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!