flapping and abrasion. Provided winds aren’t strong, overnight winter temperatures in a double-layered hoop house can be about 8 degrees Fahrenheit higher than outside. Hoop house soil temperature rarely falls below 50 degrees in Zone 7a.

If you want to establish a hoop house of your own, here are some factors to consider before you invest in the time and effort, and ultimate reward, of having one.

Siting

Sun exposure is the first important factor to consider when siting a hoop house. Walk around your farm in midwinter, pacing out and flagging several potential sites. The sun will be at its lowest angle during this time of year, and shadows from obstructions will be at their longest. Hoop houses are solar-powered growing zones, so your site needs as much sunlight as possible in winter. Make sure you aren’t choosing a site in the shade. We looked at three or four possible sites at Twin Oaks Intentional Community, where I live and work, and assessed them against all the criteria described here. We chose the best site for winter sun, but then we had a last-minute idea to shift the structure 100 feet to the east for better drainage. It worked, but we underestimated the shade that would come from a group of nine loblolly pines about 100 feet or so to the southeast. In winter, a third of our hoop house was in shade after about 2:30 p.m. Over the course of two winters, we cut down those trees. 



hoophouse-field
A double-layered hoop house sloping down to the west end, with no shading to the south.
Photo by Pam Dawling

Drawing---hoophouse-orientation
Diagram by Brandy MacDonald





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