Author Archives: patrick

garlic grader

it’s time for garlic cleaning – and that means grading garlic too.  what’s grading?  it’s sorting for size.  why would you want to sort for size?  cause if you are gonna use the garlic you harvest to replant, the size impacts how many row feet it will plant.  how’s that?  pretty simple, with the variety we mainly plant “music” you can plan on at least 6 good cloves on average per head.  2″ wide heads equal about 60 cloves per pound – which means at 6″ spacing, 2″ wide garlic heads will plant about  30 row feet.  you move up to 2.25″ garlic and you are only getting 42 cloves per pound, the bigger the heads the less amount of row feet.

garlicgraderthis means that if you are planning out how much garlic to save to replant for next year, or tell someone to buy, that size does matter.  but is bigger better?  i’m not really sure – i am convinced that larger cloves make bigger heads than little cloves, but does it matter if it comes off of really big heads?  this is pretty inconclusive.  in the past i planted seed from the largest heads, but from year to sometimes had bigger heads sometimes smaller.  overall i’ve come to decide that the most important thing is timing of planting, fertility, openness of soil, spacing, and moisture.  still i plan to try to track this year at home (where i have much more control over what gets harvested and what gets planted) the yield based on head size.

do you need a grader?  unless you are growing a lot of garlic then, no, but they don’t take too long to make, and it is fun to know how big yr heads are.

eating poison?

not truly poison, but something i thought might be poison.   for years i’d seen black nightshade in the garden, and thought it poisonous.  it is after all nightshade, and many of us think of deadly nightshade when we hear anything about nightshade.  deadly nightshade was one of those fears along with quicksand that was a big fear for me as a kid, but doesn’t seem to concern folks these days.   i had heard reports that this nightshade was actually not poison, including this post on the excellent root simple blog that had me pretty convinced  to try sampling some black night shade a couple of years ago, but s seemed to think it a poor idea.  i’m somewhat famous for sticking what ever is at hand into my mouth, she seemed to think that my possible death would interfere with our plans to procreate.  having successfully  procreated, and now having some life insurance, i found myself weeding the other day and faced with a very large black nightshade plant that had plenty of ripe berries on it.  i took a chance and stuck a few in my mouth.  the next morning i was doing just fine, they must be edible.

how did it taste?  kind of like ground cherries.  actually a lot like ground cherries.  but they are really small.  i liked them, but if i had my choice i’d just grow some ground cherries – as they are bigger and much more prolific.  but now that i know they are edible, i’d certainly much on them when i see them.  here they are for those wondering what they look like.

nightshade

hoop house build part 6: pulling plastic

this last post on building the hoop house has taken forever it feels like.  i’m frankly over it, and there are plenty of other topics i’d rather write about at this point, but i feel i need to finish this out.

were getting close to the finish line with pulling the plastic, and its the point at which it really feels like we have a hoop house.  pulling plastic is also one of the tasks where you need the most hands on deck, even with a small house like this you need at least five people to help you.  i apologize for the lack of photos in this section – i was just to darn busy pulling plastic to take photos.

for this step you are gonna need: duck tape, plenty of wiggle wire, plastic, several strong ropes, tennis balls,  batten tape or old drip tape lines, scissors, and a staple gun.

a lot of folks like to pull the plastic over the top instead of putting the plastic on the end walls first.  while i appreciate why one might what to do this – mostly cause it makes you feel like you are closer to finishing the house, i urge you to resist this temptation and instead put plastic on the end walls first.  the reason for this are a couple, 1. it makes putting plastic over the top easier, as it’s harder to get wind up underneath it and 2. it keeps you going, pulling plastic over the top makes you feel like you are pretty much all done, and it’s easy to stop.

putting the plastic on the end walls is comparatively simple – you only need one other set of hands, unless you are working on really big end walls.

cut the plastic to the size you need, plus a little extra so you have some to tug on.   then using a ladder host it up to the top and start putting it in place with wiggle wire on the end bow.  make sure you have someone who can help you pull it tight as you go, pulling both down and across. make sure to keep constantly pulling the plastic so it is good and taunt. once the plastic is in place on the end bow it’s time to work on attaching it to the framing.  there are several ways to do this, but i’ve found the fastest and cheapest is to use old irrigation tape as batten tape.  i start at the top and pull the plastic down and across as i staple the tape in place the irrigation tapes.  work slowly and make sure you do it right.  leave some extra at the very bottom so you can bury it down into the ground. when that is done, you get to move on to getting plastic over the top.

battentape

first step is to take the duck tape and cover all the spots where plastic could get caught, such at ends of channel, bolt heads, etc.

next unroll the plastic along the ground on the length of one side of the greenhouse.  throw the ropes over the top of the greenhouse from the opposite side.  find the edge of the plastic and tie  a clove hitch around a tennis ball stuffed behind the plastic.

lemon repeat this three to five times depending on how long the house is thee ropes was enough for our little house.  readers paying close attention may notice that this is in fact not a tennis ball, but lemon that i used for the sake of convenience in this photo, i couldn’t figure out where s had hide the tennis balls.

next layout your wiggle wire so it’s all in place and easy to grab, get a ladder ready so it’s handy, and start assigning jobs.  you want as many people as ropes to pull the plastic over, and two folks to help if it gets stuck on anything.

those that are pulling the rope should pull until they don’t have any slack left in the line.  then start to pull in an equal rhythm.  it’s not a bad idea to yell something in unison as you pull to help keep a rhythm.  everyone should  keep a look out on everyone else so they will know if they are falling behind or getting ahead of each other.  most plastic is printed with the name of the manufacture going down the length of it so you can use that to help determine if it is straight.  it’s surprisingly handy.  if the plastic gets stuck have someone climb up on a ladder and get it uncaught.  once the plastic is pulled over both sides, is even on both sides and straight, it’s time to secure it.  i usually start with the ends, working the wiggle wire from the very top down both sides, pulling out and down as you go to make it as tight as possible.  then secure the sides with wiggle wire pulling down as you go.

you might have to pull some wire out and adjust after you are done. sometimes you realize that there are spots that are not as tight as you want them.

plasticon

next is putting hardware on the vents, doors and installing the roll up sides, but frankly i’m getting sick of writing about hoop houses, if anyone wants to know more about that process let me know and i might write about it.

hoop house part 5: framing endwalls

after putting up the bows, hip boards, and wind bracing it’s pretty easy to feel like you are close to done.  sorry to break it to you, but framing the end walls usually goes pretty slow.  it’s not hard though, its just really a matter of being good with a saw and using a level.

for this part you are gonna need – a skil saw, tape measure, screws, impact driver, level, screws, and plenty of 2×4’s.

i’m not gonna tell you how you should frame your end walls as it’s up to you – but i wouldn’t put less than four of what would be called studs when framing walls even in a small house like ours.  the wider the house the more studs.  these are attached to the bows with what are called brace bands that go around the bows and are connected with a carriage bolt with an end wall bracket that connects to the top of the two by fours.  the band braces you should be able to find at any place that sells supplies for chain link fencing (locally are plenty of places to go, but my favorite is federal pipe and supply absolutely one of my favorite places to shop in detroit ) – the end wall brackets are kind of hard to find you are best off going to a greenhouse supplier like rimol.bowbrace

it’s best to start with a sketch on paper of how you wanna lay everything out – focusing on where the doors and vents will go.  i like to put a vent at the top of the end wall – and as big as you feel will work – just try not to undersize – i put in a 3×3 foot size vent, which is pretty big for such a small house, but i really like venting as much from the top as possible before having to open the side vents.  doors you have to figure out what you are gonna install – make yr own doors or install a standard door.  using a standard door is much easier – but does limit what you can do.  i prefer to make my own doors so i can make them dutch style and use the top part to vent.  no matter what, as you think about the size of door you want to use, my biggest consideration is if a wheelbarrow will fit though the door.  if it doesn’t – get a wider door.

once you have figured how you want to lay everything out, start by framing in the studs.  figure out where you are gonna lay out yr studs – i laid them out at 9 inches from the end bow, and at 43 inches from the end bow and then one on the center (you can tell better in the finaly picture of the framing).  dig holes where they are gonna be – as you want the studs to go into the ground at least 6 inches, more if you feel like digging holes, as this helps to secure the bottom

don’t hurry those studs, spend plenty of time making sure they are the proper width apart and level in both directions.  tighten down the band braces, once they are properly in place and you done with the studs.

congratulations, this is the slowest and most frustrating section of framing.  next i frame in the opening for the door and screw in some pieces between the studs.  what are these called?  i’m not really sure.  then frame in the vent opening.  make sure when doing all this that each piece is level.

our vent hole is three feet by three feet, and you want some extra space on all sides so it can easily turn, i plan on a 1/8 of an inch on each side – so you want to make the vent 35 and 3/4″ in both direction.

vent

to install the vent, set it in the vent hole, use a few shims to make sure that it is raised up an 1/8 about the bottom of the hole and drill holes half way up the framing though the framing and the vent.  then thread a steel rod though both sides.  this should be enough to secure it and make it useful.

door can be made from 2×4’s and just like the vent make sure to shim it up when framing so it swings freely and leave 1/8inch gaps on either side.

here is an image of the finished framing.  endwallnext up pulling the plastic!

 

hoop house build part 4: bows, ridge pole and wind bracing

i could have been taking lots of photographs of all this, but i was more interested in doing something than documenting.  weird i know.  the hoop house has been going full steam ahead, and if you have worked hard to make sure everything is level and square, you should find that the house does come together very quickly.

raising the bows.

depending on the size of your house you might have to assemble the bows first, if it is wide the bows often come in two parts and then truss supports are added.  our little 14 foot wide house has none of those parts, it’s simply a single piece.  most bows are all the same, but the bows for the ends often are pre-drilled for purlin connection, make sure you tag those and put them at the ends where they should go.  with people on both sides, walk your bows to to the ground posts and slide them in if they are swaged or in our case use the sleeve to connect them.  pre-drilled holes that are swaged get connected with carriage bolts, we used self tapping screws to run though the sleeve into the bow.  if your ground posts are not square this is where is can get really difficult, as the bows will not want to go into the ground posts if they are not properly set and you find yourself pushing and pulling to work them in.

the bows usually go up pretty quickly, and it’s amazing what a difference having the bows up makes.  it really gives you an idea of scale.  it’s very difficult to imagine what the house will really look like on the site until you have the bows in place.  then it tends to look big, and in our little side lot, it looked really, really big.  bows

you really shouldn’t put the bows up unless you also have time to add the ridge pole or some of the purlins (if your house uses them).  If you don’t have the ridge pole or purlins attached then the bows can knock about a lot in a major windstorm.

the ridge pole is the pole that connects the bows at the peak of the house (technically a ridge pole is purlin too, but unlike other purlins, it is not paired, if someone calls the ridge pole a purlin they are accurate).  usually the ends are pre-drilled and you slide a carriage bolt though and connect them, then the rest of the bows and pole are connected using cross connectors.  use your same 4 foot spacing tool you used while pounding the ground posts to make sure the bows are properly spaces as they can flex quite a bit.  i don’t tighten the cross connectors fully down until i have everything put together as i find i some times have to make adjustments and it’s much easier if they are not fully tightened.  cross connector nuts are usually 7/16th and it’s great to have a deep socket on yr impact driver to drive these in quickly.

ridgepole

purlins are similar to ridge poles, connecting the bows together but go further down the house.  our house lacks these because it’s so small.  the bigger the house the more purlins.

any house that is gonna have roll up sides, and i highly recommend that it does, is going to need to have a hip board.  the hip board is located a few feet above the bottom board.  it functions as a purlin, providing strength, but it is also where the plastic that covers the majority of the house meets the plastic that will make up the roll up side.  if this isn’t making much sense, don’t worry too much about it, give it time.

the hip board is installed very much like the bottom board.  we use a 2×4 mostly so we have enough wood to drive the lag screws which connect the pipe straps.  figure out where you want the bottom of the hip board to be located, four feet about the top edge of the bottom board is  a good location and mark that.  much like the bottom board you will need to cut the first board so that its end is between two boards, and you will need to make plates to connect them.  screw the pipe strap to the hip board with a lag screw and then use a self taping screw to connect the pipe strap to the bow.  level the hip board as you go, connect the boards together with a piece of wood (make sure it goes on the inside so it doesn’t interfere with the plastic when it gets pulled.  on the outside of the hip board you are gonna wanna put a piece of channel – either single or double for attaching the plastic cover.

hipboardchannelyou are also gonna need to attach the corner wind bracing on the hoop house.  this just helps it be a little bit more secure by providing diagonal connection between the bows.  usually they have holes in the end that you can drive a self taping screw into.

coming up next – framing the end walls.

 

hoop house build part 3: installing the bottom boards

once the ground posts are in place, it’s time to put on the bottom boards.  some folks put the bottom boards on after they have put up the bows and installed the ridge pole, pulins, and hip board, but i like to put the bottom boards in first.

the reason is pretty simple, when you install the bows they tend to put a good amount of outward pressure on the ground posts, and if they aren’t linked together with bottom boards they will tend to push out more, and lose their square position.

bottom boards provide structure and also are where your plastic is connected, or your roll up sides rest depending on yr setup.   bottom boards also help to keep excessive water from coming into the house, and soil from washing out.

if the ground you are working on is not level, start working on the higher end. if you are working with eight foot lengths of material you will need to cut the first bottom board you lay out so it is only 6 foot long, and makes it half way between two posts (no matter what length of material you are working with you will want it be laid out so the connection of boards happens between posts).  with the extra two feet of material, cut that into six inch pieces that will be used to join the bottom boards together.

lay yr first board out and make sure it is level and then attach it to the corner post.  some systems use carriage bolts, but we used pipe straps and self taping screws.  screw the pipe strap to the bottom board and then run a self taping screw threw the strap into the bottom board.

leveluse one of the six inches pieces you cut to join the next bottom board to the one you have already attached.  use outdoor deck screws so they don’t rust out.  make sure you attached the wooden plate to the inside so it doesn’t interfere with the roll up side later on. level, attach to the next post and repeat.

keep this up until you get the the far end.

bottomboards

next step is putting up the bows, ridge pole, the hip boards – then it really starts feeling like you are doing something.

hoop house build part 2: driving the ground posts

in our last episode i stressed the importance of spending time making sure everything was carefully laid out, and we even used math to check our work.  if you have done all that correctly, you shouldn’t have to think all that hard for the next part; driving the rest of the ground posts.

while there is less thinking, it’s important to still take yr time and make everything square and level.  it is about finesse more than brute force (though you do need some brute force from time to time).  for this operation you are gonna need the following

1. post driver 2. post level 3. pounder 4. ear protection 5. marker 6. spacing jig 7. four foot or longer level (recommended but not required)

if you are not sure of what any of these is, see the last post for more info, with the exception of the spacing jig, which will be explained soon.

ground posts for hoop houses are almost always placed four feet apart.  i’m told that in warmer climates where they don’t get nearly as much snow that they can be placed five feet apart.  you can measure them, but you often find the post drifting about as you drive it, and it helps to make a spacing jig.  this is simply a 2×4 that has square cuts in it four feet apart that are the size of the pipe you are using.  it is especially helpful if you are trying to drive posts by yrself.  ideally it would have three cuts in it to help make sure you are staying in a straight line – as you may recall from geometry class, three points make a straight line, but i didn’t have that long of a 2×4.

mark all the posts to correspond to yr level line – in my case i made marks two feet from the top of my posts.

using the measuring jig place one of your corner posts in a notch and use it to measure where the next post will be positioned.

jig

slide post level over the post, put the pounder on and slide the post driver over it. put it in the notch of the jig that is empty and then work to get it so it is close to the level line as possible without pushing it out, and is square in both directions.  put your ear protection on, and drive it a couple of times.  check to make sure it is square in both directions again and close to the line and keep driving until you reach the line you marked on your post.  if you are using the four foot plus level it’s great to rest it between your post that is at the proper level and the post you have just driven to make sure they are driven to the same level.  this is more of an issue when you are building a long house than it is when you are building a short house like ours, as the line level can sag over a long length and give you a bad read.

life is not always so beautiful as you want it to be, and when driving ground posts you often come across problems such as rocks and foundation.  it’s pretty well impossible to drive though these materials so they must be tackled.  two basic methods can be be employed, removal and post cutting.

of these two post cutting is the easier.  if you hit an obstacle and you have over two feet of post in the ground but have yet to reach your level mark you can simply cut off the excess.  use a hacksaw, cut off wheel on a angle grinder, or a pipe cutter.  i prefer the pipe cutter as it’s slow but often provides the best cut.

in many situations you hit obstacles before you have driven two feet worth of post in the ground.  you have little choice but to remove that which is in your way.  commonly this required digging with a shovel what is in the way.  you can find some pretty large items if they are large enough you might have to use a sledgehammer or jack hammer to break them apart.  i’ve even heard of folks boring though foundation in order to put in ground posts.

hopefully you won’t hit anything – i repeated the process of driving posts with only a couple of incidents, having to cut two pipes, and digging out a huge piece of concrete on the very last post i drove.

bigrock

in our next episode we install bottom boards.