Greenhouses are great, but if your budget doesn’t permit that just yet, try a hoop house. You can start your spring garden and begin your harvest early.
Gardens are increasingly popular as families try to stretch budgets. Extending the growing season, even if just by a couple of weeks, can mean more delicious salads and good nutrition.
For a gardener who is anxious to start planting cool-season crops, such as salad greens and broccoli, finding a way to extend the growing season has enormous appeal.
Greenhouses are the top-of-the-line technique, but are quite expensive. For the gardener who wants to experiment with season-extending methods first, before making the investment in a greenhouse, a homemade hoop house might be just the ticket.
A Word About Hoop Houses
A hoop house is a type of unheated greenhouse and can be a fairly permanent structure. Many commercial nurseries have large walk-in hoop houses constructed from PVC pipe.
This is a little more than most backyard gardeners can accommodate! But, an industrious gardener can make a small hoop house very simply.
Building the Hoop House
Most hardware stores sell 8-foot aluminum strips and heavy, clear plastic by the roll. Once these materials are secured, the only additional need would be some stray bricks or heavy buckets to hold down the plastic against the wind.
This does work easiest for a gardener who already has garden beds that are framed in some way. The aluminum strips can be inserted in the ground against one side of the garden bed, arched over, and inserted into the ground again to form an upside-down “U”.
Place a few strips about 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart along the garden bed. Cover with a generous amount of plastic, then weight the plastic down.
This homemade hoop house has a somewhat humble appearance, but plant some seeds inside, or set out some seedlings early under this cover, and a skeptical gardener will be won over in a big hurry!
The plastic will hold in moisture, so seeds or seedlings need not be watered as often as those grown in the open. The small plants are sheltered from wind and harsh variations in temperature.
More Tips for Using a Hoop House
Seedlings started under a hoop house will need to be introduced gradually to wind. When temperatures start to warm, remove the plastic for a short time at first, gradually lengthening the time when your young plants are exposed to windy conditions.
Watch for the unseasonably warm spring day. Your hoop house might need to be taken down or at least to have one side lifted for ventilation. The same heat-trapping characteristics that work so well in winter can be detrimental on an unseasonably warm spring day!
How early can seeds and seedlings be started? For advice in a given area, consult your county extension service. A good rule of thumb is two weeks earlier than the recommended planting date for the particular crop.
Hoop houses can also be used in the fall to extend the season for summer crops or cool-season fall crops. If your winters are not extremely severe, you may find that your hoop house will provide you with salad greens through the winter. The heavier the plastic used, the lower the temperature that your hoop house will tolerate.
This is an inexpensive way for a gardener to gain some confidence and experience with extending the growing season. Give it a try!