Author Archives: patrick

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.

 

hoop house build part one: laying out and driving corner posts

thirteen years ago that i built my first hoop house.  it was a deeply transformative event.  at that point in my life i’d never really built anything bigger than some sculptures i did in undergrad.

i remember looking at all the parts and the field where the hoop house would go and wondering how i would be able to put it up.

i had plenty of help, jay was there to give day to day instruction and chris my co-worker plenty of encouragement.  it wasn’t the sort of encouragement i was used to.  chris was about twice as big as me and extremely strong, and he held me to the same standards as he did myself, making me work as hard as he could.  i often thought of neitzche’s  thus spoke zarathustra, and contemplating  the will to power.  i’ve now built many houses for other folks, dreaming of the day when i might be able to build one for myself.  now that we have property of our own, building our own house has been high on the list of priorities.

this last week the weather has finally broken after the snowiest winter in detroit since 1880 and we started working on installing our hoop house.

what follows is a multi part how to guide to install a hoop house.  i hope you find it helpful or interesting.  if you find it neither, it will be over soon enough.

this section is on laying out the house, driving the corner post and leveling everything.

for those that are scratching their heads wondering just what a hoop house is – it’s basically a low cost greenhouse for extending the growing season.

for this section of building the hoop house you will need the following.

1. scrap lumber for making batter boards 2. wood screws 3. an impact driver or drill, with phillips bit and 3/8’s inch driver bit.  4. a post level 5. a properly sized pounder  6. fence post driver  7. self taping screws 8. builders string 9. a line level  10. a shovel 11. ear protection

step one

identify where you are going to situate your house.  most folks run the house east-west as this allows you to catch the most sun, but a poorly situated hoop house is better than no hoop house.  with a shovel test to see if there are any major rocks or foundation in line with where you plan to put the house.  i dig at least 1 foot down to test, but that doesn’t always mean that you are going discover everything lurking below.   once you have tested everything and feel as though it is free of impediments, you can start marking where it will go.

i start by driving corner takes where i think the house will be located.  it’s helpful to have some fixed points in this situation.  measure off sidewalks, or fences or building that are likely to be square if you have that convenience.  look it over and make sure it will be convenient to get to, have plenty of sun and all that.  i laid our house out about 10 feet from our fence so it’s shadow wouldn’t interfere with growing, and we would have good ventilation.  spend a day or two looking at the where the house will sit before you get down to the business of driving corner posts .  you don’t want to realize that you should have placed that house two feet to the left after you have driven all the posts.

step two

once you have the approximation of the corners of your house, set up your batter boards.

these are boards that are set up around the corner of where you plan to actually drive your corner posts. the batter boards give you the ability to adjust the layout of your ground post before you drive them.  getting ground posts out is not fun.  moving string is easy, though not really all that fun either.

drive three vertical posts and then attach the horizontals to make a little wooden corner .  do this on each of the corners.   drive a screw into the top of each of the horizontals approximately where you think the outside edge of the corner post should be.  then run a string between the screws to form an approximation of the outside of the house.

batterboards

this is where it gets tough; math gets involved.  if it’s been awhile since you have cracked a geometry book you might want to get a drink and come back.

ok?  good.

you remember pythagorus right?  not really?  well the guy is rumored to be brilliant and may have come up with the theorem attached to his name; the pythagorean  theorem.  everything is a bit murky considering that most that is know about his life was recorded years after his death.  we all learned about his theorem in geometry class and it’s one of the few useful bits of mathematics i routinely use.  when trying to find the length of a hypotenuse on a right triangle, it says that the square of the length and width added together with equal the square of the hypotenuse.

why am i bringing this up?  because it’s the simplest way to make sure your angles are all square.  first check that the length  and  width are right.  in the case of our house it’s 14 feet by 36. then check the distance between the two corner posts which based on the pythagorean theorem should equal  38 feet 6 inches or so.  if all these are the same you are in great shape, but most of the time you have to move yr strings and screws around until you have everything in the right place.  it takes a while but it’s well worth getting the ground posts square.  everything goes so much smoother if they are square.

step three driving the corner posts

make a mark on your ground posts for 2 feet.  if you are using 4 foot ground posts this is the center, if using 6 foot this mark will be two feet from the bottom of the post you are going to drive.  all posts need to pounded at lease two feet into the ground to hold secure.

slip the post level over the post, slip the pounder in the end of the ground post, slide the post driver over top and put on yr ear protection.  take yr time and get the post as close to the corner strings without pushing them out and then make sure that it is square in all directions.  then pound it a few times.  check and resquare, continue pounding and checking until you have two feet of the post into the ground.  you want to have at least 2 feet of ground post into the ground, no less.

repeat with each of the ground posts

that is if you can.  in my case we hit massive foundation when we went to drive the two post on the west side and had to start laying out the batter boards and start again.  this is not what you want to happen, but you should be prepare. if you have to remove corner posts, easiest way is to use a pipe wrench and twist and pull up at the same time.  it is not fast but it does work.

pipewrench

lets assume everything goes well.

step 4 leveling the ground posts

drive a self taping screw into the side of each of the post at a level that works well for you.  i chose the two feet below the top of the post because it was well below where it would get in the way of the stake driver, but also gave me plenty of room to adjust stakes.  wrap a line around each of the screws making sure to maintain the same orientation on each of them, so the string comes out either on the top or the bottom, but not both.  pull the string taunt, put a line level on the lines,  and check them for level, if they are all level wonderful, if not slowly drive the posts down that are too high until they are all level. try to drive as little as possible to make them level so you have as much ground post above ground.

stringlevelwith all four corner post square and level you have a major accomplishment on your hands, and your house is well on it’s way.  this is the most crucial step as all the other ground posts, and the rest of the house will be based on these four posts.

don’t be in any hurry, make sure everything square and level, take yr time do it right and you will be much, much happier as you build the rest of the house.

in the next post we will drive the rest of the ground posts.

rodent resistant seed starting

at first you might not notice you have a rodent problem in the greenhouse.  they don’t tend to bother the brassicas which are the first crops to be sown.  it’s when you start sowing the warm season crops that it becomes apparent.  suddenly you watermelon plants are bit off, or the seed of the pepper plants are dug up.  it’s a sure sign you have mice.  you really shouldn’t wait until you know you have mice to control them, you should just assume you have them at the beginning of the season and set traps (tip for traps, since mice are so good at getting bait off traps, even peanut butter on the bottom, a cotton ball really shoved into the trap can work well, they collect the cotton for their nests).  i failed to do that this year, and once i realized that we had a rodent problem we had to take bolder actions.

we done this a couple years when we have realized we have mice problems and it’s worked well for us.  a hanging shelf where they can’t get to.  i’m sure if they really wanted to get to the seeds they could, but at that point i’d want to trap them put little outfits on them and train them to be circus mice.  hangingshelfonce the seedlings have germinated and ready to be pricked off we take them off the shelf, since the mice don’t really care about them at that point.

planting strawberries

in front of our newly established asparagus bed in the front yard, we also have added about 75 feet of strawberries.  i’m well on my way of freeing me from having to mow so much yard this summer.

we could have done a ton of research on variety, but i mostly wanted to get something in the ground this year, and my experience with strawberries is that every few years you have to rip them up and replace them if you really want to be productive. there will be plenty of chances for other varieties in the future.

fedco’s prices on bundles of strawberries were very fair and we ended up planting two varieties; sparkle and cavendish.  these are not the most exciting varieties one could grow, but they should produce an abundance of  tasty fruit that we can put in the freezer.

like our asparagus bed, i wish that we had spent more time preparing for it’s arrival in the fall, but again other things were more pressing.  we may have regrets later on as we attempt to keep the berries weed free. strawberries are somewhat notorious for being poor at competing with weeds.

while preparing strawberry beds is not nearly as labor intensive as digging trenches for asparagus, i did want to make sure that the soil was loosened pretty deeply.  our spading fork has been getting quite a workout preparing all these beds, and in the process of forking i was able to find plenty of buried concrete and brick aka urbanite.  the small pieces i’m going to toss, but the big stuff i’m thinking will get saved to use as pavers at some point in the far future.

pileofrocks

strawberries grow in a crown habit and so planting them at proper level is important, too low and you risk smoothing the tops, too high and you dry out the roots.  it’s worth taking the extra time to plant carefully.   my method is to make mound so that the roots are able to be planted more deeply than the crown and cover with soil.  water them well and cover with a straw mulch.  this will help to keep them from losing moisture and also keep weeds down.  after the roots establish we will top dress with compost and an organic fertilizer.

strawberrycrownplanted

what strawberry varieties are you growing?  anyone growing alpines?  musk strawberries?

asparagus planting

sorry for the delay in posts it’s not that i haven’t been doing anything, and welcome new readers – i look forward to yr comments.  now on to the post.

i’ve planted asparagus patches on several occasions, but none of them have been for myself or my family.  i’ve planted vegetable gardens at pretty much any house i have lived at, but the expense and effort of planting asparagus at a rental just seems like too much.  this year with a piece of property of my own, i actually felt like i could justify planting asparagus.

s and i made a large scale map and planned where our main veggie beds would go, our hoop house, future critters, and perennials.

i happen to think that asparagus makes a lovely backdrop and many people comment on how lovely it’s foliage is.  with that in mind we decided to put it in the front yard.   there were literal obstacles to this plan, namely the 15 foot tall bradford pear that was growing right in the middle of where i wanted to plant.  i had contemplated grafting good scion wood to the rootstock, but i got talked out of it, and there is a very productive pear in the lot behind us.

treebeforetreeafter

with a shovel and mattock and a couple of hours of hard work the tree was a goner.

my neighbor inquired as to what i was doing and seemed skeptical when i explained my plans for asparagus.

as if digging up a tree wasn’t enough of a challenge for the day, asparagus is usually grown by digging a trench eight to twelve inches deep. s and i spent a couple of hours digging out our trench, and since i love digging i had to keep reminding myself not to dig so deep.  in places the trench got well over twelve inches deep and i had to fill it back in, s didn’t have the same problem.

as i dug up my front yard and reflected back on my neighbor’s inquiry, i couldn’t help but think about the british television show, the good life.  if you’ve not seen it, i recommend it – though its really better viewing for the winter.

forktrenchthe trench dug, i used a spading fork to loosen the soil at the bottom of the trench and then we put the crowns down and covered them with a couple inches of soil.  asparagus looks to me like some sort of alien parasite.  as i plant it i worry of it jumping up and sucking onto my face.   this variety is jersey supreme from fedco trees.  as the crowns sprout and grow up we will fill the trench in, with soil and compost.  we gave them a nice watering and them the next day we had a nice gentle rain.  how perfect.

crownintrenchcoveri really wish we had done more to prepare the soil in the fall, but we were struggling with a newborn at the time, and i figure that even poorly planted asparagus is better than no asparagus.

what are you working on this spring?

planting true potato seeds

i’ve been planting potatoes for at least 15 years.  every single one of the years i’ve planted clones, from what are called seed potatoes.  what we call seed potatoes are not true seeds, but clones that are vegetatively propagated.  what this means, is that when we plant potatoes of the same variety say the ever popular “red norland”  we are not planting plants that are genetically similar, we are planting plants that are genetical exactly the same.  this is a risky proposition.  it means that if disease descends on the field, and the “red norland” is vulnerable, then it they all are gonna be equally vulnerable – and you could lose all your crops.

while lack of genetic diversity is an issue, not having the opportunity to see just what these potatoes can share with the world is even more important.  true potato seeds show a high degree of genetic variability, and you never really know what you are going to get unless you have done controlled crosses.  that is the exciting part, potato traits that have not shown their eyes in generations could show up, plus new combinations of genetic info from potatoes that have crossed.  potatoberriesthis year i’ve finally saved true potato seeds for the potato berries, and planted them, and have a nice yield of seedlings.  

the seedlings i’m growing this year are crosses of a couple of the more popular potatoes – yukon gold and red norland.  both have been doing well for us for a number of years out in the garden, and have done well without any pest problems, disease, or watering.  

seedlings

i have many more seedlings than i need, so if anyone is interested in some of them, i’d be happy to let them go for a dollar each, just to cover costs for growing them.  they should be ready to plant about the same time as tomatoes in mid may.  let me know if you are interested and the number of plants you want and send me an email to dirtysabot at gmail dot com.

 

passive greywater heat exchanger

it might not surprise you that i spend a decent amount of time researching ways to reduce the household energy use and increase efficiency.  while doing research on grey water collection i was reading about a device that collects the heat from greywater and radiates it to the house as it drains into the collection tank via a heat exchanger.

this seemed like a pretty complex device to collect what didn’t seem like that much heat.  i don’t use much hot water for washing dishes or taking a bath, and most of our clothes washing is done in cold water.

it did get my gears turning.

what if you could do something that required no work and could save this heat?  that would be worth it right?  it occurred to me that if you just left your hot bath water to sit until the water in tub was cold, it would have already achieved the task of extracting all the heat out of it before it went down the drain, making the need for a greywater heat extractor unnecessary.

so thats what i do now, leave the water in the tub until it has become cold.  how much this saves in energy savings, i have no idea, but if any one technically minded wants to calculate this, i would be very interested to find out.