RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—For dedicated locavores—or anyone who likes to buy food that's fresh and in-season, February and March can be the bleakest food months of the year in most parts of the country. The winter squash have started to disappear, spring peas and spinach are still a month or two off, and everyone has run out of creative ways to cook yet another Yukon Gold potato. But you can speed up your spring harvest by raising a hoophouse—a kind of seedling shelter that allows you to grow cold-tolerant spinach, salad greens, and radishes up to two months earlier than you normally would.
What It Is
Hoophouses are what they sound like—miniature, unheated greenhouses, constructed from a series of metal hoops covered with plastic, set over a patch of soil or a raised bed to trap heat. "It's a fairly low-tech thing to build," says Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the use of backyard gardens as a means for creating a more sustainable food system. "Essentially, what you need is a support structure," he says, which can be PVC tubing or standard metal pipes. "Cut that to the size you need, and poke both ends into the ground in an arc." Once you have a row of hoops that's as long or short as you need, cover them with plastic, and you're finished. (Doiron recommends downloading hoophouse plans from a local extension service for a more detailed how-to.)
One advantage to hoophouses, Doiron notes, is that they're easily modifiable. You can construct a small hoophouse to cover a single row," he notes, or build one large enough for you to walk into. The simplest hoophouses can cost as little as $50 for materials. A caution, though: Because these structures are so lightweight, Doiron advises that you make sure your hoophouse is well secured, so it doesn't blow away in a stiff wind. Install the posts deep in the ground, and be certain that the plastic cover is well secured with staples or tacks.
You've built your house, now read on for what to plant inside it.
Published on: February 3, 2010
Updated on: March 25, 2010