Late afternoon I peeled back the plastic from one of my small hoop houses, chunks of ice falling to the ground, and picked a bowl of baby collards, lettuce, beet greens and spinach and harvested a small handful of baby carrots.
It’s Sunday, November 28th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The rest of our gardens have been put to rest for weeks, covered with a think layer of straw tucking them in for the winter. It’s been below freezing for the better part of the week with the occasional snow flurry; in fact, one of the area ski hills just opened this weekend. In a nut shell, it’s cold and one doesn’t find too many people still harvesting fresh salads from their garden this time of year around these parts.
My trick: I built small hoop houses over two of my raised beds in the fall which give each bed just enough warmth to stay going. I hope to keep harvesting the remaining veggies for a few more weeks and then I’ll use the houses in the early spring to jump-start the planting season. I’ll be able to move flats of seedlings into the houses to harden off and also plant my tomatoes and peppers weeks sooner as the soil will be warmer and the sunlight will help give each house enough warmth to support the heat-loving nightshades.
Here’s how I did it:
Step 1: Build raised beds. The ones I built are 4′ x 6′, wide enough to plant densely and narrow enough that I can reach the middle without stepping inside. (For more benefits of raised bed gardening and advice, check out the book “Vegetable Gardener’s Bible,” it’s a great book and I use it as a reference all the time.)
Step 2: Secure 1/2″ gauge PVC pipe (I used 10′ lengths) to the inside of the raised beds using two sets of plumbing brackets per side. I chose to secure the PVC in this fashion because all I’ll have to do is loosen the screws tightening down each bracket in the spring and slide the PVC out to store them until fall. The length of your raised beds will determine the number of spines you will use to support the structure. My 6′ long houses are supported with 3 spines.
Variation: To build hoop houses that you could walk inside of, alter the design by using 3/4” – 1” gauge PVC and use two 10’ lengths connected at the top with a T or an X connector to make each spine of the hoop house.
Step 3: Cut a piece of PVC the length of your hoop house and secure across the top. I secured mine by lashing the two pieces of PVC together using strips of bicycle inner tube. (For the record, I’d say bike inner tube is arguably more useful than duct tape!)
Step 4: Herein lies the trickiest part of the project, wrapping each hoop house securely in plastic yet still allowing easy entry. First off, the plastic I used is drop-cloth plastic from a local hardware store, it’s generally sold in a couple of different sizes.
I secured mine by nailing down each of the 6’ sides of plastic to a 6’ length of 2×4. The weight of the boards holds the plastic against the ground. To tension the plastic against the hoops, roll the plastic around the boards.
To secure each of the sides I nailed a thin piece of wood with some flexibility (I used old flooring I had laying around) to the center of the 4’ sides, sandwiching the middle of the plastic in between. With the 6’ sides secured around the 2×4’s, gather the excess plastic at each of the corners and tuck it under each side of the board you just secured to each 4’ side.
With this method, you can access the inside of each hoop house from either side by un-tucking the plastic from one of the sides and lifting the 2×4 out of the way.
While I got a late start on my hoop houses this year and don’t have them filled to capacity with winter-hardy greens and veggies, next season it’s on! Until then, I’ll continue to harvest fresh salads from my little backyard homestead.