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Stabilizing My Foodshed

April 28, 2011

It’s been two long growing seasons without a hoophouse for me.  And that era has come to an end!  Depending on what your worries are – peak oil, peak water, erratic weather, natural disaster, radiation fallout, etc. – becoming more self -reliant in your foodshed is a good way to go.  Last spring was a bugaboo too for getting any garden started, let alone getting all crops to harvest, and this year is shaping up to be the same.

And being somewhat of a weather junkie, I like to read about the weather and weather patterns that have historically plagued our area.  This particular blog post about 30 year weather patterns in the Pacific Northwest caught my eye.  The conclusions match the oral history of the weather on our farm and give me pause.  I’m in my early 50’s and if we are entering a 30 year cold phase I just might be glad we built this hoophouse for my last gardening decades 🙂  Nothing better on a cool, spring day than a draft-free hoophouse.  And nothing better than biting into a vine-ripened tomato, which is a rare commodity here without a hoophouse.

1996 – Ruthless showing her Breyer percheron to a neighbor.

For us, a hoophouse can round out our diet a little.  Moderation is the key, as in all things.  I don’t want to eat all raw food, nor do I want to eat all canned or frozen food either.  Too often it’s easy to get fanatical and over-correct and get in the other ditch or go off the cliff entirely.  I want to grow as much of our food as possible, but often the growing is the easy part.  Harvesting, storing and keeping are just as big of undertaking as the initial growing.  So season extension is the name of the game with greens and other cool weather crops and during the summer, I can get some warm weather crops consistently too with a hoophouse.  I don’t want to be like the store, having fresh tomatoes and melons in January, I want to know my food and who handled it.  I want to be the toiler, I don’t want to hire someone to do the nitty-gritty, or feel that I am to busy to have my hands on my food or let machines do my work for me.  But beware, a hoophouse this size really adds to the garden workload.  Expensive real estate means intensive gardening and rotations to keep everything going well.  It’s a whole ‘nuther ballgame compared to our bio-extensive dryland outside gardens.  But, I am not complaining, the salsa stockpile is getting a little low 😉

Actually the frame has been up since last year.  We were waiting for a spate of dry days to install the cover.  No such luck.  We have been lucky to have a day or two here and there.  So we seized the opportunity this past weekend and got it covered finally.  Weekend warriors, cramming two or three days of work into one day.  Ugh – I felt like I had been pulled through knothole backwards by Saturday night.

The dogs wore themselves out too – having to act as quality control inspectors.

First chicken wire, then plastic.

Inside inspection, I guess…   I know they’re dreaming of hiking their legs on my Numex peppers, only of course after a coyote has…

Cover on, spring lock next.

Getting ready to install the roll-up side.

Done.  Come on summer!

53 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2011 1:55 am

    Congratulations on getting it finished! 🙂

  2. April 28, 2011 4:33 am

    Great post! I’ve been dreaming about a hoophouse ever since I heard Eliot Coleman speak about his four season growing techniques. I’ve never seen one with chicken wire before though. May I ask why do you use it?
    P.S. Love your dog helpers! We share our home with an Aussie too…

    • April 28, 2011 5:18 am

      Fiona, too many critters including deer have munched in there – it’s cheap insurance 🙂

      The doggies were exhausted after all that “help.” 😉

  3. April 28, 2011 4:43 am

    Such hard working pups!! I admire your ability to handle such a large hoop house/garden! I’m working on getting to that point one day…. right now we just have a garden that’s around 10’x30′ and a 8’x12′ greenhouse. Still young yet, so we’re trying to take it one step at a time 🙂

    • April 28, 2011 5:21 am

      Jenna, good idea, it’s much easier to work up to a large gardening space than to have too large of one in the beginning and get overwhelmed. I grew a huge amount of peppers in the small greenhouse last year, so there is nothing wrong with having a smaller one 🙂

  4. April 28, 2011 4:50 am

    I am curious about the chicken wire. Is that so you can open up the sides yet keep out critters?

    • April 28, 2011 5:24 am

      Susan, yes, that way we can leave the sides up without worrying that something is getting in there. Errant sheep come to mind…don’t ask how I know 😉

  5. Jenny permalink
    April 28, 2011 5:27 am

    Poor puppy, looks exhausted! Inspectors work hard!

  6. April 28, 2011 5:33 am

    I have hoop house envy!! That’s a really nice house and the green-eyed monster is rearing it’s head again!

    • April 28, 2011 6:35 am

      LisaAlso, I know what you mean, I have missed this growing space and temperature regulator these past two years. I can’t wait!

  7. April 28, 2011 5:39 am

    That is a great looking hoop house! I have also been dreaming of one after reading a stack of Eliot Coleman books. Is it movable? I am hoping to get one set up on our property in the next few years. In Montana we need all the extra help we can get 🙂

    • April 28, 2011 6:37 am

      Homeinthestraw, our site doesn’t lend itself to a moveable house, unfortunately unless I wanted to move into my garden area. But it is a great idea.

  8. Cindy permalink
    April 28, 2011 5:47 am

    I’m impressed, envious – oh heck – just downright jealous… Before the end of this growing season in upstate NY, there WILL be a hoop house of some sort in my backyard. Did you have some sort of formula/theory that you used to decide on the size of your hoop house?

    Many thanks – have enjoyed your writing and have learned a great deal on many topics.

    • April 28, 2011 6:45 am

      Cindy, we basically just rebuilt in the same space as our snow collapsed one. This is a standard kit available locally, we only needed some parts though, being able to salvage from the damaged house.

      It’s 30 x 72, with enough height for tractor work inside, if you plan on doing all hand tilling you could get by with a 20′ width quonset style which equates to a lower clearance. We could also expand this to 96′ by adding more bows if needed. The constraint there is the size of plastic available. This size uses a 48′ x 100′ roll and provides enough for the end walls and doors without waste.

  9. April 28, 2011 6:15 am

    We just finished planting our new hoophouse. I can’t wait to see the little lettuce seedlings popping up.

  10. April 28, 2011 6:47 am

    I hear you about the rain, although East TN is nowhere near the Pacific Northwest. Over a month ago, we had a gullywasher that was the final straw in the ruts in our gravel driveway. I arranged to have a local guy come out and resurface it and put down new gravel, and he said, “I’m going to dig your neighbor’s new septic drainfield as soon as there’s a few dry days and the ground dries out, and I’ll do your driveway the same time.” Well, the ground hasn’t dried out since! My seeds (and the weeds) are coming on strong, but I still have to drive around the ruts in my driveway.

    • April 28, 2011 8:23 am

      Joshua, it’s not showing much sign of stopping her for a while. We’ll just have to deal with it. Let’s hope the weather settles a bit around the entire country. After seeing the violent storms back east I have nothing to complain about!

  11. Marilyn permalink
    April 28, 2011 7:16 am

    Ah – ok, I hadn’t thought about putting up chicken wire, but that does seem like a good idea. Especially with the “roman shade” thought for roll-up side walls.

    Do you have any pictures of how you roll up the side walls?

    Congratulations on getting it finished! And thanks, once again!, for an informative post!

    • April 28, 2011 8:13 am

      Marilyn, the sides are still battened down for now, next time I roll them up I’ll snag the resident photographer and get some snaps. During the summer they are up during the day and closed at night. We have cool mountain nights here and it makes a huge difference.

      I’m glad the cover is on, now I can start working the soil as soon as it drys out 🙂 Finishing touches, like the last door and vents will come later.

  12. April 28, 2011 7:27 am

    How exciting for you that you’re back in the hoophouse business! Ours isn’t built yet (and will be very small compared to yours) but I’m excited for us to get started, too. Even just to have a place to go “outside” where the temperature is better than the real outside temp, especially in nasty January and February! I also just got my library-reserved copy of Eliot Coleman’s “Four Season Harvest” and am looking forward to cracking into that.

    Is the chicken wire to protect against particular critters? I hadn’t seen that before.

    Thanks much for the link on PNW 30-year cycles. I will read that next. I’ve lived in Western WA almost my entire life, but being only 37, I have only recently started to wonder about patterns. I was just remarking to my grandma this morning how disappointed I am at the thought of another crappy summer. 😦

    • April 28, 2011 8:21 am

      Amy, you will be amazed at the mood lightening effect of a hoophouse here in our gray, dreary winter. Today it’s 39 degrees outside and inside with the chicks it’s 55 + and under their lights they are toasty and draft-free.

      Yes, the wire keeps out anything trying to get in at the crops, of course that means I have to remember to shut the doors…don’t ask 😦

      You might want to check out this gal, she is the reason we built our first greenhouse so long ago, we were reading Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower and he wasn’t really delving into too much covered growing at the time and her model for the PNW seemed like a winner. She isn’t too far from you I believe and Raintree carries her book or DVD I believe.

  13. April 28, 2011 7:33 am

    Thanks for the link Nita. I have only been here since 2007 and even I noticed the long, cool springs lately, but I’ve also heard other people complain about them (including my 82 year old mother in San Jose) and then read in The Zero Mile Diet by Carolyn Herriot, who gardens on Victoria Island BC that she’s noticed the springs getting longer and cooler.

    This is making learning how to feed us out of the backyard very difficult! My peas seem to be taking forever to grow, and I’d planned to replace them with a zucchini and a patty pan squash- I hope I’ll have time.

    If the PDO is really real and we’re entering a 30 year cold period, then Carol Deppe’s suggestion of planting early varieties in The Resilient Gardener will be all the more important. To me, this is kind of scary. I’ll be looking to your posts for more help with what to grow when. I guess the one good thing I can take away from this is that we’ll get more rain, which means more to harvest. Good thing we’re looking at getting a metal roof this summer!

    • April 28, 2011 8:26 am

      Paula, all true, being prepared when you don’t exactly know what to prepare for is kind of difficult! It already takes me 100 days to get 69 day corn, so corn may just well be off my menu!

      My mom always talked about the cold weather in 1950, it suddenly dropped to zero on November 1st, and she woke up to cows bawling and half the orchard trees split because the sap was still up since we had only experienced light frosts beforehand. And that was just one story!

      • April 28, 2011 8:58 am

        Well that’s something to keep in mind! I was reading recently about the terrible winter of 1956 (I think) when most of Europe lost their olive trees, and people recalled the olive trees exploding, but couldn’t think why, and the first thing I thought of was that the sap either still had to be up or was coming up.

        I don’t have enough trees in my small orchard to afford losing one of them, so I’ll keep what you said in mind and pay attention to the forecasts. (I don’t think we’ll hit zero down here in the valley, but you never know.)

  14. April 28, 2011 9:29 am

    That suckers huge!!! 🙂

    This Spring has been cool and WET so I keep remember yours last yr and how we have to adjust and why it’s important to have a larder. It’s just too bad when someone puts all their eggs in one basket and then they get dropped. We need to work with the weather instead of against it.

    This year we’ll be fighting the stink bug in Biblical proportions. It’s predicted to wipe us out….but again, I’m thinking of how to increase my brix in hopes of evading this killer. As The Hired Hand keeps saying, “it’s us against them.”

    • April 28, 2011 12:34 pm

      Diane, it looks huge to me too, but it’s pretty easy to fill it up. It’s hard to explain what kind of place a greenhouse can become. It’s pretty amazing.

      I’m bracing for a cold growing season, and if it does warm up, I’ll be glad, and if it doesn’t, oh well that’s the breaks 🙂

  15. April 28, 2011 9:32 am

    How wonderful for you to garden through the year in! I’d love a hoophouse that big. We live NE of Seattle and have had the coldest April, like you have, if this is a trend for some years to come, this is our most practical way to garden in the NW. Last year many of my crops didn’t ripen at all like the tomatoes, peppers and corn. It’s so much warmer in a greenhouse, it’s fun to work in March and April. I want to be able to plant and harvest earlier in the year and later in the fall, and ripen tomatoes and peppers. This year I am planning a small greenhouse to start with and will get a bigger one after I’ve saved up for it, patience I keep telling myself. So happy for you and your family, enjoy many happy hours planting and harvesting.

    • April 28, 2011 12:37 pm

      Jewel, I am hoping for a nicer summer this year than last, the greenhouse will help ease the pain of a cool summer though.

      You will love your small one though, I have found that no matter what size my covered growing space is, it is all good! There is always time to enlarge – happy growing this year 🙂

  16. April 28, 2011 9:32 am

    Oh how wonderful!
    Thank you for showing the process of building, I think we could figure something out.
    Warm wishes,

  17. April 28, 2011 10:32 am

    I’m glad your hoop house is back. I’ve always wanted a small one but it’s just not feasible here 😦

    • April 28, 2011 12:39 pm

      Linda, I agree – too cold where you’re at, and it’s one more thing to worry about in bad weather 😦

  18. April 28, 2011 10:35 am

    Hi Nita,

    I was just about to suggest Cliff’s blog and there was the link. He is addicting. I think you said this was a kit in one of the comments. I’m wondering how much this set you back?

    Also, can you do a post similar to the one about the little hoop house/brooder, about how you use it through the season. Do you stick animals in here in the winter?

    • April 28, 2011 12:49 pm

      Anna, we’re into this right at $2000 delivered, there were many things we didn’t need as we were able to salvage some components from the original one. I think the price would have been about $2800 otherwise. You can spend a lot buying things like endwalls, polycarbonate and heaters – but DH is a good builder so lumber frame endwalls, homemade sliding doors, which can all be made using scraps of lumber and plastic from the cover roll.

      Usually these local companies have sale prices at the Home and Garden show in Portland around late August or September and that is a good time to buy. But it’s pretty easy to make them pay for themselves too, high dollar items like mesclun do well in these unheated tunnels. Warm season crops take too long and take up too much space for a quick return.

      Good idea for a post on the little hoophouse – yes the sheep love it in there in the winter, they are on mowing detail in the new one now and enjoying watching the hail and snow from inside 🙂

  19. Eva permalink
    April 28, 2011 11:20 am

    Now you’ll have so many more growing options.

    Here’s another interesting weather site:

    Great interactivity with weekly and annual graphs – just make sure to check how long the nearest weather station has been collecting data when you draw conclusions…

  20. April 28, 2011 5:11 pm

    We added our 20×24″ greenhouse last Spring and have NEVER regretted it for a moment! I want to add onto the other end and make it a 20×60′ . Last Summer we had ripe tomatoes by mid July, unheard of in our area( zone 4) The absolute best thing was no damage from deer. I like the chicken wire idea, my question is when the wind blows( like it does here) doesn’t it cause wear on the plastic? We have wind strapping on but the plastic still moves in and out with the pull and vacuum of the wind.

    • April 28, 2011 6:33 pm

      Kelle, it’s amazing how fast you can fill them up isn’t it? 🙂

      We’ve had good luck with the aluminum channel and springlock wire. The channel is on the side boards and you apply the plastic, stretch tight and put the springlock in the groove. It does move a little in the wind, but for the most part is pretty solid. I think the roll-up sides not being a totally secure finish on the sides is a plus, and our suspicions were confirmed when a neighbor decided to build a greenhouse similar to ours so they could get consistent crops too. We cautioned them to go for the roll-up sides for ventilation but they decided to batten the thing down to were it is almost hermetically sealed. They didn’t get two months into their first tomato growing foray without white fly, just like our other neighbors experience in their climate controlled greenhouses. I think ventilation and some temperature abatement during the day make a huge difference.

      • April 29, 2011 5:59 am

        We use the channel and wirelock and have 4ft roll up sides. I agree you need the ventilation, we also added a 40% shade cloth this year, which we’ll hang inside, rather than place over the top.

        It is amazing how quickly it fills up, I’m already saving for materials for an add on*wink*

        It’s a learning curve, especially since we chose not to heat it, unless we heat it with wood or propane there is no other option. We’ve learned lots in the past year in working in the greenhouse and now have a better schedule in mind as to when to plant specific crops. :o)

        Blessing fro your day, BTW it’s snowing here today and 42F, yesterday was almost 70F*sigh* Poor animals look at us like,” What the heck is going on?”

  21. April 28, 2011 6:35 pm

    I just awarded you with “The Versatile Blogger” award on my blog. Check it out if you’d like.

  22. April Makalea permalink
    April 30, 2011 3:44 pm

    I’m just south of you and we decided we need a hoop house this year. Can you share where you ordered from?

  23. April 30, 2011 4:44 pm

    hoophouse listed today on Craigs list, 30 X 50 for $1500. Of course, in addition to putting it UP, it also has to be taken DOWN. I’m craving it, but…..

    Bigger than I’d planned on, but it’d fit. Hard to know which way to jump.

    • April 30, 2011 5:56 pm

      Hayden, I know what you mean, we looked into some two years ago that were 1000, but a 8 hour travel time and then the hauling, it just didn’t pencil out for us. We’re fortunate that nursery is a big business around here, so these are manufactured locally and delivery almost free if you order more than $300 worth of merchandise.

      As for the size, you’d be surprised how you could fill that puppy up! 🙂

  24. Marilyn permalink
    May 24, 2011 7:49 am

    Nita – a question for you… Do you have any idea how many gallons of water you use in your greenhouse over the course of a year?

    • May 25, 2011 7:02 am

      Marilyn, no I don’t yet, but I will be tracking it and it won’t be too hard because I will be using the municipal water in the greenhouse so I will have a better handle on what I am using via my water bill 🙂 Our spring water is harder to gauge accurately.

      • Marilyn permalink
        May 25, 2011 8:09 am

        Thanks, Nita! I’m putting together a rainwater catchment system and want to use the water to irrigate my (future) orchard, garden, and greenhouse, and am trying to figure out what size the main tank should be… Making lemonade with various ODA requirements for water management 😉

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