Jan
16

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Low Hoop Houses in Snow

This year I decided to put the plastic up on the hoop houses late in the fall – partly to provide winter cover to extend the season and secondarily to get things going faster in the spring then would inevitably happen if I needed to dig the plastic out and fix it into place.

The question though…. would it stand up to the snow load?  Well, we’ve had some good snow (a couple of feet) and some good cold spells… and the hoops have bent a bit but nothing much – and that’s without ever brushing off the snow.

Well, today I went and knocked the frozen snow layers off – last week we had a mild spell and even a bit of drizzle.  The snow came off quickly and the hoops and plastic look great!

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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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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.

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Greenhouse vents from Harbor Freight

So last weekend a couple of nice medium high hoop houses went up.  The only item of any significance left to do to finish them off was to build and install vents so that the spaces wouldn’t overheat.

Harbor Freight greenhouse vent mounted to frame

Harbor Freight greenhouse vent mounted to frame

Often it is hard to remember that even when the outside is cool the solar gain in a cold frame or greenhouse can be significant.  Now before you’ve got plants growing I think it makes sense to limit air exchange so that you build up the thermal reserve in the soil – especially if that soil was frozen just a few weeks ago.  But once the soil is thawed and plants go in it becomes imperative to ensure that they aren’t baked.

There are thermostatically controlled vents of course – but those rely on and use electricity.  When I had my solar greenhouse I came to really like the vents that rely on the expansion within in a cylinder pushing on a lever to open vents.  These have the advantage of being completely non electric and in my experience completely dependable.  They aren’t nearly as controllable as electro-mechanical systems would be but they are pretty fool proof, low cost and get the job done.

Now, they are limited in what they can lift – think plastics not glass.  If the bulk of your cold frame or greenhouse is glass just make your vents out of plastic material and you’ll be fine.

Vent frame in place with hoop house plastic attached

Vent frame in place with hoop house plastic attached

For my setup I made a frame to fit a couple of pieces of plexiglass that I was given when I purchases a pantograph from a sign shop in Montreal that had served Zellers stores but when that retailer shut down the sign company closed the associated shop. The owner offered me all the plastic offcuts – some of significant size – and professional paints and hardeners that I wanted.  With the pantograph on my trailer I piled the bed of my truck high with the free material.  As luck would have it I drove back through a massive police presence – escorts for a Hell’s Angels and Associates motorcycle ride that traveled along with me.

Heat activated hoop house vent open

Heat activated hoop house vent open

Anyway the frames were built from the remaining used pieces of 2×4 and some plywood offcuts.  The plexiglass pieces were hinged at the top, with the screws extending through the sheet into hardwood sections salvaged from hockey sticks.  The opener itself is fixed to the lower portion of the window frame and the action arm was bolted with the included bolts through holes drilled in the lower part of the plexiglass window.

By the afternoon the greenhouse was hot enough that the widow had opened, so now I have no more excuses to delay planting… maybe I’ll take that on tomorrow if it’s nice.