Hoopocalypse!

Our test season for undercover growing has been interesting. The main reason we dismantled the conventional hobbyist-style greenhouse was because it just couldn’t stand up to our November windstorms, with gusts in the 60mph range on a regular basis. But given our cold, late summers, and the ruthless blight attacks, having covered growing space is a must.

After some experimentation, and adapting modifications our neighbor made, we ended up with workable mini-hoophouses.

Since this was a test run, we decided to use standard issue visqueen for the plastic cover. It’s definitely low-tech compared to greenhouse cover material, but enough for 2 hoops only cost $18. Purpose-made plastic has better light transmission and UV protection, and can last a few seasons if cared for properly. The downside is higher cost.

The tomatoes and peppers didn’t seem to mind the cheaper plastic though. We got in the habit of paying close attention to the weather, rolling up the sides when it was hot, lowering them when rain threatened. This kept the blight-enabling rain off while maximizing heat and light.

We were surprised with an early fall windstorm which ripped this hoop cover along a factory fold line. The visqueen for 2 of our hoops had been used last growing season, spring through winter, and just wasn’t up to a lot of stress. We knew the weather would soon change, so eventually we made one last harvest and took the covers off 3 of the 4 hoops.

The remaining hoop was left intact (well, intact but for the bite mark Kate made topside) and moved to the upper part of the garden where we wanted to try overwintering some chard, spinach & lettuce. We used some wood lath and pieces of the damaged hoop cover to make inner end closures that were more weather-tight, and the plants have done well-enough that we’ve harvested a few salads.

But winter finally hit, and after standing up to some lesser storms, the hoop succumbed to a night of 50+mph winds. The heavy 2×6 wooden base was flipped over & back, and the visqueen bit the dust.

You can see one whole side ripped off, the wooden roll-up bar on the back side ripped off, the inner ends shredded too. The wooden frame and steel hoops were completely undamaged, so we set it back in place and weighted it down. We pondered abandoning the experiment, but couldn’t give up on those sturdy little plants. When temperatures started to dip below freezing, we took out one of the covers we had rolled up for storage, and draped it over the top of the shredded plastic. So far it is keeping the plants just warm enough to survive a few nights in the mid-20’s.

Since we’d really like to have year-round salad (with as little labor and input as possible) we’re reinvestigating our research into cold frames and hotbeds.
One or two of these should provide plenty of growing space for winter greens, and stand up to windstorms too. We’ll save the hoops for getting an early start in the spring, when cold is more of a problem than winds. By the time it’s too warm to grow greens under cover, the hoops will be moved over the peppers and tomatoes, where they seem to work the most garden magic.

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