Hoophouse revisited

An old photo from the first time we pulled plastic in 2002.
Photo credit McCune Porter

Today we revisited the hoophouse and loosened up the outer layer of plastic. We’d accidentally pulled it too tight in our eagerness to get the task finished, and it couldn’t really inflate properly. (The air between the two layers provides insulation as well as structural strength – it stops the plastic flapping about and wearing out by rubbing on the bows). We only had a few inches spare because we had already trimmed the extra plastic off (did I say we were keen to get the job finished?) Hopefully, when it finishes re-inflating the result will be better than it was.

I’ve been busy proof-reading my book Sustainable Market Farming and I’m tired of sitting at the computer, so this post will be short on words and long on photos!

Fresh air hoophouse waiting for its plastic.
Photo credit Robbie Sproule

 

 

 

We tied the edge of the plastic round old tennis balls, so we could pull without tearing the plastic

We were lucky with the weather. You can see from Robbie’s picture that we had cowpeas, peppers and ginger growing at the time, and didn’t want a frost.

Here we are after throwing the ropes over the top, getting ready to pull the plastic over.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Here’s the plastic rolled out along the length of the hoophouse, all tied to ropes. We’re on the far side, ready to pull.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Starting to pull from the far side.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Another view of the crew starting the pull.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

In case it’s not obvious, this amount of plastic is heavy! Our hoophouse is 96′ by 30′. The plastic was 100′ by 50′.

The plastic starts to move up.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire
Progress!
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

 

Halfway!
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire

The first layer was exciting, the second frustrating. The inner plastic is made to keep Infra-red radiation inside the hoophouse and also to disperse condensation, so water-bombs don’t drop down on the workers (or plants). It seems to have a slightly sticky, textured surface, which makes the second layer harder to pull over it. Our real downfall, though, was that the grass was dewy and we thoughtlessly pulled the outer layer over the wet grass before it went over the hoophouse. This made the two layers stick together.

Here’s a great picture of the tennis-ball-in-sock being thrown over the top to pull the second layer.
Photo credit Bridget Aleshire.

So, now we have the plastic on, we have been busy inside the hoophouse, sowing turnips, transplanting lettuce and chard. And harvesting radishes, tatsoi and peppers. We’ve pulled up the cowpeas, which are a seed crop, and sown turnips in their place. We’ve started pulling up the pepper plants and soon we’ll harvest the ginger. Next week!

 

 

 

Hoophouse covered! Frost expected Sunday and Monday nights!


Photo credit Luke Stovall

Well, after two weeks exposed to the elements,  our hoophouse finally got its renovations finished, and we put the new plastic on this morning. I haven’t yet got the photos to prove it, but take my word for it, the stress is over! Two people are out there right now, finishing inserting the wiggle-wire in the channels round the edges, and trimming off the spare plastic. We’d all forgotten how hot it gets in there with plastic on! Suddenly no-one wanted to go inside.

This morning’s work went smoothly till we got to the second layer of plastic. Last night was cool and dewy, and the grass wet. As we pulled the second layer of plastic up and over the hoophouse, it got a film of dew on the underside – bad planning! The top layer than stuck to the bottom layer and was really hard to pull over. We turned on the blower to try to push some air between the layers, and we also wafted it ourselves. Eventually we were successful, but we did make a few holes in the edge of the plastic in the meantime.

Those who’ve never put plastic on a hoophouse might wonder how it’s done. Here’s our method: we tied ropes (thank you Twin Oaks Hammocks) around tennis balls pushed up in the edge of the plastic, like little Halloween ghosts. We used five along the 100′ length of plastic. Then we put more tennis balls inside colorful odd socks (thank you Twin Oaks Community Clothes) and tied the other end of each rope to one of these. Someone then threw the balls-in-socks over the top of the hoophouse to the far side. Hilarity at how many of us never learned to throw well! The first layer slid on quite easily, and we “tacked” it into position every ten feet or so with a piece of wiggle-wire. Then we repeated the ball-in-sock throwing exercise with the outer layer. That’s when it got difficult. And our bag of chocolate chips had to be moved to the shade because they were starting to melt!

After we got both layers of plastic in position, we pulled out the slack and fastened the wiggle-wires fully in the channels. The shiny new plastic looks beautiful in a techno-sparkly kind of way. And it promises to help us grow tons of delicious food for the winter. Thank goodness it’s done.The weather forecast suggests we’ll have frost on Sunday and Monday nights. We’ve got ginger and cowpeas growing in there – we don’t want them frosted.

Ginger growing in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

The Asian greens, spinach and radishes can take it, but not the warm weather crops.

We’ll still have some odds and ends to finish up: one of the windows needs a repair to the frame, and the bubblefoil stuff along the north wall needs tacking back into place. All in all, though, a happy conclusion to this project.

It’s time to put rowcover over the late beans to extend the season beyond the first frosts. Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Outdoors, we are bringing out rowcovers to cover late plantings of squash, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce. It’s goodbye to the eggplant, okra, sweet corn, tomatoes. It’s time to harvest the sweet potatoes and peanuts. Maybe it’s goodbye to galinsoga and other tender weeds. Maybe goodbye to harlequin bugs. The brown marmorated stink bugs are starting to seek shelter for the winter, in our sweatshirts hanging on the shed door.

Goodbye eggplant!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Goodbye to all that. And hello to sweet potatoes, boiled peanuts (a seasonal tradition here), kale, spinach and leeks.

Hello kale!
Photo credit Kathryn Simmons

Fresh air hoophouse, seedling winter crops

Well, it’s the weekend, and I said I’d let you know how it’s gone with our hoophouse renovations. the answer is – we haven’t got the plastic on yet, check in again next weekend! We have got the west wall braced with diagonal tubing. We have got the old blower replaced with a new one.

For the geeks, here’s the air intake for our hoophouse blower.
Photo credit: Kathryn Simmons

We have got screws in some of the connectors holding the purlins and bows together. We have got all the south-side baseboard off and the rotten bit from the north side. We have got new baseboards (Eastern Red Cedar) cut to length. Unfortunately they ended up a bit thicker than the old ones, not sure why, so the bolts we bought are too short. More hasty shopping! We have got all the old duct tape off the bolt heads and metal connectors and replaced it with shiny new duct tape. It’s to protect the plastic sheeting when we pull it over. We’re planning a little crew party for when it’s done.

Brite Lites chard in our hoophouse.
Photo credit Pam Dawling

Meanwhile we are harvesting our seed crops of Mississippi Silver cowpeas and Envy edamame from in there, and we are prepping beds for the winter crops. We have sown seedlings in one of the outdoor raised beds, to plant out in the hoophouse starting in a few days. Our first round of sowings, on 9/15, included some Brite Lites chard and ten varieties of lettuce, 75cm of each.

Our winter hoophouse lettuce has challenges with a disease we call Solstice Slime (as it arrives around the winter solstice), although it’s generally called Sclerotinia Drop. The best slime resistant ones for us are  Merlot, Oscarde, Tango, Winter Marvel, Hyper Red Wave. Next best: Outredgeous, Winter Wonderland, Salade de Russie, Red Salad Bowl, North Pole. Less good: Roman Emperor, Rouge d’Hiver, Devil’s Tongue, Salad Bowl.

We also sowed some Asian greens, enough to transplant 50-60 each of Pak Choy, Blues Chinese Cabbage, Yukina Savoy and Tokyo Bekana.

Tokyo Bekana
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

On 9/23 we sowed a short row of Pumba onions in the hoophouse as an experimant – they are a more southern variety. Our hope is to get some earlier onions this way. We tried this last year, but many of them bolted, so I’m starting later this time around.

Mizuna
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Our second outdoor sowing for the hoophouse was 9/24 and we sowed more lettuce:  Hyper Red Wave, Merlot, Red Salad Bowl, Outredgeous, Revolution, Salad Bowl, Tango, Winter Wonderland.  Our notes sternly say “Not Oscarde” for this sowing, although it does fine from the first sowing. Details! We are trying Panisse and Red Tinged Winter this year.

Red Russian Kale
Photo credit Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

We also sowed Red Russian Kale (132 plants) White Russian Kale (117plants) Kale Galega de Folhas Lisas (15 plants) Senposai (140 plants) Yukina Savoy #2 (50 plants) and Mizuna #1 (40 plants). We are growing some green mizuna and some purple, also some Ruby Streaks, which is like mizuna but more mustardy.