Hoop houses | SteamboatToday.com

Hoop houses

Teresa Ristow







One of the most straightforward ways for controlling a gardening environment is the hoop house, a semi-circular tunnel structure encapsulating a garden.

Also known as a polytunnel or hoop greenhouse, hoop houses can be built through custom construction or purchased as a kit, using the basic principles of metal or PVC ribs to support a plastic layer to protect plants from the elements.

At Elkstone Farm in Strawberry Park, three 2,100-square-foot hoop houses make all the difference for extending the gardening season year-round to produce enough greens for winter and summer farm stands, local businesses and inventory the farm offers through the Community Agriculture Alliance's online marketplace.

DIY hoop house

The same hoop house principles that help larger ranches extend the season can be downsized for use in a backyard garden, too. Here are a few tips to create a successful backyard hoop house:

• Use PVC pipe or a similar material for the tunnel's ribs. Pipes should be placed double the width of the desired garden bed, with one pipe for every four feet of the tunnel's length. Pound rebar stakes into the ground to support them.

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• If the hoop house isn't tall enough to move around inside, consider a drip irrigation system.

• Use high-quality UV-resistant greenhouse plastic.

• The house will be heated by solar energy and cooled by the wind, so consider how you will monitor the temperature and ventilate when necessary.

• A top piece, or purlin, can be used to connect all the hoops and provide additional support.

• Add lights. "A lot of success in winter depends on lights to extend the length of day," Carlson says.

• Watch in the winter for snow buildup along the sides if the snow on top of the tunnel slides.

• Experiment. "Try everything," Carlson says, "and don't get discouraged."

• Keep a log. Include observations like when birds return and when native shrubs and plants bud, and apply these observations to your own garden. "Track the highs and lows so you know when the nights are above freezing," Carlson says. "Take the soil temperature to know when it's warm enough for seeds to germinate."

"We grow completely year-round," says principal grower Natalie Savage, listing off such edibles as salad greens, carrots and turnips. "Hoop houses extend the season greatly, to where we can pretty much grow any type of annual crop."

Other benefits include protection from wind and other weather, solar gain to keep plants warm and a manufacturer claim that the plastic used can actually distribute light better than the sun.

"It blocks any minor frost that would kill your basic summer crops," Savage says.

A 30- by 72-foot hoop house also has proved invaluable to Adele Carlson, a master gardener who helps run a farm-to-table program at The Home Ranch in Clark. Carlson says she starts planting in March and grows as long as possible. Some perennial herbs, like sage, chives or cilantro, can usually make it through the winter, she says.

Growing in the hoop house allows Carlson to harvest more Mediterranean vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers that don't thrive as well outside because of cool nights at the ranch. "It also allows us to have a greens crop and other cool-season crops ready to harvest in May when our outside beds are just barely ready to plant," she says.

DIY hoop house

The same hoop house principles that help larger ranches extend the season can be downsized for use in a backyard garden, too. Here are a few tips to create a successful backyard hoop house:

• Use PVC pipe or a similar material for the tunnel’s ribs. Pipes should be placed double the width of the desired garden bed, with one pipe for every four feet of the tunnel’s length. Pound rebar stakes into the ground to support them.

• If the hoop house isn’t tall enough to move around inside, consider a drip irrigation system.

• Use high-quality UV-resistant greenhouse plastic.

• The house will be heated by solar energy and cooled by the wind, so consider how you will monitor the temperature and ventilate when necessary.

• A top piece, or purlin, can be used to connect all the hoops and provide additional support.

• Add lights. “A lot of success in winter depends on lights to extend the length of day,” Carlson says.

• Watch in the winter for snow buildup along the sides if the snow on top of the tunnel slides.

• Experiment. “Try everything,” Carlson says, “and don’t get discouraged.”

• Keep a log. Include observations like when birds return and when native shrubs and plants bud, and apply these observations to your own garden. “Track the highs and lows so you know when the nights are above freezing,” Carlson says. “Take the soil temperature to know when it’s warm enough for seeds to germinate.”