Tag Archives: hoop house

early tomato starts

our hoop house is little – at least when compared to what i’m used to.  i’ve mostly worked in houses that are 24-34 feet wide and 96 long.  our little 14 x 36 foot might be smaller – but it never feels cramped, due to the six foot ground post (and that i don’t have to share it with anyone but my family).  one major difference of working in this this house and the others i worked in, it’s ours.  no more improving soil for someone else – no more having to make decisions via consensus to decide planting dates – s and i just sit around the table and decide what to plant.

like most folks, getting tomatoes early is a big goal, but i’m not that into bragging about who has the earliest tomato, but i do like a good tomato (alright i do like to brag a bit, but it’s not the only reason for wanting early tomatoes).  how the early tomato has entered  the american psyche as the source for garden bragging i don’t really understand.  peas, spinach or even radishes are just as exciting to me.  xtra large pumpkins seem like the only other crop that comes close, and i don’t care at all about those – you either carve it or make soup out of it, otherwise the pumpkin has no point.  an early tomato you can eat, and that certainly seems worth bragging about.

because of the hoop house at work i have likely enjoyed fresh tomatoes much earlier than most detroiters.  with my own hoop house i can experiment with early tomatoes in a way i don’t feel at liberty at the farm.

so this year we are trying much larger tomato transplants.  i’m skeptical, my personal experience is that older take longer to bounce back from transplanting, but that’s out in the field.  in the hoop house they have less wind, more water and more shelter from cold.  perhaps they will do better.

is it really about earlier tomatoes?  i think it’s ultimately about starting tomatoes earlier.  nothing, nothing really gets me though the last of winter like starting seedlings.

there are so many possibilities for containers to start containers, but for several years now at home, i have settled on the not so high tech styrofoam egg carton.  it’s cheap, common, holds in heat well, and is shallow so heat from a heat mat penetrates easily.  i cut the top from the bottom and use the top as a tray to go underneath it, poke a hole in each of the egg holders, fill it soilless mix and yr good to go.

in order to label – i simple use an industrial waterproof marker to write on the tray of the egg carton underneath each of the egg holders.  it works better than little sticks.

egg carton

they go on a heat mat and a couple weeks later once they sprout they get pricked out and then go under lights.  if i have room i try to keep them on the heat mat as long as possible, but eventually they get kicked off to make room for the next crop.

prickout1pickout2lights

i’m growing these for twelve weeks, which is why i started them so early.  normally i go for a eight week transplant – but as stated before, i’m trying large transplants.

the peppers for the hoop house are also started – and i’ve direct sown, peas, carrots, beets, radishes, arugula, scallions, and spinach.

what grows in your winter garden?  i’ve been reading more about about grafting of tomatoes anyone with thoughts about that?

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massive update

i haven’t written anything since november.

and yet i welcome several new subscribers – surprising given the infrequency.  welcome new subscribers – i hope you enjoy and will provide feedback.

it’s not because nothing has been happening, quite the contrary.  we have been going full steam for the last few months – and it’s only this last weekend that we reached a point at which we could take anything resembling a break.  considering that s threw her back out and have been having to do child care and adult care for the last day or so it’s not really much of a break.

we have been steady working on this house and the yard since we bought the house, but have really stepped up our efforts once we learned that our son had elevated lead levels.

nothing drastic, but cause for alarm. things appear to be under control now, but we have had to take major measures to get them under control.  i’ll likely write more about lead, testing, and dealing with it, later, but in the meantime i’m just gonna update ya’ll on what projects we have done in order to get lead under control.

first was the stripping of paint in areas where encapsulation wouldn’t work.  namely the threshold of the front door.  next was encapsulation – woodwork in the pantry and kitchen had to be encapsulated and then painted to match the other woodwork.  i also encapsulated a couple of walls in the pantry.  they still haven’t been painted yet as i still have some plaster work to do on other walls before we paint the whole pantry.  the hallway leading down to the basement needed to be encapsulated as well, and then painted.

speaking of the basement, as though lead weren’t an issue enough we found out that we had fraying asbestos tile on the floor of the basement.  we paid some one certified to remove it.

asbetos

my lungs just seemed worth the cost.  what i didn’t think about was all the glue aka mastic that would be left over.  it was a huge pain to get off – taking me weeks of weekends and nights to get it up.  i’m thankful to the following podcast for getting me though it: serial, 99% invisible, radiolab, snap judgement, the champs, and invisibilia.

at least as much time has been spent moving things around the basement, as we had to clear everything out when they removed the tile, and then we had to move it to remove the mastic.  i think that’s what made s throw out her back.

we are now putting the basement back together, and i’m really happy with the way it’s turning out.  it’s making more sense and taking into account how we need to access and use the space.  my favorite part is that we have moved the chest freezer and canning supplies closer to the stairs so when cooking you can quickly pop down to the basement and grab some items out of the larder. larder

in addition to encapsulation and stripping, another strategy for dealing with the lead has been removal.  the back door casing was covered in chipping lead paint, and the door was super drafty so we replaced it.  i could have replaced it myself – but i knew it was going to be serious pain – and i had plenty of other projects to work on, so i also paid someone certified to do that as well.  he told me it would take him a morning.  as expected – it was a bigger pain than expected – it took him until 6 at night.  no more draft! i still need to replace the molding – and since the original was cover in lead paint i bought new stuff – but couldn’t find anything that would match the original, but i think it still looks ok.  door1door2

in the process of replacing the door and molding, we damaged some plaster and realized that much of it was pulling away for the lath.  we wanted to save as much as we could, but some was just to far gone to repair. s and i spent new years eve watching youtube videos on plaster repair and new years day doing plaster repair – we know how to party.  we were really impressed with the ease of use of big wally’s plaster magic – as well as the youtube videos they have to learn how to use the product.  door3

the other major repair project was to put a floating floor down in one of the bedrooms.  it had been painted with lead paint on the floor, and rather than try and remove the paint, we decide the simplest thing would be put a new floating floor over top of it.  i’m impressed with how quickly it went together.  one long day plus a couple hours the next day and we were done, and s is very happy with the result.  super big thanks to my brother in law david for his help. floor

at the farm, the biggest event of the fall for me was starting mushrooms.  i’ve been missing growing mushrooms since i left the farm i trained at over 12 years ago.  i’ve tried to convince folks a number of times to take on the task of growing mushrooms – but it’s never really caught on.  this fall we had a crew from radical mycology come out and lead a beginners workshop on mushroom growing. radicalmycology

we caught the bug pretty hard and harvested all fall and will be starting up a crop of oyster mushrooms again in the spring.  mushrooms

a bit simpler – but equally exciting to those of us obsessed with cycling nutrients – we built new compost sifters.  this is the third iteration of sifters we have been working on – and the big improvement is using slit steel rather than chicken wire.  sifter1

the steel comes from one of my favorite places in detroit: federal pipe and steel. this place is a museum of a hardware store, full of oddball items i can’t find anywhere else.  the staff know just about everything – though they don’t really let on unless you ask.  and the cashiers all seem to be punx.  if you visit you shouldn’t miss out on marcus burger.  it’s the real detroit deal.

sifter2

this new sifter can accommodate two, count em, two wheelbarrows at once.  i think the slit steel will last a lot longer than the chicken wire – but only time will tell.  i’m happy with them.

on the homegrown front, we have been eating out of the hoop house all winter- at first mostly arugula, but for the last month only spinach and kale.  the big lesson is to plant more kale next fall.  i love having it, but it grows really slow in the winter.  spinach continues to be the workhorse of the winter hoop house – cold, dry, doesn’t seem to faze it, we have had great harvests all winter.harvest

i was hoping for a milder winter, and the temps have been slightly warmer, and snow a little lighter, but we still have been dumped on, almost 20 inches last week alone.

snow

still we prepare for the growing season.  we have already started tomatoes (perhaps a post about them soon)  and sweet potatoes are started on the window sill.

sweetpotatoes

likely way too early, but we all have our methods of trying to stave off cabin fever, mine is starting plants for the next season.

what’s going on with you?

hoop house planting

we have been eating out of the hoop house for at least a month – mostly arugula, swiss chard and mustard greens for salad.  rather than purchase new seeds i just sowed heavily what old seed we had.  i had pretty poor results, and plenty of spots were left blank.  later i went and bought some new seed and seeded two beds in spinach and one in arugula. spinachandarugulathis photo was taken a few weeks ago – and these plantings are actually further along now, i’m expecting that they will be ready to harvest in a couple more weeks – and since it’s more spinach and arugula than we can eat i’m planning on selling a little to help offset the cost of building the hoop.  plantingwe also planted a mid october planting in those blank spaces left over from the poorly germinating seed- which should be ready quite late if at all this year – it may be the first harvest of next year.

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 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.