[Market-farming] homegrown hoop house blues

Paul Bucciaglia pbucciaglia at yahoo.com
Wed Nov 9 14:26:15 EST 2005

What follows is just my $.02:
  -I'm not sure this "guru" and "newbie" hierarchy serves new farmers very well.  There a  million ways to farm.  Best to find your own path, crunch the numbers, or learn from someone who is SUCCESFFULLY making a living, or at least doing what you want to do, on the ground, in your neck of the woods.  Often glossy covered books dispense dubious advice.  And how useful are opinions like mine, which are just the ramblings of a veg grower who's tired and feels like avoiding working in a cold drizzle this afternoon :-)
  -I have yet to find a free lunch in farming, or actually in life in general.  A new 25X96' greenhouse, properly constructed, costs 7-10 grand.  A  used one costs maybe 2-4 grand, again all costs (not just hoops, thats just the beginning...).  Depending on your knowledge and the market you could gross 5 or 10 or even 15 grand in that house in a year doing veg, possibly lots more with flowers.  All the sudden a 'real' hoop house seems more affordable--sounds like you came to similar conclusions.
  -The same kind of square footage spit and taped together with bent PVC or rebar or recucled whatever might cost you a few hundred .  But it can be a false econmy because its a 'brittle' structure not likely to last long (hardware store plastic will be shot in no time!).  And only people with pensions, trustfunds, or wealthy spouses have the luxury of not counting 'their time' to mess around with half baked greenhouses.
  Anyways, I hope it all works out for you and wish you luck in your new venture.
  Fort Hill Farm
  New Milford, CT  
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Today's Topics:

1. HOMEGROWN HOOP HOUSE BLUES (homegrownwisdom)
2. NYTimes.com: Mountains of Corn and a Sea of Farm Subsidies
(nitag at ev1.net)


Message: 1
Date: Wed, 9 Nov 2005 10:49:14 -0400
From: "homegrownwisdom" 
Subject: [Market-farming] HOMEGROWN HOOP HOUSE BLUES
To: "'Market Farming'" 

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HOMEGROWN HOOPHOUSE BLUES: What can (and did) go wrong 

We did all the research -- our "Four Seasons Harvest" book is so dog-eared
that it won't stay closed. We endlessly googled 'hoophouse', 'hightunnel',
'winter harvest' etc We scraped together the money to buy rebar, poly pipe
and plastic. This fall was SHOWTIME"! We were going to build our very own
hoophouse. There was so much encouragement on all those websites: words like
"simple", "easy", "uncomplicated" were used. And we believed them. I should
know better! 

My partner had recycled a couple of large pieces of second-hand plastic from
his spring greenhouse job. I ordered to rebar: ***LESSON #1***:Here is
Canada, things are Metric, so there is no ? inch rebar, only 10 and 15 mm.
So I went with the 10mm, which is close to 3/8 inch. A friend delivered the
rebar. We were ready to go. 

Eliot Coleman (I'll just use "EC" from now on) told us that a 20 foot piece
of rebar will create a 12 foot wide hoop house that is 6 feet high at the
apex. ***LESSON #2***: 20 foot long rebar is only 19 foot 6 inches long, at
least here in Canada. So, in order to gain some workable height, we changed
the width of the hoop house to 10 feet, which meant that one of the side
beds of chard I had planted was no longer inside the hoophouse. 

Initially we didn't have any poly pipe to cover the rebar, so at the
suggestion of a friend, we used old garden and soaker hose, slit down the
middle, taping it with duct tape at 18 inch intervals. It seems to work OK.
***LESSON#3*** Old 1/2 inch soaker hose is very pliable and works quite well
for covering the rebar. The plastic kind is stiffer but will also work. 

We used rebar for the ridgepole. ***LESSON #4*** The length of the rebar
determines the length of your hoop house. We're still not sure how to attach
overlapping pieces of rebar in the ridegpole - would wire work wrapped in
tape? We used plastic T-connectors at either end, wrapping the rebar in duct
tape before pushing it into the connector and then screwing in a short screw
in a pre-drilled hole. (***LESSON # 5***: Pre-drill holes in your
connectors.) We covered the rebar with pieces of that foam stuff you use to
insulate water pipes, tying the ridgepole to the hoops with pieces of inner
tubing (EC's suggestion). 

We laid out the recycled greenhouse plastic on a big field near our house
and I set to calculating the appropriate measurements. I did them three
times, like they advise and the I CUT THE WRONG DIMENSIONS! Instead of
cutting the plastic to fit a 20-foot span, I cut it to 16 feet. Don't ask
what I was thinking! ***LESSON #6***ALWAYS get someone else to check your
measurements (maybe two other people, since my partner and I are not very
good with measurements!). 

So, we had to go buy 6 mil builders plastic (all we could afford). Next we
put the plastic on. It wasn't a particularly windy day but it wasn't calm
either). I had built two end door frames to attach the plastic to. It was a
warm day, the plastic was warm and very susceptible to the least pressure. A
couple of holes appeared and I had to RUN to the local nursery and spend $22
on a roll of greenhouse tape. ***LESSON #7***: Have a roll of greenhouse
tape on hand when you are putting the plastic on the hoop house. 

To the best of our ability, we attached one end and then pulled the plastic
tight and attached the other end. My partner then dug a trench and buried
the plastic on the sides and the ends. That was last Saturday. Today is
Tuesday. The wind has been blowing at around 60 kilometers per hour (30 mph)
for you Americans. The plastic has been blowing around the frame. I can see
that it has stretched since it rises about 18 inches ABOVE the ridgepole. I
went inside the hoop house today and noticed that about half the hoops have
been BENT away from the prevailing 60 kph wind. The hoop and door frame at
the north end of the house is leaning at about a 70 degree angle toward the
inside of the house (the door frame IS supported by 18 inch wooden stakes
pounded into the ground and attached to the vertical pieces on both sides).
Some of the hoops have also moved from their positions attached to the
ridgepole and the rubber ties have come loose. 

So I went back to the Internet to see what can be done about the plastic
billowing around and have decided (unless you have a better idea), to buy
some plastic baler twine to pass over each fourth hoop and stake down on
each side in an attempt to keep the plastic down. If there is a calm day
this weekend, maybe we'll dig up one whole side of the plastic and stretch
it out again and re-bury it. 

I'm not sure what to do about the leaning end hoop and door frame. Maybe
some more baler twine and stakes would help here, too. I will re-tie the
hoops to the ridgepole, maybe using those cable ties this time. 

On the positive side: it was toasty warm inside the hoop house and I can
already see that the plants are much happier away from the cold and wind.
This is my motivation for completing the other three hoop houses (we just
have to put the plastic on). With all the things that went wrong with the
first hoop house, we can only improve, right? 

It was our intention to grow greens for our 11 subscribers this winter. We
followed EC's planting schedule in his "Winter Harvest Manual". However,
from August to the middle of October, we had NO RAIN here and hauling water
from a nearby stream just wasn't enough. So everything is REALLY small and
not growing much (it's November 8). I really wonder if we will be able to
supply our subscribers. ***LESSON #8***: Start earlier than they say. Make
SURE, even if you have to grow them in containers individually, that plants
like kale are mature. With other greens, next year I will start a couple of
weeks earlier and sow successively, paying close attention to watering. 

In the middle of all this, my partner and I met with a local supplier of
Harnois "ColdFrame" and "OvalTech" hoop houses. They can supply a 20 X 50
house for under $1,000 (Canadian). This is starting to look REALLY GOOD! 

So, there's my rant, my "HOOP HOUSE BLUES"..I hope that it provides some
useful information for any newbie like us, who, motivated and inspired by
the books and articles sets out to build their own hoop houses. Maybe the
inspiration and vision is what gets us through the difficulties. It's
probably a lot like having a baby - lots of women say that if anyone had
told them it would hurt that much, they NEVER would have done it. But women
continue to have babies (and we continue to build hoop houses) because we
are CREATING something new. 

wendy & fredr'c at 
Zone 5 Nova Scotia

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