Undercover gardening

Spring has been frigid and on the reluctant side this year. We have had days on end that are cold and either cloudy or rainy or most frequently both. There seemed no better time than now for a new covered addition to the garden, especially considering  in years past we’ve lost many a tomato close to being ripe to cooling temps of fall or blight. We needed some kind of covered option, but we wanted it modular and moveable because we like to rotate our crops.

After considering some options, we decided to build a hoop house or as some call them “low tunnel” for jump starting plants, and to keep the tomatoes and peppers happy, no matter the weather. While we could have used plastic PVC for the hoops, the thought that they eventually deteriorate and have to be thrown away – more plastic to some landfill – had us leaning towards using 1/2″ metal conduit. Once we found Hoopbenders.net [see first image of the bender] we realized we could simply and quickly create any and all the conduit hoops we wanted at a reasonable price.

Our creative neighbor borrowed our bender this spring, making some refinements to his hoop houses that we really liked, and as everyone knows, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

The space we located the hoop houses was where Patty pig rooted last summer. We’d tilled it last fall and seeded it with a cover crop of Austrian field peas and Vetch. We also added manure over the winter. Once the cover crops were up enough this spring we tilled it again and the ground was ready to go.

As you can see from the first few images the base is a fairly simple 4’x 8′ with 2″x 6″ lumber, and would be longer lasting if we’d used redwood or cedar. Our first few frames are recycled from some rougher pine that was salvaged from a “free” pile at some point or another. We opted for pine on the others as well. You don’t want to use treated lumber, because the chemicals used to preserve the wood can leach into your soil and vegetables.

The next few images are of the end hoop braces for which we used 4′ – 2″x 2″s. These are cut off at an angle at the height of the hoops 8″ in from the sides of the box, and then the excess is screwed on to the longer piece at 3/4″ lower with the angles matching. 2 L-brackets are also added at the base, so they can be securely attached to the 2″x 6″ of the raised bed.

The top is secured to the hoop portion with a 1/2″ conduit strap, taller angle to the outside of the box. The higher side of the 2″x 2″ creates a solid place to screw off the furring strip that runs the 8′ length of the box on top of all the hoops. We also pre-drilled and screwed the furring strip to each of the 4 hoops.

Next you can install the plastic. We used a 10’x 25′ roll cut in 1/2 for two houses, which secures to the furring strip under 4′ pieces of lath screwed down.

The long side of the plastic is secured with another 8′ furring strip to which we stapled the plastic first, and rolled as needed to the preferred length, finally sandwiched and screwed down under the lath. As you can see by the image, these can be neatly rolled and secured at the hoop top on sunny days.

The only other thing we’ll be adding soon is a short piece of old hose slit down one side to place over center top of each end hoop further securing the plastic. It’s not really important right now, but when we get winds it will be. We may get a larger sheet of plastic next time as well when these wear out so they reach closer to the ground on the ends. For the time being we are using some old plastic clamps to close them up like a curtain.

So far we’ve planted 8 tomato plants inside 3 of the hoops and a variety of 11 different peppers. We have an entire hoop house left to experiment with!

The last image is a perspective from one side of the garden looking down on the hoop zone. There’s some winter wheat planted last fall getting pretty tall with Kate just beyond in a small grazing zone that will eventually get a till courtesy of the next batch of pigs.

Happy hoop housing!

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