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25 September, 2011

Garden 11: The Hoop House

September, and tomatoes are finally ripening.

I tend to go with the flow (Disclosure: rarely in the main stream, sometimes along a flux as inscrutable as neutrinos through granite), and opt for simply ept over the fancy engineering available to today's gardener.
But the flow's so slow with the maritime Northwest Spring, especially this year. The sun may climb quickly from it's root-bound Winter Nadir to the sunshine daydream of a Salish Summer, but the clouds wet and dark rob the light and waylay the warmth. So to get some early(ish) greens and tomatoes and beans going, I decided to goose the flow a little this year. 

June 2011: The plastic comes off.
This photo shows only the hoops, but imagine it covered in clear(ish) plastic, trapping air to tap photons that make it through the clouds; these shivering ragged survivors do manage to warm things up a bit. Not enough to affect soil temps, though, which I measured frequently and never saw get past the low 40s Fahrenheit before I yanked the plastic and let the real summer in. 

Anyway, the shot from the roof there illustrates my approach, which stems from frugality and some would say lassitude, though I prefer to think it is clever(ish).
  • Dig a 12 by 4 foot bed sloped slightly down south.
  • Lay out a 25 foot soaker hose up and back.
  • Get some skinny pvc, stick one end in the ground in a corner the bed.
  • Go down the long side, planting another every 2 feet.
  • With the help of a boathook or friend, bend these over and stick the other end in the ground.
  • Get a roll of heavy clear plastic sheeting, and lay it over the hoops and secure the long edges.
The only thing you cut is the plastic sheet, and there's no exotic material required. Easy. Cheap.

Spring's greenhouse reborn as Summer's tomato cage.
Plastic retraction time comes when the tomatoes start pushing against it, which as luck had it this year was when we started to get real stretches of clear sky, sun showering down on chlorophyll for hours on end. At which point I took a couple of old tomato cages I'd made a while back out of leftover fencing, and laid them over the hoops. Just guide shoots up where you want them and they'll flop on top, maybe even sling a few of the branches below. Watch for fruits growing into wires, but otherwise you're pretty much done til harvest. 

South of the tomatoes, I had lettuce and spinach, some of which had an extended growing season as the growing tomatoes kept the sun from hitting tender leaves all day. To the north was a single row of string beans, climbing twine to a line strung from eave to eave on the end of the house, but that's another story.

From the post-Equinoctal perspective, the hoop house seems like a worthwhile investment. Digging the bed was by far the most labor intensive part of it, and that gets easier over time. Everything is off-the-shelf and inexpensive, and one person can make it in under an hour. The tomatoes alone pay for it the first year. I'm glad I finally did it.

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