CHEAP & EASY HOOPHOUSE

This weekend I got a phone call from someone who saw my Craig’s List ad. Sadly, he didn’t want to buy plants. He wanted to know how to build the hoop houses that are protecting the plants I have for sale. I did the best I could to explain over the phone, which isn’t saying a whole lot. So, I promised that I would post pictures and instructions on my blog today (Monday 6/11/12).

So, while my tomatoes are in desperate need of staking (started and not finished yesterday), and it is nice a cool and a great time to be working on all the squeaky wheels outdoors…I’m going to keep my promise.

We started with a 4X8 foot (empty) raised bed.

6 pieces of re-bar and 4 – 10 foot pieces of ¾ inch PVC pipe…oh, and some black electrical tape.

Then we drove 2 foot re-bar at each corner…

My son Kevin driving in first 2′ piece of rebar

Driving in the 2nd

…and the center of each 8 foot side.

and finally, the last one!

Next, we bent the 10 foot long ¾ inch schedule 40 PVC pipe to the re-bar that was just driven into to the ground…

One down, two to go!

…until there were three hoops over the bed.

On the earlier beds I did mark center on the pvc I was going to use as ribs..but due to the unevenness of the land outside of the beds, what was center by measurement when straight wasn’t necessarily center when bent over the bed.

So, for our one and only purline, we centered the PVC pipe as best we could by sight. We secured it with black electrical tape…

…we continued taping the purline to the ribs until we had the purline attached to each of the three ribs. We finished this part up, just in time for the rain, and continued the project the following day.

For the skinning, first I got all my stuff together – 10 Foot wide plastic sheeting, large binder clips, tape measure, duct tape, scissors, 2-10 Foot ½ inch pieces of electrical conduit, and a square (not pictured here).

I measured out 11.5 feet of plastic sheeting.

Drew a straight line…

…And cut it.

I Folded the cut piece in half and Marked middle to help center later.

Then opened it up so I could attach the 10 foot ½ inch electrical conduit to what will be the bottom of the sides.

I got the ends fairly secured to the conduit…

And rolled it up…

…to make getting it over the hoops easy.

Using the marks, I centered the sheet.

I attached the binder clips to hold sheet in place.

Then I got to work on finishing up the sides.

NOTE: Over time, the duct tape lost its sticky. If I were to do this over again I would have made a hole (I would use a soldering iron, but anything that would make a hole would work) through the center of the tape, so I could thread a string or bread-tie-type-something-or-other through the hole and secure it around the conduit.

I had some used landscape fabric staples from last year that were almost the perfect thing to use to hold the sides up.

This is a piece of an old destroyed tomato cage that I bent in half. They are longer than the landscape fabric staples and there’s a little hook on the end which keeps the wind from working them loose.

The sides can be rolled all the way up to completely open the hoop house…

…or they can just be raised half way (providing a little shade for the plants) by just picking up the conduit and fastening to the purline with the staple or whatever you’ve made to do that job.

I found that two binder clips securing the plastic to the purline was sufficient. However, I did find it necessary to have the ends secured with two clips, one close to the bottom, and the second mid-way to keep the plastic secure during heavy winds.

Now, that I’ve kept my promise…I have to add my comments.

These hoop houses were made due to sheer necessity. The unseasonably warm spring caused my plants to outgrow my greenhouse quickly and I had to do something.

I was not in a position to pay for, nor was I in the market, for a more sustainable solution. So, because I only needed something very temporary, the fact that the plastic sheeting and the PVC pipe will degrade and become brittle from UV exposure was not an issue for me this year.

Let me repeat that last part: PLASTIC SHEETING AND PVC PIPE WILL DEGRADE AND BECOME BRITTLE FROM THE UV RAYS OF THE SUN. The plastic will not last a full summer. The PVC pipe will more than likely shatter if left in place through the Minnesota winter, and will more than likely break when re-bent if stored to use the next year.

However, due to the short Mid-Western growing season and the fact that it can get hotter here than it ever thought about being in Baton Rouge, I will most certainly employ a structure over my kitchen garden raised beds (when we finally own dirt that’s not in a pot).

The structure(s) will more than likely be made from wood…but I may use metal…whatever I use will last a lot longer than PVC pipe for sure. It will be shaped like a little house with a pitched roof instead of a hoop.

I want the roof covering to be permanent, and have rain gutters that feed a water barrel. The roof will more than likely be made of the same type of twin walled polycarbonate panels that I used for my greenhouse (purchased from Menards), because they are incredibly inexpensive…but I would much prefer to use sliding glass door glass, I just don’t know how feasible that would be.

For the sides (all 4), I will use greenhouse plastic that has UV protection. The sides will be able to be rolled up and will also be able to be removed completely. I will also use shade cloth to protect the plants in the height of summer.

DIRECT SEEDED SUMMER FRUITS & VEGGIES FOR THE MIDWEST

Way back in February and March, I started seeds for plants that require a long growing season and need protection from the danger of frosts like tomato, pepper, and eggplant.

Many folks that came to buy plants from me also wanted things like spinach, cucumber, beans, and peas. I had to explain that I only started plants for transplant of those warm season types that needed to be started early to produce a good yield of fruit. Some of what was requested was either far too late or far too early to be set out in the garden, which are the cool season veggies like broccoli, spinach, and peas. The other requested plants, were fast growing summer crops that should be direct seeded like okra, cucumber and green beans. These should be sown now.

The key to growing summer vegetables in the Midwest is to look for a fast maturing time. Anything that takes more than 90 days to begin producing fruit should be left for more southern growers.

Don’t worry though…there are plenty of things that will grow just fine in the Midwest’s Zone 3 to 5 hardiness zone, and (in no particular order) some of them are:

OKRA PLANT WITH BLOSSOM AND POD

OKRA CAN PROVIDE SUMMER SHADE FOR OTHER PLANTS

~OKRA~

There are lots of cultivators of okra to choose from, all mature rather quickly. They are heat loving and drought resistant. They provide nice summer shade for plants that appreciate a break from the noon day sun…and who doesn’t?

POLE BEANS

POLE TYPE LEGUMES HAVE HIGHER YIELDS THAN BUSH TYPES

~GREEN BEANS, CROWDER PEAS, & COWPEAS~

When choosing to grow a member of the legume family, I urge you to grow a pole variety. The bush type are determinate, which means they grow to a certain size, bear fruit and prepare to meet their maker. The pole type seem to continue to grow and produce fruit until the days get short. You will need less horizontal space and fewer plants if you grow pole type.

I would advise against growing them in an intensive gardening raised bed arrangement. I believe these would be best grown in a long one foot (or so) wide row, be it a raised bed or something in the ground…curvy or straight. In this way, I bet you could still get away with growing 4 plants per square foot…it’s just that it’s necessary to get to each side for harvesting and that was difficult in the 4X8 foot raised beds I grew them in last year.

HANGING CUCUMBER

GROW CUCUMBERS ON A TRELLIS FOR STRAIGHT, UNIFORMLY GREEN FRUIT

~CUCUMBER~

Cucumber is a fast maturing plant. Different cultivators taking anywhere from
50 to 70 days to begin bearing fruit. I had the most success with the Straight Eight of the three varieties I grew last year. They are said to mature in 58 days…I could not keep up with the fruit! Plant only a few vines (I’d say one for every cucumber lover in your family), find out who else you know that loves cucumber too, and pick the fruit every day once it gets just big enough. Mature cucumbers have tough skin and huge hard seeds.

MELON

WHILE EARLY MELONS NEED LOTS OF SPACE, THEY DON’T NEED QUITE AS MUCH SPACE AS THE LONGER SEASON MELONS

~WATERMELON & MELON~

I found a few early ones. A quick search on the internet should lead you to where you can purchase the seeds of each of the mostly heirloom variety listed below. The Sugar Baby and the Minnesota Midget can be found at just about any retail store that sells seeds around here…and of course there’s always the hybrids.

I have read, recently, that cross pollination of squash or pumpkin can cause a foul tasting watermelon. I’ve never heard this before, but I’m certain it would affect the genetics of the seed and create some freak hybrid if you grew the seeds next summer. I have heard true stories of using seeds of pumpkins that were accidentally cross pollinated with squash…the seeds did not make for a tasty pumpkin. To be safe, plant your watermelon as far away from your other gourd type plants as possible.

Smaller melons can grow on a trellis. I have also seen Sugar Baby Watermelon and Cantaloupe grown on a trellis. People who do this sling the fruit, or grow it in a net bag like the kind they package onions in.

Blacktail Mountain Watermelon – 70 days
Golden Midget Watermelon – 70 days
Stone Mountain Watermelon – 60 to 80 days
Sugar Baby Watermelon – 75 to 80 days
Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon – 80 days
Sweet Siberian Watermelon – 80 days
Jenny Lind Melon -70 days.
Green Nutmeg Melon – 80 days.
Minnesota Midget Melon – 75 days
Emerald Gem Melon – 80 days

~CORN~

Corn takes a lot of space, and is prone to pest infestation (the popcorn varieties – not so much). The sweet kind is nutrient demanding, and there are other things to consider when planting corn. So much so, I could do a two page blog post just on corn. I may well do such a post, but not today.

Thanks to Monsanto, most of our corn seed selections has some GMO contamination. I’m not as afraid of the GMO corn as I am the RoundUp that our corn supply is soaked with. My advice is, if you’ve got to have sweet corn, better to grow it yourself.

Start with a small 4X4 corn bed and learn from growing this year.
Sew a variety that is Sugar Enhanced (SE), not Super Sweet (SH2)…stay tuned to find out why.

~ SUMMER SQUASH~

Just about all summer squash cultivators mature quickly. You’ll find some that take only 45 days to reach maturity, some that take 65 days…and many others that fall somewhere in between. Squash is another type of vine vegetable that grow well on a trellis.

Sweet potato, pumpkin, and soybean may also be started now.

One quick tip: To speed germination, soak seeds over night. I use one cup filtered water to which I add 1 1/2 teaspoons of 3% hydrogen Peroxide.