Gardens are great. Except in winter, when they're gray and lifeless, like the gray and lifeless lawn, set amid the gray and lifeless trees and the gray and... well, you get the point.
It doesn't have to be this way. You can build a hoop house, and enjoy winter vegetables all year round, even in some of the coldest parts of the country. And you can do it yourself, cheaply and with minimal effort.
Michelle Obama knows this. In the South Lawn garden the First Lady created, White House chef Sam Kass and Department of Agriculture staff, including organic and local food champion Kathleen Merrigan, built a hoop house, making this video in the process:
If you want to make your own hoop house, look no further. We've partnered with Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Garden International, to show us how. One of The Daily Green's 2009 Heart of Green Award winners, Doiron and KGI were instrumental in encouraging the First Lady to build the White House garden in the first place. A public campaign, including an innovative Facebook petition drive, helped convince Michelle Obama to team up with Sam Kass, the USDA and White House staff to plant the organic garden. KGI continues to inspire home gardeners to grow more of their own food -- something a hoop house helps you accomplish.
by Roger Doiron
Worth the effort
Building a hoop house is a bit like having children: there's a lot of pleasure involved with the idea's conception, but very poor knowledge of the real work involved down the road. But just as it is difficult for me as a family man to imagine living without my children, I'd have a tough time living without my hoop house. It is a central part of my gardening life, not to mention a favorite hangout for my little boys. These instructions are meant to give you the inspiration and know-how to start a hoop house project of your own.
First, a few words of inspiration: tomatoes, melons and peppers. Need I say more? A hoop house provides the extra heat units you need to realize your wildest kitchen gardening fantasies. It allows you to have an earlier start, a later finish and lots of extra warmth in between. The first year I had mine up, I was so excited about all the possibilities that I gardened right through the year and was harvesting Mache and Claytonia salads in the dead of winter which is not bad seeing that I live in Maine (Northeast USA). As if that weren't enough, here's the showstopper: With a hoop house, you can garden in the rain and not get wet!
Now the nuts and bolts. There are many plans available on the Internet for building a hoop house. The first one is the one I used for mine, adapting it from a 12' x 14' to a 12' x 16' in order to enjoy that extra row of whatever. Some of you will cringe with fear when you open up these plans and see that there's some basic carpentry involved. Fear not: I'm living proof that you don't have to be a handy person to build one, nor rich for that matter. What you do need is courage, patience and a bit of creativity to deal with the problems that will inevitably arise as you go along. There will be rips in your plastic, cracks in your joints and (in my part of the world) snowstorms that will try to make your hoop house into a large plastic pancake (they almost succeeded this winter!). Once again, do not worry for most of these problems can be resolved with some clever thinking on your part and several rolls of duct tape.
Advice for the novice
Three words to the wise: secure, support and ventilate. Once the plastic is on, your hoop house will catch the wind like an oversized kite. Make sure that the four corner posts are dug deep into the ground. Although the plans below don't call for it, I would also suggest adding some additional deeply dug support to the front and back walls. Similarly, if you live in the snowy north like I do, I would recommend that you envisage an internal support structure (2-3 beams supporting the spine will do) before the first snowstorm threatens. Once the snow has fallen, be sure to remove it quickly from the top of your structure to prevent stressing the joints. Finally, a hoop house is for growing plants not for baking bread. If you feel uncomfortably warm inside, then your plants probably do too. Make sure you open it up and allow the air to flow.
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