Garden Winterization (Part 1): Hoop House

Going into the garden’s first winter, we decided to investigate different methods of winterizing the garden, and, in this case, prolonging the growing season. One common technique is a structure called a hoop house. With an appearance similar to the Iroquois longhouses of the past, this PVC pipe and plastic sheeting structure acts like a greenhouse, insulating its contents from the dramatic temperature outside. While not able to extend the growing season through the entire winter, our research has found testimonies of being able to grow cold-hardy crops (leafy greens, root vegetables, etc.) into February!

Now, finally, after over a month of construction, the hoop house is complete! Inside we have radishes, cilantro, and Toscano kale (recently seeded) growing. The real test of its structural worth will be when we check on it in a few days (considering that it snowed last night and temperatures are expected to dip into freezing for the next few days.)

This structure, with its impeccable construction and incredible engineered stability, believe it or not was the first one we ever built, and it wasn’t even that hard!!! Below are instructions for how we did it!

Materials (all available at Home Depot!):
- 4  10 ft. x 1/2 in. pvc pipes (available in the plumbing department)
- 3.5mm plastic sheeting (available in painting supply section)
- 8 1/2 brass pipe brackets
- Wood screws (length dependent on surface they’re drilled into)
- Scissors
- Measuring tape
- Staple gun
- Additional able-bodied, coordinated individuals

Instructions:

*All of these instructions are based on the dimensions of our garden bed, which is approximately 4 ft x 8 ft (we never measured.) Accordingly, the lengths of your PVC should be adjusted – take the half-circumference and add a foot on each side.

1) Ideally the brackets would be evenly spaced and matched the the ones across the bed, but we didn’t really do that. We trust out eyeballs. We started by drilling each brackets (4 on each side) half way into place. This was important, because if screwed all the way in, the pipes would not fit in.

2) Fit the PVC pipes into the brackets created four parallel arcs. From there, screw the brackets the rest of the way in.

3) Once you have the skeleton (it reminded me of a whale skeleton….don’t ask me why) – now is the time to measure out your plastic. You want it wide enough to go all the way over the arc with 6 extra inches from the top of the bed to where the plastic hangs; and long enough that when folding in the excess (like you were wrapping a hoop house-shaped present,) it about touches the ground.

4) Once it is measured and draped over the structure in the way you wish, it’s time to attach the plastic! This is where we got held up for weeks, because we lacked access the a stable gun. If you can think of more creative and/or less permanent ways to attach the plastic, please be my guest. Everything I learned was from YouTube, so it’s pretty easy to find. On one long side (the side where the brackets attach) fold the plastic edge under itself by a few inches. Using your staple gun, put a row of staples along the bottom edge, about 6 inches apart, making sure to hold the plastic taught so there are no creases or flabby folds (this is like plastic surgery.) Once complete, add a second row of stable above the first near the top of the bed’s side board, again, assuring taughtness.

5) Go to the other side (and this is where extra hands help) and pull the plastic fairly taught, then repeat the first sides actions. For BOTH sides, I would recommend putting at least the first staple in the middle first, to assure you are not lopsidedly stapling the plastic. Taughtness is important so that rain and debris does not collect on the top of the hoop house, but note that without the ends being pulled taught, also, it may not appear to be as taught as it will be. Don’t pull it so taught that it threatens the integrity of the plastic. A tear would be counter to the idea of sealing in warmth.

6) Now’s the easy (or hard) part. We labored over how to close up the ends, because you want it to be a fairly tight seal to keep in warmth, but also have it be accessible to reach inside. We talked about trying to attached zippers or velcro, but eventually just ended up using two large cinder blocks on each side. As I said earlier, fold the ends of the plastic down as though you were wrapping a present, and then use the cinder blocks to keep them in place.

Then, TAH DAH! You have a hoop house!

We’ll see how successful ours is and keep you posted. There was even talk of dressing up our hoop house for the holidays – cute. Happy winter gardening!

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