Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hoop House

This is my new hoop house.     We've been using cold frames for years - and I love them because I can grow greens all winter long.

All. Winter. Long.

But there's one big problem with the cold frames and that's that they're too short to get into easily.   Especially when they're all bundled up in the cold.    It's a serious pain to uncover them and get in and harvest quickly.    And then bundle it all up again.

So I've been thinking about doing something taller, that I can walk into.   Taller would let me double cover things - the big outside cover plus inside row covers to keep things warm even when it gets to 20 below zero, which happens out here occasionally.

Taller, but still cheap.     And fast to build.

Eliot Coleman had some great ideas for hoop houses.   See this post for my review of his Winter Harvest book.   He makes his with electrical conduit and they grow things in Maine, all winter long.

Dude.  If he can, we can.

So Eric started thinking and planning and scrounging and shopping.    This is what he collected.
  • 14 - 10' lengths of 3/4 inch pvc electrical conduit  [$27 total]
  • pvc cement [$3]
  • uv stabilized zip ties [$4]
  • plumbing strap [$1.50 for 10 feet]
  • screws [$4.50 for a 1 lb box.   You won't need anywhere near that many.]
  • 6mil plastic sheeting [$72 total for 100 ft of 20' wide sheeting.   We figure it'll cover three houses]
We had most of this stuff around here already, so all he had to bring home was the pvc and the plastic sheeting.     We figure it cost around $50 per 8x10 hoop house if you buy everything new.   The hoops will last for years and the plastic will, too, if you roll it up neatly and store it between seasons.  If it lasts just three years, then that's less than $18 per year for a really nice cold frame that will extend your harvest at least two months every year and if you plan well will allow you have fresh vegetables 12 months of the year. 

This is how we built it:

We joined two sections of  pvc so they'd be 20 feet long and we glued them together.  We made 6 of those 20' lengths.  Then we took them over to the existing 8x10 garden bed and bent them so we could shove the ends into the dirt.   The 6 hoops span the 8' length of the bed.   

Eric took one of the remaining 10' pieces of pvc and attached it across the tops of the hoops.  He drilled holes through the pipes and used the zip ties to connect the 10' piece to the tops of the hoops.   The last piece of pvc was cut in half and then he attached those as triangles on one side of the house to further stabilize it.    You can see it sort of in this pic to top right.   There's another triangle out of the pic on the bottom right, pointing down to the front corner of the bed.

Once it was all stabilized, we covered it with the plastic.   The 20' width of the plastic just fits over the hoops with enough to lay on the ground on both sides so that we could 'attach' it with cinder blocks.  There were 4-6 inches left on the ground on either side. 

More rural recycling.    These cinder blocks show up out of old chimneys and shed foundations and stuff and they're too good to throw away, so we toss them in our masonry piles [one pile for bricks with holes, one pile for bricks without holes, one pile for broken bricks, one pile for old limestone, and one pile for old cinder blocks and square concrete.]   We use these cinder blocks for steps and seats and weights.    We actually stripped our whole pile to use as weights on the plastic. We put every block we had on the sides and ends to weight the plastic down so it wouldn't blow off.

Inelegant, but it works.
I cut the plastic on the ends long so it would come all the way down from the top and lay on the ground a bit to be weighted so the plastic wouldn't blow off.  

I folded it across the back end like this.  It keeps the sides tight.

I did the same to the front.

And that evening the wind started to blow.  Hard.   And all night long I wondered if our hoop house plastic would end up in Indianapolis.   We got up in the morning and it was just fine.   Then the wind blew harder.   And harder.   And by the time we got home from our school co-ops that afternoon, one little section of plastic in the front had blown free.   I dropped another weight on it and that did the trick.

So I can definitely say that these babies are sturdy as long as you weight them down very very well.

I planted peas, greens, radishes, carrots, lettuce and fennel inside.    They should be leaping out of the ground.   If we get a serious cold snap, I'll drop a row cover over things to keep them warmer.

I'll keep you posted on how these work.


  1. These look great! And it's time for me to get out in the little greenhouse Eric put together for me and do some planting and planning. The ice, however, is thwarting my plans... Oh well, I can order seeds!

  2. Sounds like it did better than the greenhouse we have (which we bought as a kit). A couple of panels plus a door came off. It's happened in the past before and because they're stiff plastic panels, we're just lucky none of the flying ones has killed anyone or anything. :P

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