Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Building Mini Hoop Houses

Posted by Thomas from A Growing Tradition

mini hoop houses 2
This past Sunday night, we experienced our first light frost - a slight taste of the wintry weather to come. Our neighbor found it on the windshield of his car Monday morning and any hope that I may have had for Indian summer is now gone. It's time to wind down much of the garden and winterize the rest. Luckily, all of my veggies were under row cover Sunday night and no noticeable damage was done. I am very pleased with how the Agribon row cover has performed thus far.

Last Friday, I began work on my mini hoop houses and was able to complete them Sunday night. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I wanted to try my hand at a winter garden this year. Since we moved into our home in late July, I've been so focused on getting a fall garden planted and established that in a way, the recent cold weather has kind of taken me by surprised. I'm glad I didn't procrastinate too much on getting these constructed.

I wanted to make mini hoop houses that would fit on top of my raised beds, be movable so that I could cover different crops at different times throughout the year, and allow for easy access to the plants underneath. I also wanted to construct houses that were sturdy enough to withstand the heavy snow storms we routinely encounter here in New England, yet light enough to be lifted by one person. After much thought and second guessing, here is how I constructed my mini hoop houses:

wood frames
1. I started off by constructing the wood frames that would serve as the base for the hoop houses. I used 1 x 3 inch untreated spruce, which were cut into 3 and 6 feet pieces.

metal ties
2. I screwed metal ties to each corner to hold the frame together. The finished base measures 6 ft by 3 ft, the same as my raised beds.

bent conduit
3. I purchased 1/2 inch steel electrical conduit from Home Depot and used a conduit bender to shape the rods into Gothic style arches, making sure that the width of each arch was relatively close to 3 feet, i.e. the width of my frame. A hacksaw was then used to cut them down to the desired height. (I considered using PVC conduit but ultimately decided against it as I did not want to risk the chance of them bending or collapsing under the weigh of snow. The steel conduit is also relatively light.)

metal straps
4. I attached the arches to the wood frame using metal straps. These help to keep the arches perfectly straight. The attached arches also reinforce the base.

mini hoop house frame
5. I attached 3 arches to each frame. I chose to go with a Gothic style arch shape for my hoop houses not only because they more attractive then semi-circle hoops in my opinion, but also because they are proven to be better at deflecting snow and wind guts.

plastic on frame 1
6. I then went to work on attaching 6 mil polyethylene to my finished frame. This grade was chosen primarily for its strength, durability and insulating capacity, while at the same time, sacrificing only slightly the amount of sunlight available to the plants underneath. I started off by using clothes pins to tighten the plastic onto the frame.

plastic on cold frame 2
7. Then I used a hot glue gun to adhere the plastic onto the frame and trimmed off the excess. Initially, I tried using double-sided tape to do this but soon realized that the plastic would not stick to the tape. Then I tried sewing the plastic onto the frames using ordinary kitchen twine - too much work. Using a glue gun turned out to be the best and strongest option. (I tested its strength by pulling on the poly, and instead of releasing from the frame, it ripped).

finished mini hoop houses
8. I decided on two different heights for my hoop houses - 3 feet and 2 feet. A taller hoop house would obviously accommodate taller plants. Specifically, they will be used to give my tomatoes an early start in the spring. The shorter houses are less awkward to handle and lighter to move. Since most winter crops tend to hug the ground, I will most likely stick to the 2 feet or lower height when constructing future hoop houses.

mini hoop house hinges
9. In the garden, I use metal hinges to attach the hoop house to the raised bed. These can be easily removed in the spring and attached to another bed if needed.

opening mini hoop house
10. On the other side of the frame, I attached a metal handle to make lifting the cover a breeze. As you can see, the hinges allow for easy access to the crops grown underneath and also for easy venting.

mini hoop houses
The cost of materials came to about 80 dollars. By far the most difficult and tedious part in the construction process of these hoop houses was attaching the poly to the frame. After hours of hot gluing, they are still not perfect. Yet at the end of the day, I am very happy with my mini hoop houses. Hopefully, they will do their job this winter (weather permitting). So what do you think? Am I crazy?

Footnote: I forgot to mention when I first posted this that I stapled the poly to the wood base!


Tree Hugging Mama said...

I think you did a wonderful job. I have to construct raised beds this spring in order to garden on my property, I am glad to see that the cost of the hoop houses isn't to high, makes it more reasonable for me to attempt next fall.

viggiesveggies said...

These are great! I don't have raised beds, so I'd have to fiddle a little...but I am bookmarking this to try next season :)

Thomas said...

THM - Yes, I highly recommend trying to build your own hoop houses. The cost of a commercially made glass or plastic coldframe is really ridiculous in my opinion. I'm guessing that if I had purchased 4 coldframes this size, it would have cost at least 5 times as much.

Thomas said...

Viggieveggies - I hope you do! And I will let you know how these work out for me.

Anonymous said...

I think the hot melt glue might freeze and crack off in the cold weather, but the houses look great! very creative!

Chiot's Run said...

Very nice. We just put hoops up on our raised beds and we cover them with netting if the deer are eating what's inside and in the fall/winter we cover them with plastic of cloth.

I love seeing all the different ways people deal with the cooler weather. Great design!!!

Thomas said...

The glue may very well end up being the deciding factor on whether or not this design will succeed. Any signs of cracking and I will be out in the garden with needle and kitchen twine in hand to sew up the seams. (Hopefully not when there is a foot of snow outside.) Oh the drama that is gardening!

Dave@The Home Garden said...

They look great! I'm about to put together a couple to extend our season. We don't receive much snow here in TN but the nights do get cold. I'll be using scrap lumber I have lying around the house ~ we'll garage really.

Jessica said...

If you don't mind my asking, how much did it cost to make these? They look really awesome!

Kathryn said...

Wow. I'm impressed. These look so professional.

We put a temporary greenhouse over our raised bed with some glass we have to build an actual greenhouse. But our temps got too cold at night & the tomatoes still died.

Will try again next year.

Tara said...

I love these! You make me want to redo the garden with raised beds. Everything looks so tidy for this late in the season. My garden is like a jungle (a dying jungle!) Since your hoop houses seem pretty permanent, do you have a good spot for storage?

Thomas said...

Jessica - I purchased all of the materials at Home Depot and the total cost for these 4 hoop houses came to about 80 dollars.

Tara - Luckily, I have a huge open basement to store these in, but I'm really hoping to make use of these year round. In the summer, I'd like to place them over heat loving plants like melons, cucumbers, peppers etc. I would leave them VENTED of course but since our summers here in Massachusetts are so short and mild, I'm guess they may appreciated the warmer micro-climate created by these houses.

belle said...

What a great idea, not needed where I live in sunny sub-tropical Australia, I'm doing sort of the opposite to keep the hot sun off tender plants.

I wondered though if you get strong winds, could they lift the side that's not screwed on?

Thomas said...

Good point Belle. I may add a simple lock to that side of the hoop house if it happens.

Sincerely, Emily said...

very nice looking! we are going to built something along those lines in the next month. we don't get snow here and only freeze occasionally. but just a short one hour freeze is all it takes to wipe things out. Thanks for the great photos and explanations. Emily in So. Texas

Fay said...

These are wonderful. I think I might use your design to make shade houses for our summer (Western Australia) I think your design is simple and elegant and very clever. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, this is my new favorite gardening blog. Your list of resources is fantastic. We are in the midst of putting up a 20 by 14 Gothic arch style cold hoop house on our more rural property here in Maine. Right now it just looks as though we dropped a bomb in the yard. You will be amazed at how much of a jump those hoop houses will give you. Happy Gardening.

Thomas said...

Anonymous - I would love to see pictures of your hoop house! My email is on my blog if you care to share!

renee @ FIMBY said...

These are beautiful and you are not crazy. I'd like to know how they worked. How far north are you?

Thomas said...

Renee - I live in Methuen, Massachusetts near the border of New Hampshire. Our hardiness zone is 6 though it feels more like 5. This winter will be the real these for these hoop houses. I'd like to really test how far into the winter season I can still grow.

Annodear said...

Very impressive! Great design and execution :-) Hope they work!!

Paula said...

I think your post is brilliant! I'm a novice gardener and was literally just reading about various types of cover for my wee garden beds. I don't get a lot of snow, just a bit, but rather a lot of rain. Your instructions are so easy to follow, and I really like those removable hinges that attached the hoops to the beds. Plus, I just so happen to have a glue gun and about a zillion glue sticks! Thanks for making this post!

Cyndy said...

Really nice! Your instructions make it seem easy enough that maybe even I can do it.
If the glue becomes a problem you might try these row cover snap clamps, which I used to attach shade cloth to some pvc tomato supports I made. They worked well.

Thomas said...

Cyndy- Thank you for this suggestion! I will definitely keep it in mind!

Building Materials Supplies said...

"Building Mini Hoop Houses"

This is great, thanks for sharing!

egp said...

wow nice work, its so easy to build Agribon row covers

Boomer said...

These hoop houses look great! Cost is encouraging too!

If the hot glue fails, I wonder if tarp grommets would work. I've seen the two piece grommets that you just snap together (with the tarp between) and then cut out the tarp material. If the plastic was too weak, it could be reinforced with a strip of tuck tape (housewrap tape). Then just a few bungie cords or string to pull the whole thing tight, plus the grommets would probably be reusable.

ScottinNH said...

It's a year later... I take it the hot glue survived the freezing cold and snow?

It'd be good if you could confirm your maintenance levels for the poly/glue after 1 year... but I'll take "no news as good news". I am going to replicate your design.

Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

very innovative