May
5

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Tilting Hoop House Essential Upgrade

When I moved to my new home a few years ago I left my Harbour Freight 10×12 greenhouse and the nearly four extra months of growing season (two months on each side) that it provided – a not insignificant boost here in Ottawa given our frost free timeline is generally accepted as the end of May until towards the end of September.

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Heavy duty corner brackets installed on the hoop house

So after making due with row covers and some very low tunnels last year I put in some medium hoop houses, that were hinged to open from the base.  These worked pretty well – being able to grow taller crops and hold more than the single row hoops but were still a bargain cost and time wise compared to higher walk in hoops.

Heavy duty angle bracket

Heavy duty angle bracket

The base of these was made from 2×6 lumber – which provided strength and weight to keep things anchored down… but unfortunately in the process of opening and closing them the screwed together corners began to pull apart.

I tried reinforcing with 4×4 blocks but the forces were too much for that solution to last long.  So now I’ve gone and built some extra heavy duty corner brackets from some flat steel bent up in the hydraulic press and some U steel to provide further reinforcement.  With these bolted in place the frames are rock solid and should offer a great long lasting solution – even better, the cost to fabricate these at home was a fraction of what it would have cost to buy them would have been.  That’s the advantage of having some solid tools… now it’s time to get everything into the ground!

 

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DIY Seed Start Heat Mat

Bottom heat can give your seed starting a real helping hand – particularly for some crops such as peppers.  For a home scale operation that usually means using one of the flexible rubber mats with the heating loop imbedded into it that slips under your seed starting trays.  I’ve been using this method for over a decade and it really does make a major difference for some heat loving plants – BUT, I’ve found that these tend to wear out and I end up having to replace them every few years.

The Seed Start Heat Mat in position and active

The Seed Start Heat Mat in position and active

Given these are fairly expensive when my last one gave up the ghost last year I decided to come up with something better and longer lasting than simply to order another and continue the cycle.

Here’s what I came up with – a STC1000 digital temperature controller – 110volt model (under $10 on ebay from china ) and a 250W 110V cartridge heater ($5) form the basis of the system.

Both the cartridge heater and the thermocouple for the temperature controller fit into holes drilled in a 3/4″ thick block of scrap aluminum that is then lag bolted through a 3/16″ thick piece of aluminum plate to a 2X3 piece of lumber.  The aluminum plate is long enough to fit two grow trays while allowing a gap for the heater at the center.

Heat mat under construction

Heat mat under construction

The temperature controller is housed in a 3D printed box that is mounted on the top of the 2×3 with the cords all held nicely in place by a strap at the back of the wood piece.

The whole assembly is supported by some scrap 1″ thick pieces of pine left from building beehives over the usual trays on my growlight assembly.

I used a couple of additional sheets of aluminum to spread out the heat more evenly under the grow trays.

In operation I set the temperature of the aluminum block and by trial and error move it up until the temperature of water placed in my grow trays hits the desired temperature for the seedlings I am producing.  If you were using a much thicker block of aluminum you could set the temperature much more in line with the desired setting – but with this setup the temperature of the block ends up being considerably higher than you would normally want in order to see the necessary amount of heat generated to be distributed through the aluminum plates.

Peppers started with the DIY  Heat Mat

Peppers started with the DIY Heat Mat

 

It’s not a perfect system, but for about $20 and some scrap I have a solid bottom heat source for seed starting that should last decades and allow me to produce loads of heat loving seed starts at home – paying back the investment in less than a year compared to buying transplants at the garden center.

 

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Medium Height Hoop House Experience so far

This past weekend, May 24th weekend, marks the safe planting date – the risk of frost, is in theory at least, has passed.
Now, we’ve had some really warm weather already, in the mid and upper 20c’s, but sure enough just last week there was a frost warning.

Hoop house one - the red are the already thinned several times R148 Amaranth for greens and grain.  Trays of sweet sorghum and paddy rice at the far end.

Hoop house one – the red are the already thinned several times R148 Amaranth for greens and grain. Trays of sweet sorghum and paddy rice at the far end.

So, as most folks here are just putting in their gardens where am I?
Well, the two medium hoophouses are going great, the tomatoes and tomatillos need to be staked and are growing wonderfully, the peppers and eggplants are happily pushing forth. The hardier stock, while not needing the higher temperatures has shown its appreciation by rewarding us with a salad again last night. Lettuce, radishes, and amaranth leaves. Lovely!

In my other beds that are uncovered the results are significantly less spectacular. There the tomatoes, peppers and herbs have established themselves nicely and started to grow, but the growth pales in comparison to those in the hoophouses, and we are still a couple of weeks away from adding rappini and sugar snap peas to the salads – if they manage to travel that far – and at least at the start of the season the best I can expect is that they will be detached from the plant before being gobbled down with relish.  I will truly know that our fresh fetish is at least partially satiated or overwhelmed when more item start to appear in the salad bowls but that won’t be for a while.

So for the time and energy invested I am definitely a fan of the medium hoop houses thus far.

Hoop House Two - Tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and greens and more - oh my!

Hoop House Two – Tomatoes and peppers and eggplant and greens and more – oh my!

Now, I have learned a few things about the construction of the hoop houses. The biggest lesson is that the opening and closing has been pretty tough on the frames. The corners really need to be reinforced with 4×4 blocks on the inside and steel brackets on the outside. I also thought I could get away with not screwing in the female side of the conduit. Sure they can’t move up, but they will move down! The last significant item for me to figure out is if I should switch from plastic to metal conduit straps as several of the plastic ones have broken- now that may be because the conduit slipped down and was pushed out as I opened the frame- which should be addressed by fixing the conduit in place on both ends – so I’ll take a wait and see attitude for now.

Right now I am planning on rolling up the plastic towards the middle to end of June depending upon the weather and the growth of the plants under cover.  Then it will probably be unrolled in mid-September to support the fall crops and eek out a few more months from the warm weather commodities.