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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Many Uses of a Hoophouse

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Justifying the purchase of a hoophouse can be hard to do if we think of this useful structure as just a place to grow warm weather crops.

That's a good use for sure, and in our cool, maritime climate, a hoophouse is insurance of a pepper and tomato crop. But building a hoophouse isn't cheap. Our 20' x 20' hoophouses came in at about $500.00 not including labor to build. That price included metal legs and bows, hardware, and greenhouse plastic. We used scrap lumber for end wall and door framing and if you had access to cheap lumber you could also build a frame from lumber instead of the metal bow system we used.


Actually we built hoophouses this size specifically for brooding chicks for our egg business. And I have to say a light and airy chick brooder is the way to go. Natural light encourages the chicks activity in the early days. We provide heat lamps but most days the lights are off only being used at night. Not using the lights so much is a cost savings, and a huge improvement over our earliest efforts at brooding chicks in a dark area with the only light being provided by heat lamps.


What is good for the chick - a light, warm draft-free environment is also a good place to start plants. To utilize more of our space we have our plant starts above the chicks suspended on temporary shelves. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that is true in this case. Once mice discovered how cozy the hoophouse was with a ready made larder, (chick food) they moved in as well, and discovered a liking for pepper and spinach seeds :(

It's hard to pin down the single best use of our hoophouse, all are important in our food raising plans. The more ways we can utilize this space throughout the year, the faster we get to the payoff of the original expense.

Time line for our small hoophouse:

January - nighttime sheep housing during inclement weather.

February - ditto.

March - begin starting plants with supplemental heat and covering as needed.

April - continue plant starts, and prepare for chicks.

May - finish brooding chicks on deep bedding, continue succession seeding.

June - move chicks outside to pasture, remove deep bedding, prepare for planting warm weather crops inside.

July - warm weather crops.

August - ditto.

September - harvest crops.

October - remove plants and rest space.

November - rest.

December - nighttime sheep housing in inclement weather.

Of course each situation will be different, and more uses could be found:

1) Such as winter time housing for rabbits, chickens, sheep or goats on a deep bedding system. In spring when animals are moved to pasture the bedding material could be removed and utilized for garden areas, still leaving enough residual to grow a summer crop of ??? Larger hoophouses make excellent winter time housing for hogs in high rainfall or cold areas.

2) A place for rapid growing succession crops such as mesclun or braising greens.

3) A place to raise broiler chickens off-season if you have a year-round market for your birds.

4) Hen house, provides natural light during the winter, and with shade cloth provides summer time housing.

Keeping all this in mind, planning a gap of at least 90 days from fresh manure to harvest of any vegetables to avoid any possible contamination of edibles, the possibilities are almost endless, with just our "ideas" to hold us back. Hoophouses can marry the idea of livestock and vegetables on a farm in a way our ancestors wouldn't have thought possible.

8 comments:

Just A Gal said...

Oh, to have a hoophouse...and chickens. Yours looks great! I'm jealous. ;)

Julze said...

I'd love a hoophouse but the cost is what stops me too. I love that you are using it to raise chicks...what a great idea.

mainely stitching said...

Have toyed with the idea of a hoophouse for a year now because I can't afford a 'real' greenhouse. Thanks to your clear words, I'm going to go ahead with it. We also raise chickens for eggs, meat, and chick sales and it would be great to have some extra room - especially during this busy period of hatching, hatching and hatching!

Limette said...

We just planted our new hoop house. Can't wait to see it through the seasons.

Chris Tidwell said...

Nice... actually raised salad greens in mine this year. http://bit.ly/lIeBvo

orlandowaterrestoration said...

We are building one for tomatoes. great Article

Moonwaves said...

I'm just posting a comment mentioning polytunnel since I think this article would be interesting for people living in places where that's what a hoophouse is called (I only found out what a hoophouse is because you posted pictures on your blog). So now maybe it'll show up on google searches for polytunnel as well as for hoophouse :)

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm said...

This is a great creative way to utilize hoop houses!