Hoop-de-doo!

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Our friend Allison, who visited us a couple weeks ago, liked it here so much that she came back. This time, we put her to work.

OK, first we taught her to shoot a gun, which she’d never done before. Then we put her to work.

A couple weeks ago, we started our fall project, a 12’x20’ hoophouse. Our goal was to get it up in time to get some cold-weather crops in, and bring it in under $250. So far, we’d spent about $200 – half on lumber and hardware, and half on plastic – so we were hoping we wouldn’t need too much more to get it up and covered.

The hoophouse foundation

Its foundation – and I use the term loosely – is a cobbled-together selection of reclaimed four-by-fours and six-by-sixes, held together with (new) treated two-by-sixes. Kevin and I had already done the cobbling, but the four sides had to be leveled and nailed together.

That meant digging.

Luckily, you can get Allison to do just about anything if you give her a tool she’s never used before. In this case, it was a grubhoe, the perfect thing to break up dirt in order to seat our foundation properly.

The first time I used a grubhoe, I marveled at how well it did its job, but I found that the novelty wore off pretty quickly. I figured we could get about ten or fifteen minutes of good grubhoeing out of Allison before it started to seem like drudgery.

Luckily, that was enough. We seated the four sides of the rectangle, nailed them together, and stuffed as much dirt as possible underneath them in the hopes that they’d stay reasonably close to where we put them, come the next heavy rain.

Once the foundation was done, the fun began. Our hoophouse is going to have hoops made of twenty-foot lengths of PVC pipe, which we’d already constructed with two ten-foot lengths (each with a flange at one end) and some super-duper PVC cement. Putting up the first hoop was as simple as drilling a hole in two corners of the foundation, and sticking the end of the pipe in it.

Of course, putting it up is one thing, and making sure it stays up is quite another. A PVC hoop, even with screws through the base that attach it securely in its hole, has a lot of play in it.

The hoop du jour

The structure is going to be kept rigid by framing at either end, and we tackled that next. We wanted a door that was three feet wide, and centered, but wanted the height to be determined by where the upper corners would hit the PVC arch, so we could clamp the pipe right to the doorframe.

To figure out what that height was, we had to make sure the hoop was directly over the foundation, and drop a plumb line from the arch. We didn’t have a plumb line, but we had a fishing pole, so we hooked the line over the arch and dangled the Deadly Dick lure until it just touched.

Once we had the dimensions, the frame went up in no time.

Once that first hoop was up, it started to look like an actual hoophouse, instead of just wood on the ground. It’s not just a pipe dream anymore.

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Comments

  1. Good job so far! Definitely a worthy project and worthwhile goal. Fresh stuff from feet away instead of hemispheres away,in winter especially, is always good. I have some questions for you:
    How thick is your plastic and what type of plastic is it? Are you using any kind of horizontal framing or bracing? Diagonal braces in corners, or at base plate joins? Is there a continuous ridgeline, or just plastic sheeting over air between hoops at the top? When will the ratatouille be ready?

  2. Just a suggestion for the PVC sides: drill a largish hole in your wood sills and sink a three foot length of rebar through it about two feet deep and leave a foot sticking up through the sill. Put the PVC over the rebar and it should hold the PVC pretty steady.

    I only suggest it because that’s how I kept the PVC up over my raised beds, and my setup wasn’t near as fancy as yours. I just wrapped it up in a fairly heavy mil plastic and clamped it onto the PVC with spring clamps. The ends were folded in and held down with firebricks. Nothing ever blew away or blew open in a storm though.

  3. Wow, interesting project! I had a lovely Lord & Burnham greenhouse built so that it was attached to my house in Centerville; this was in the late 1970’s when the world was new, but I recall a few things well. 1) better be sure your foundation is on solid hard ground, or your door soon will not close; 2) I’d suggest having at least the availability of a heat source, as both Fall and Spring will offer up unseasonal cold now and then; and last, 3) start studying up on insect control; it won’t be just the late-season veggies that benefit from that cozy shelter! One more thing – I second Paula’s idea of rebar as PVC stabilizer – it’s used here in Oregon with great success too.

  4. Greg — Our plastic is 6 mil, and we ordered it from an online greenhouse supply place:
    http://www.gothicarchgreenhouses.com/coverings.htm
    As for the construction. Yes, we will do horizontal stays and some diagonal bracing at the corners. There’s no ridgeline, just the continuous arches. As for the ratatouille, let’s hope we can have it in February!

    Paula — We decided against rebar, although it’s a very sturdy solution. Trying to put any kind of stake in our soil is extremely difficult because it’s so rocky. We’re hoping that the base is solid and heavy enough to anchor the PVC and the plastic. Check back after the next big storm …

    Margaret — The voice of experience! I guess we can gauge how solid our ground is by seeing how long it is before our door doesn’t close! The heat source is tough because we don’t have any kind of power up there. We’re not expecting full year-round gardening, though — we’re basically hoping to extend our season on both ends. We’ll see how it works Year One, and then modify accordingly. We could go the heat source route, or put a second layer of plastic. We’ll see. And thanks for the tip on insect control. It’s not something we excel at in our regular garden, so I’m not overly optimistic about how we’ll do in the greenhouse, but I am getting pretty tired of losing produce to various six-legged pests.