Building a hoop house

How to Build a Hoop House

There are a few ways to build a hoop house. Possibly the easiest is to place metal stakes into the ground and slide six-foot sections of PVC pipe over the plants, creating an arch effect. Then, simply stretch plastic over the hoops and you’ll protect your plants from freezing temperatures and frost. You won’t need to pre-train or harden them off because plants will have grown accustomed to colder outside temperatures during the fall season. The hoop house also warms the soil for spring seedlings and protects sensitive plants during the cold season.

Prices for an easily built plastic enclosed hoop house fall well below the costs of other greenhouse structures. You can assemble the hoop house in just a couple of hours at a cost of approximately $1 or less per square foot.

To build one is a fairly simple task. It can be either freestanding and portable or part of a raised bed garden, using three or four hoops per bed. I recommend purchasing supplies for five beds with four hoops per bed (can be found at Lowe’s or other home garden stores):

.5-inch x 10-foot 315 PSI SDR 13.5 PVC pipe
.5-inch rigid straps
Common 0.375 inch x 2 foot rebar pins
One box of #6 x 1.25 inch countersinking-head polymer-coated Phillips deck screws
Blue Hawk 10-foot x 100 foot x 2 millimeter clear construction Plastic film
One set of spring clamps for plastic ”“ (I suggest the Irwin 14-piece Plastic Spring Clamp Set)
One hammer
One steel tape measure

Placing bracket onto wood frame.

Step 1

Decide on an area of level ground and measure a 4 foot x 6 foot or 6 foot x 8 foot bed, made of wood, brick or other material that is secure to the ground.

Three hoops complete one hoophouse for crop plantings.

Step 2

Insert small rebar into the ground on both sides to secure the pipe. You can easily fit the pipe onto the rebar for stability. If using a garden bed, screw a clamp on each side of the front of the bed, then fit the polypipe through the opening of the clamp, then tighten. Do this procedure three or four times along each side of the bed. Pipes are flexible, sturdy and can be dismantled and reassembled each year — and maneuvered by one person without the use of power tools.

Plastic film covering hoop house for seasonal protection.

Step 3

Once the hoops are in place, plant the crops you wish for the upcoming season. To keep them from freezing, cover the entire area with the plastic.

Plastic cover protects plants from any inclement weather, rain, wind and UV rays.

Step 4

Use spring clamps to secure the plastic cover for the hoop area from front to back and side to side. Make sure the plastic covers the entire hoop area, from front to back. This unheated tunnel of plastic directly over the soil, whether knee-high or large enough for a person to work inside, makes year-round harvesting possible. It withstands snow, keeps frost and dew off and offers protection from hungry animals, in addition to blocking excessive rain and wind. It also raises daytime temperatures and reduces exposure to UV rays.

You can build several hoop houses for under $300. It’s just plain fun and good sense to grow crops during the cold weather, producing high yields for yourself and your family without exposing yourself to the elements.

Before I got the knack of it, I found myself hammering my thumb when I tried to nail the plastic onto the wood. Another thoughtless plan was when I picked a windy day and was chasing plastic across my yard as it escaped like a string-less kite before I was able to secure it with the latches. Fun and laughter were a major part of the process and in the end it was worth the few bruises which will heal and the broken fingernails which will grow back for the lessons learned for the next hoop houses I will build.

Build This Easy Hoop House to Grow More Food

Build Your Own Hoop House

PVC plastic pipes arched over a wooden ground frame and then covered in polyethylene plastic — that’s our DIY hoop house recipe in a nutshell, and it works for structures up to about 18 feet wide. You can also make hoop houses smaller, too — See Eliot Coleman’s Use Low Tunnels to Grow Veggies in Winter: Quick Hoops. Study all of the instructions and plans until you fully understand the construction steps before buying materials.

We used 1 1⁄2-inch diameter Schedule 40 PVC pipe for the hoops and 2-inch diameter PVC for the ground pipes on this design. See hoop pipe guidelines for recommended pipe diameters and hoop pipe lengths.

If you’d rather not use PVC, galvanized steel pipe made for chain-link fence installations makes excellent hoop house supports, and several pipe bending tools are made specifically for this task. Although steel pipe is more challenging and more expensive to work with than PVC, it delivers a stronger structure where extreme wind and snow loads may occur.

1. Build a Ground Frame

Regardless of the size of your hoop house, begin by creating a four-sided ground frame from rot-resistant lumber. Place 2-by-6s on their edge for houses 14 to 18 feet wide. Use 2-by-4s for the ground frame on smaller hoop houses.

If the sides of the frame are longer than the lumber you have, use 24-inch battens to splice joints. Hot-dipped galvanized No. 10 x 3-inch wood screws work best here, with No. 10 x 4-inch screws used to secure corner joints. Set your frame in place, and then measure from corner to corner. (As long as opposite sides of the frame are equal in length, corners will be exactly 90 degrees if the corner-to-corner diagonal measurements are the same.) Drive temporary wooden stakes into the earth on the outside corners of the ground frame to prevent it from moving out of square.

2. Drive Ground Pipes

Ground pipes are lengths of 18- to 36-inch-long pipe pounded vertically into the ground with a sledgehammer. If your ground is hard, opt for shorter pipes and soak the area well to make driving the pipes easier. Drive one ground pipe at each corner of the wooden frame and another every 3 feet along the long sides, all tight to the inside face of the ground frame. Each pair of ground pipes will support one hoop pipe.

To avoid breaking the PVC, have someone hold a piece of scrap wood on top of the stakes as you’re pounding them in. Drive the pipes so they’re flush with the top edge of the ground frame boards. You want all ground pipes to be the same height.

3. Raise the Hoop Pipes

The length of hoop pipes required to create the ideal arch depends on the width of hoop house you’re making. One 10-foot and one 20-foot length of PVC pipe is required for each hoop on this 18-foot-wide design. To make the purlins needed for its 30-foot length, you’ll have to cut a 20-foot pipe in half, then join each half to another 20-foot pipe. When you buy pipe, make sure you have a factory-flared end on one of each pair of pipes that will come together for each hoop. One straight end slips into the flared end of its partner, creating the total length required to span the width of the structure (see the plans). Although you could probably get by joining these pipes with friction only, use PVC cement as you assemble the joints to make sure they stay together.

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The amount of arch in a hoop house can safely vary depending on how much headroom you want. If your hoop house width is narrower than the design here, you’ll need to shorten the hoop pipes accordingly. See hoop pipe guidelines for suggested diameters and lengths for different hoop house widths.

Lay your hoop pipes in position across the ground frame next to the ground pipes they’ll fit into, and then get help fitting the ends of the hoops into position. First, slip the end of one hoop pipe into its ground pipe, then bend this pipe so the other end fits into the opposite ground pipe. Install all hoop pipes like this, and then use a drill to bore quarter-inch-diameter holes for lock bolts through the wooden ground frame, the ground pipe and the hoop pipe. Make sure the hoop pipe is pushed all the way down, and drill only on one end of each hoop for now.

Install and tighten a quarter-inch-diameter-by-4-inch carriage bolt in each of the holes, then climb a stepladder to take a sighting along the tops of all the hoops. The peaks should all be more or less the same height, though some adjustment will be required. Have a couple of helpers push and pull the unbolted bottom ends of the hoop pipes until the peaks align, then drill and bolt the ends.

4. Install the Purlins

The hoops may be up, but they’re not strong yet because they’re only supported at the bottom ends. This is where purlins come in. Purlins are horizontal pipes that link the hoops together, adding strength. You’ll need at least one purlin installed along the ridge of the structure, plus two more partway down each side if you’re in a region that gets high winds or lots of snow. Place the purlin pipes on the inside of the hoops, secured with the smooth heads of quarter-inch-diameter-by-4-inch carriage bolts facing upward. If you’d like the option of rolling up the lower sides of your hoop house during warm weather, add wooden 1-by-2 hip boards 2 or 3 feet from the ground to anchor the main pieces of hoop house plastic. The roll-up sides will hang from these wooden strips and can be raised or lowered as needed to control temperatures inside.

5. Add and Anchor Plastic

Chemical interaction between the PVC pipes and the skin of polyethylene can cause premature deterioration of the poly. That’s why you should apply protective tape along all edges of the frame that touch the skin before you install the poly. This tape also makes bolt heads less likely to cause physical damage to the skin.

Use the best grade of greenhouse plastic for your hoop house, even if your structure is small. Plastic from the hardware store looks good, but will degrade in sunlight and tear in a year or two. The best hoop house option is 6 mil, UV-protected greenhouse plastic. This will easily last four or five years, delivering peace of mind for you and better thermal performance for your hoop house. (See “Hoop House Resources” at the end of this article for places to buy the plastic.)

Choose a calm day to unroll all of the plastic you need to cover your hoop house, leaving at least 12 inches of extra plastic along the ground edges and 24 extra inches on the ends. Wrap this excess plastic around soft sponge balls (such as Nerf balls) every 4 or 5 feet, then tie the balls in place with one end of each rope. The balls elevate the leading edge of the plastic a bit and make it easier to pull the plastic up and over. Throw the other ends of the ropes over the peak of the hoop house, and then ask helpers to carefully pull the plastic over the structure. You may find it useful to have extra helpers on stepladders at the peak, to relieve sideways strain on the framework by lifting the plastic by hand as it goes up.

With the plastic draped over the frame, pull it as needed for alignment (fold marks on the plastic usually offer visual guidelines), then get ready to secure it. You could wrap excess plastic around 1-by-2-inch strips of wood and then anchor these strips to the hip boards or ground frame, but something called “wiggle wire” will work best for anchoring plastic along the edges of your hoop house. It works with an aluminum track that fastens to the ends and edges of your hoop house to make securing plastic fast and absolutely reliable.

You’ll enjoy longer plastic life and much better hoop house performance by using a double layer of inflated plastic. Pull two layers of plastic over your frame and secure them with a little slack. Install small, energy-efficient electric fans to continually blow air into the gap between the layers, to keep them taut. The air between the layers of plastic acts as insulation, boosting internal hoop house temperatures during cold weather. Inflation will also keep plastic from flapping in the wind.

If you live in a windy area, consider adding duckbill anchors to secure the ground frame. Pound one just outside each corner, with another one or two along each long side. Lever the cable of the anchor up to set the duckbill horizontally, and then use rope to tie the ground frame down.

6. Build End Walls

You’ll find 2-by-3 or 2-by-4 lumber best for framing the end walls of your hoop house. The plans show how the parts fit together. Notched pipe saddles secure the end frames to the PVC structure. Although you could use wooden battens to secure the plastic along the edges of the end wall frames, the same kind of wiggle wire channels and spring strips that secure the main edges of the plastic will work much better. The wiggle wire, fans for inflating double layers and other supplies are available from the companies listed at the end of this article.

Hoop House Floor

Depending on how you plan to use your hoop house, the floor surface may be more important than you think. If you’ll use your hoop house for seedling flats and pots, the floor is likely to turn into a trampled, muddy mess as you walk in and out for watering, weeding and transplanting. Any kind of pathway you create should be made of light, organic material that won’t permanently affect the soil. Clean straw is one excellent pathway option, though it’s not available everywhere. If you live in a forested area, sawdust or shavings from a saw mill are the perfect choice for your hoop house paths.

You could also dig space for worm bins into the ground and cover them with a wooden pathway made from 3/4-inch plywood, an idea described in more detail in Expert Advice for Greenhouse Growing.

Hoop House Resources

Charley’s Greenhouse & Garden
17979 State Route 536
Mt. Vernon, WA 98273

Farmtek/Growers Supply
1440 Field of Dreams Way
Dyersville, IA 52040

Hoop House Greenhouse Kits
P.O. Box 2430
Mashpee, MA 02649
800-760-5192

Lost Creek Greenhouse Systems
245 C.R. 2651
Mineola, TX 75773
903-497-1158

The Greenhouse Catalog
3740 Brooklake Road NE
Salem, OR 97303

Contributing Editor Steve Maxwell has been helping people renovate, build and maintain their homes for more than two decades. “Canada’s Handiest Man” is an award-winning home improvement authority and woodworking expert. Contact him by visiting his website and the blog, Maxwell’s House. You also can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and find him on Google+.

How to Build a PVC Hoophouse for your Garden

An unheated PVC hoophouse can be a useful addition to your garden. It keeps excessive rain off the plants, blocks the wind, raises daytime temperatures 5-10 degrees (and often much more), and keeps frosts and heavy dew off the leaves. This can extend your warm-season gardening a month or more at both ends, and makes it possible for year-round gardeners to grow a wider variety of plants through the winter.

PVC hoophouses are inexpensive to build, and can be put up in about an hour. Take a look, and decide for yourself!

Build a PVC Hoophouse

Parts list for a 10’x21′ PVC hoophouse

1/2-inch heavy duty PVC pipe (30-inch lengths), for stakes
Alternative material: Rebar, cut to length
16
3/4-inch light duty PVC pipe (10-foot lengths), for ribs – schedule 125 works
best Check that the 1/2″ pipe fits inside of the 3/4″ pipe while you’re still at
the store!
16
3/4-inch light duty PVC pipe (34-inch lengths), for ridgeline 7
3/4-inch PVC tee connector (3-way) 2
3/4-inch PVC cross connector (4-way) 6
20’x25′ sheet of clear visqueen-type plastic ( NOT greenhouse plastic) 1
1-inch black poly pipe (8-inch lengths), for clips 16
Optional: 1/2-inch PVC pipe (12-inch lengths), to reinforce joints 8
Optional: 10’x25′ sheet of clear plastic, for ends 1
Optional: Large binder clips 12
Tools needed:
hacksaw (for cutting PVC and poly pipe to length)
rubber mallet (for snugging up joints)
utility knife (to slit poly pipe lengthwise)
25′ tape measure drill with 5/8″ spading bit (if internally reinforcing joints)
Total amounts of pipe to be purchased:
5 10′-lengths of 1/2″ PVC
19 10′-lengths of 3/4″ PVC
11′ of 1″ poly pipe

Before getting started, you need to mark out where in the garden your hoophouse will be placed. The diagram to the right gives you the distances for the hoophouse I am describing; but you can easily modify it to the size you need. As described, this 10’x21′ PVC hoophouse will be roughly 7′ tall in the center.

To ensure that the sides are all parallel and square, measure across the diagonals: Both distances should be the same.

The first thing to do is collect all your separate parts. The construction will go much quicker if you have a helper.

Drive a stake into the ground every 36 inches along the two sides (this is much easier if you cut the bottom of the stake at an angle). Try to get them as straight up as possible.

I find it easiest to put up all the separate hoops first, then connect the ridge afterward. Each of the two end hoops is made using two 10′ lengths of 3/4″ PVC, joined with a PVC tee. The other six hoops use the PVC crosses in place of the PVC tees. Since I like to be able to move the hoophouse around the garden from season to season, the joints are dry-fit together (no glue). They seem to stay together, especially if I use a rubber mallet to snug up all the connections.

Optional step: I have found that the joints mentioned above are sturdier if I reinforce them internally, by inserting a 1-foot length of 1/2″ PVC through the joint. These pieces seem to fit through a 3/4″ PVC tee okay; but you may have to drill out the PVC crosses in one direction, using a 5/8″ spading bit. This can be tricky, so be sure to clamp the cross down well BEFORE attempting to drill it out!

The two ends of each hoop slide easily over the 1/2″ PVC stakes. If the stakes aren’t in the ground perfectly straight, don’t worry about it; the pressure from the hoops tends to even out their alignment somewhat.

When setting up the hoops, having that helper around REALLY makes things easier.

The next step is to connect the ridgeline. Starting at one end of the hoophouse, connect the hoops at the top, using the 34-inch sections of 3/4″ PVC. As I go, I like to use the rubber mallet to set each section as far into the connectors as possible. Note that the ridgeline will be slightly shorter than 21 feet, for increased stability.

Congratulations! You have finished the frame!

The plastic sheeting can be secured to the frame in many ways. 8-inch lengths of 1-inch black poly pipe can be slit lengthwise, making clips which can hold the plastic onto the PVC frame. A slightly more expensive solution is to use large binder clips, which can be found at any office supply store.

I like to sandwich the sides of the plastic with 2×4 lumber, screwed together. When it gets windy, this extra weight holds the plastic down much better than the clips alone.

All sorts of heat-loving plants thrive in a hoophouse environment, including tomatoes, peppers, and, unfortunately in this case, horsetail.

Making the Optional Ends

This goes much easier if it’s done before the frame is “skinned” with the 20’x25′ plastic sheet.

Cut the 10’x25′ piece of clear plastic to make two 10’x12.5′ pieces. Take one, and lay it over one end hoop of the PVC hoophouse (the 10′ measurement should be vertical), such that the hoop is completely covered, but at least one foot of plastic is on the ground. Use the poly pipe clips to secure this plastic end piece to the hoop. Cut a slit down the middle to make the door. There will be some excess plastic, which can be cut off if desired. That’s it! Repeat this at the other end of the PVC hoophouse. These “doors” can be tied open with twine, or held shut with weights such as bricks or water jugs (which is why that extra foot of door, laying on the ground, is necessary).

It has been my experience that the poly pipe clips do not hold well if they are used over two layers of plastic. So I use the poly clips to secure the end pieces to the end hoops, and then hold the walls in place using the large binder clips.

Further Notes

Although I use the more inexpensive PVC for the 3/4″ ribs, I have found it worthwhile to purchase the heavy gauge 1/2″ PVC for the stakes. When the wind catches the hoophouse broadside, the stakes experience a lot of stress at the point they enter the ground. The thicker the wall of the pipe is, the less likely it is to break. One gentleman wrote and suggested inserting Rebar inside the stakes, which certainly would be worthwhile in an unusually windy location. Since any stress on the ribs is spread over their entire length, there isn’t much point in getting the thick-walled 3/4″ PVC. Also, the thicker PVC will be less flexible, and in addition it may not fit over the 1/2″ pipe used for stakes and reinforcement.

In most cases, I have found the weight of the 2x4s (used to hold down the plastic) sufficient to keep everything in place. People in very windy spots may need to further secure these either with ground anchors or by pounding Rebar into the ground (using it as you would a tent stake).

In case it isn’t clear: All clamping with binder clips or home-made poly pipe clips is at the ends of the hoophouse (at the ends of the plastic sheeting, in other words). Putting them in the middle will just guarantee that you will lose them as soon as the wind rises. It’s also a good idea to clamp the plastic while it is dry – even a thin film of water between the plastic and the PVC pipe greatly decreases the holding power of any clamps.

The most commonly asked questions are answered in the FAQ about the PVC Hoophouse.

Written by Travis Saling. Send questions or comments to [email protected]

The author has no association with Hoop House Structures, Green Winters Hoophouse, or any other manufacturer of commercial hoop house or greenhouse structures, design kits, or plans.

The article was originally published here: http://westsidegardener.com/howto/hoophouse.html

On November 21, 2013 / Construction

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Looking to grow more of your own food year-round? A hoop house could be the answer.

A hoop house is a series of large hoops or bows—made of metal, plastic pipe or wood—covered with a layer of heavy greenhouse plastic. The plastic is stretched tight and fastened to baseboards with strips of wood, metal or wire. A hoop house is heated by the sun and cooled by the wind. Hoop houses can be erected over a patch of ground or rows of raised beds. They can cost as little as a hundred dollars or as much as a couple thousand dollars.

Photo courtesy of

With a hoop house, you can count on four to six weeks of extra production in spring and fall, says Mother Earth News. You can grow right through winter, even in the coldest climates, by adding an inner cover inside a hoop and choosing cold-hardy plant varieties.

Plants that do well in a hoop house during the winter include cool season crops, such as lettuce, spinach and other greens. Be sure to select plants that don’t need much heat at night. Plant growth in late fall and winter is limited by low temperatures and reduced light. This makes it harder to grow root crops like carrots, beets and radishes, but they may be worth a try, says the National Gardening Association.

Hoop houses are not just for cool-weather vegetable production. You can grow heat-tolerant varieties of crisp, sweet lettuce during the summer by converting the hoop house into a shade house. Remove the plastic skin and then cover the south half of the frame with 50 percent shade cloth. Cool and irrigate the lettuce with mini-sprinklers on the ground or a line of overhead sprinklers.

Washington State University provides a list of websites with complete instructions and materials lists for building a hoop house. Serious hoop houses that go beyond the ambitions of backyard gardeners can check out commercial hoop house construction companies like Tunnel Vision Hoops. Or check out the video below about how to build a small inexpensive hoop house.

Winter Vegetables in Your Hoop House

Persephone Days And Scheduling Winter Hoophouse Crops

To harvest in the darkest days of winter you’ll need a good supply of mature crops to take you through. What has already grown before this period will provide most of your harvests. When the daylight is shorter than 10 hours a day not much growth happens. In Central Virginia, latitude 38 degrees North, this period lasts from November 21 to January 21. Soil temperature also affects growth rate. For us, December 15 to February 15 is the slowest growing time. For most of the winter, our hoophouse plants are actively growing, not merely being stored for harvest (as happens in colder climate zones and outdoors), so we can continue sowing new hoophouse crops even in December.

Growing Greens And The Hazards Of Nitrate Accumulation

During periods of short daylight length, there is a health risk associated with nitrate accumulation in leafy greens. Nitrates are converted in the body into toxic nitrites, which reduce the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen. Also, nitrites can form carcinogenic nitrosamines. Plants make nitrates during the night, and convert them into leaf material during the day. It takes about six hours of sunlight to use up a night’s worth of nitrates. In winter, a small handful of leafy vegetables can exceed the acceptable daily intake level of nitrate for an adult, unless special efforts have been made to reduce the levels. Spinach, mustard greens and collards contain about twice as much as lettuce; radishes, kale and beets often have two and a half times as much. Turnip greens are especially high, at 3 times lettuce levels.

How To Keep Nitrate Levels As Low As Possible:

• Grow varieties best suited for winter.
• Avoid fertilizing with animal-based fertilizers; use organic compost.
• Ensure soil has enough Phosphorous, Potassium, Magnesium and Molybdenum.
• Water enough but not excessively.
• Provide fresh air as soon as temperatures reach 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), so that carbon dioxide levels are high enough.
• Harvest after at least four (preferably six) hours of bright sunlight in winter.
• Avoid harvesting on very overcast days.
• Avoid over-mature crops and discard the outer leaves. Harvest crops a little under-mature.
• Refrigerate immediately after harvest, store harvested greens at temperatures close to freezing; use crops soon after harvest.
• Mix your salads; don’t just eat turnip greens.

When We Harvest Winter Hoophouse Crops (In Central Virginia)

• November: spinach, lettuce leaves, mizuna, arugula, beet greens, tatsoi and brassica mix for salad, radishes and scallions.
• From December: baby lettuce mix, Tokyo Bekana, Maruba Santoh, chard, kale and turnips. Kale grows whenever it is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).
• January till mid-March; the bigger greens, including Senposai, pak choy, Chinese cabbage and Yukina Savoy

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How to Harvest Winter Vegetables

Don’t harvest frozen crops – wait till they thaw. With fall-sown crops the aim is often to keep the same plants alive through the winter. November-January is not a good time to sow replacements.

With leafy vegetables, highest productivity is from “Cut and Come Again” crops: cut the tops of the plants above the growing point with scissors or shears every 10 to 35 days. Leaf-by-leaf is the method we use for kale, collards, chard and spinach. Never remove more than 40 percent of the total leaf area: less than half of the leaves, with a safety margin. We say “Leave eight for later.”

Once spinach plants start to look a bit past their peak, we “crew-cut” or buzz-cut them. Initially we harvest lettuce by the leaf, leaving the center to keep growing, and switch to harvesting the heads in late January, when growth begins to pick up. Whole plant harvesting works well for small plants like tatsoi and corn salad. A direct-seeded row can be thinned over time by harvesting out the biggest plants on each visit.

Pam Dawling is the garden manager at Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. Her book, Sustainable Market Farming: Intensive Vegetable Production on a Few Acres, is available at Sustainable Market Farming. Pam blogs on her website and also on Sustainable Market Farming Facebook Page.

Photo by Twin Oaks Community, Wren Vile, Ethan Hirsh, Pam Dawling.

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Five Reasons to Raise a Hoophouse

As the weather cools, smart kitchen gardeners search for ways to stretch the growing season, hoping for a few more salads…an extra harvest of kale…or (gasp!) truly fresh veggies on the table at Thanksgiving.

The idea of season extension—gaining a month longer to grow crops at either end of our rather short USDA Zone 5 season—is worthy of a home experiment.

A hoophouse, either in-ground or attached to a raised bed, is a manageable way to try it. Along the way, you might find that a hoophouse has extra benefits for your garden, too.

Raised beds at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden are equipped with practical brackets/pipe segments for hoops to fit in.

Think of a hoophouse as a lightweight mini-greenhouse without the glass. A sheet of heavier plastic, draped over wire or plastic pipe arches creates a hoophouse that

  • holds in heat;
  • keeps the soil warmer for longer;
  • limits weather damage;
  • helps hold in moisture; and
  • is easy to take on and off and to store.

At the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, raised beds are built with simple hardware to hold a hoophouse in place. Two ¾-inch in diameter PVC curved pipes simply slide into 1-inch in diameter pipe segments bracketed to the sides of the 4-foot by 8-foot beds.

As the regular growing season draws to a close and nighttime temperatures dip toward frost, an 8-foot by 16-foot garden blanket is fitted over the arches, then weighted down along the outside of the raised bed by bricks or boards. It’s a flexible system that can benefit the home gardener in every season:

  1. A hoophouse extends the harvest. Eat fresh vegetables a month later into fall (November) and a month earlier in spring (March). The heat trapped inside warms the soil enough to keep growth going.
  2. A hoophouse protects plants from wind, frost, snow, or ice. That’s true not only for plants in the soil, but also for hardy plants in containers that you want to protect. Here at the Garden, our dwarf blueberry bushes, which live in large containers all year long, spend the winter in an unheated hoophouse.
  3. A hoophouse jump-starts overwintered vegetables. A late-season crop of carrots, onions, and greens can be left in the ground to overwinter…then continue to grow more as temperatures re-warm next spring.
  4. A hoophouse becomes a handy greenhouse for growing and hardening off baby transplants in spring.
  5. A hoophouse can do summer duty, too. Lighter-weight garden blankets or fabric cloth can be draped over hoops for insect protection. Cover low tunnels or raised beds to protect young cucumber transplants from cucumber beetles, or squash from squash bugs. Remove the covers as flowers bud, so that bees can find them for pollination. Hoops can also hold shade covers (mesh cloths that cut the amount of direct sunlight) on blazing summer days.

Hoophouses greatly increase vegetable production—they’re mainstays at all of our Windy City Harvest locations.

While do-it-yourselfers have long rigged their own versions of hoophouses, more nurseries, websites, and catalogs are offering a host of infrastructures and coverings. Two resources we use: Territorial Seed Company offers good suggestions for beginners, while Johnny’s Selected Seeds goes deep with a full range of season-extension supplies.

Ready to raise a hoophouse? Mine is planted with spinach, strawberries, kale, and a few of the hardier lettuces—a grand experiment for this winter and next spring!

Karen Zaworski is a garden writer and photographer who lives and gardens in Oak Park, Illinois.

High Tunnels and Other Season Extension Techniques

Temperature Management

In some hoop houses, the sun may satisfy all energy needs, with the soil acting as a nightly heat reservoir. Other hoop houses may have supplemental or emergency heating systems. High tunnels in colder climates where heat-loving crops are produced on the “shoulders” of the growing season will typically have furnaces or boilers to maintain the optimal temperature for growth. Understanding the temperature requirements of the crop, and then ventilating or heating to maintain that temperature is critical. Important energy conservation measures for high tunnels range from sealing cracks around doors and ventilation louvers to installing night-time heat curtains. Low tunnels can be instrumental in retaining heat stored in the soil during the night. Some high tunnels are also using renewable fuels to provide heat, such as biodiesel, shell corn, wood and solar hot water collectors. For low-growing crops, heating the soil with circulating water pipes below ground may be more efficient than heating the air inside the tunnel. The Temperature Management section of the Season Extension topic room includes resources on the important topics of energy conservation and alternative energy strategies.

Marketing and Economics

Thousands of commercial high tunnels are in use around the country because they make economic and marketing sense for many growers. High tunnels generally allow for improved pest control, making them a good option for organic production. However, carefully consider the potential costs and returns prior to getting into high tunnel farming. A possible avenue of support is through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which offers financial assistance for high tunnel construction. The net profit from high tunnel crops ranges from just a few cents per square foot up to several dollars per square foot, depending on yield, production expenses and grower skill. Labor is a special consideration. Be aware that high tunnel farming is relatively labor intensive and requires skill, and that such labor must be available to perform tasks in a timely fashion to ensure profitability. The Marketing and Economics section of the topic room includes resources on both hoop house production and general business planning, which may be of help.

Storing Crops

Storing field crops such as carrots or potatoes can lengthen their marketing window, which is another approach to season extension. The length of time that crops can be stored is a function of their postharvest physiology as well as pre-storage activities, including how they are produced, harvested and handled. Optimal storage conditions vary among crops. Five common sets of storage conditions for vegetable crops are:

  • Cold and moist = 32°F and 90-95 percent relative humidity (RH). Beets, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc.
  • Cold and dry = 32°F and 65-70 percent RH. Garlic and dry onions.
  • Cool and moist = 45°F and 90 percent RH. Potatoes for table stock.
  • Warm and moist = 57°F and 85-90 percent RH. Sweet potatoes.
  • Warm and dry = 55°F and 50-70 percent RH. Winter squashes, including pumpkins.

Storage options include cold cellars or root cellars, walk-in coolers and cold rooms fitted with air conditioners and temperature-override controllers. Cold cellars are a low-cost, low-energy-use option, but may lack the environmental control of other options. Walk-in coolers use refrigeration systems and are widely found on wholesale farms, supermarkets and other places that handle large volumes of fresh produce. Cold rooms are widely used on farms with small volumes of storage produce.

Air conditioner temperature-override controllers such as CoolBot™ units allow residential air conditioners to provide cooling in small-scale storage units. These units require a sealed, well-insulated storage room to be effective, and they may have trouble cooling down produce with a lot of field heat in it.

In the Season Extension topic room, find guides on building a walk-in cooler and retrofitting an existing structure, developed by a Massachusetts nonprofit.

Light Processing of Crops

Field crops can be preserved and sold in the off-season through light processing techniques such as canning, dehydrating or freezing. To learn more about processing, see the Food Safety and Food Processing sections of the Farm to Table: Building Local and Regional Food Systems topic room.

HOOP HOUSE

A hoop house can pay for itself in just one year!

A hoop house is simply an inexpensive greenhouse using a plastic roof over bent metal or PVC tubing. For a modest investment of just a few hundred dollars and a day or two of your time to assemble it, you can create a “growing machine” that can easily pay for itself in just one growing season.

A hoop house gives you a controlled environment that can provide frost protection, wind protection, humidity control and insect control. Because a hoop house can also extend the growing season in spring and fall, you can grow larger, healthier plants and more profits for your nursery.

A “starter”-sized hoop house of around 200 square feet can be constructed for about $200-$300, using PVC hoops and a single-layer poly covering that will last 4-5 years. If you need more space, just extend the length, or build another hoop house.

Resources

Here are a few links to books, plans and videos to get you started with a hoop house of your own.

How-To: How to Build a 12’ x 14’ Hoop Greenhouse, by Jesse Love; Learn How to Build a Hoop House, by Brent Black.

Bending Kits: You’ll need some help bending the metal hoops, but an inexpensive bender from this sources makes it quick and easy. You can pay for the bender by doing hoop sets for others in your area. Some have actually turned this into a profitable business. Lost Creek Greenhouse Systems is the original designer of these benders, and makes them in sizes from 10’ wide to 24’ wide.

Kits: To find ready-to-go hoop house kits, do an internet search for “hoop house kits.” One source for low hoop kits is Johnny’s Selected Seeds. This seed supplier sells a “quick hoops” kit for low row covers in two sizes, 4’ wide x 4’ high and 6’ wide x 3’ high. To learn more, watch the free video on their web site, or read the free instruction manual.

Videos: You’ll also find hundreds of videos on YouTube about building and using a hoop house. Start by doing a search for “hoop house construction.”

How to Build A Greenhouse – Free Greenhouse Plans

How To Build A Greenhouse available on PDF Here

Greenhouses allow you to extend your growing season and have more plentiful harvests. With proper construction and plant selection you can grow all year long. There are a countless number of designs that you can find online. If you’re like us, you’ve spent months researching greenhouse designs that would be both economical and easy to build.

Hoop House Plans

Hoop greenhouses have several benefits over other greenhouse plans for effective growing all year long. We build our hoop houses on the coast of North Carolina which are prone to high winds and rain from hurricanes and tropical storms.

  • Hoop houses provide maximum sun exposure and are resilient in harsh weather environments.
  • Hoop greenhouses can also handle some snow and are also shaped in a way that should allow some of it to slide off naturally.
  • These don’t require a team of people for construction.
  • They can be built by one person with the occasional helping hand.

This free greenhouse guide was put together after building several greenhouses on our property. It will give you detailed plans on building a DIY greenhouse that minimizes cost and maximizes ease of build. It is our hope that you find these free greenhouse plans helpful.

What Size Greenhouse Plan is Right for You?

How many plants do you want to grow? How much room do they take up? Do you want to bring equipment into your greenhouse? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you get started. Make sure you build a greenhouse with a size that best fits your needs. These greenhouse plans are for both a 6 foot wide low tunnel greenhouse and a 10-24 foot wide high tunnel hoop house.

Low Tunnel Greenhouse

The Low Tunnel Greenhouse stands 4 foot high and will be 6 foot wide. The low tunnel hoop house is a great choice when planting low-growing plants, including:

Spinach Broccoli Carrots
Lettuce Onions Beets
Peas Kale Other Low Growing Plants

High Tunnel Greenhouse

The high tunnel greenhouse plan can be built anywhere from 10-24 feet wide and approximately 6.5 ft (easily adjustable to 14 ft or higher for 20-24 feet wide) high structure. A high tunnel quick hoop house is an ideal choice if you plan to have a walk-in greenhouse. These are great if you want to have a wide variety of plants or want to be able to work inside of your hoop house.

Plan Your Greenhouse Ventilation

In the heat of summer or climates in hardiness zone 8 or higher, greenhouse ventilation is critical. If you don’t want your plants to cook in the heat, we absolutely want roll-up sides with a hand crank. This allows you to easily manage the venting. We also recommend roll-up sides with a hand crank for all low tunnel hoop houses as it allows for easy access to your plants from the sides.

Climate Considerations for Greenhouse

During the intense summer heat, we may need to throw a shade cloth on top of our greenhouse to keep it cool and reduce the solar radiation. In the frigid winter, we can consider adding another layer of greenhouse film for extra insulation. Check out this great video from Dr. Nate Storey at Bright Agrotech on double layer greenhouses if you live in an especially cold environment.

Location of Greenhouse

First, pick an area that is flat and not prone to flooding (More information can be found at Selecting the Ideal Location for your Greenhouse). If you have an existing greenhouse on your property you want to make sure it is at least 8 feet away from existing one.

Free Greenhouse Plans for High Tunnel Greenhouse

Tools Needed (See the complete list of Greenhouse Tools)

  • Hacksaw and Reciprocating Saw
  • Socket Wrench, Adjustable Wrench or Nut Drivers
  • Electric Drill with Extra Drill Bits
  • Sledge Hammer
  • Mason Line and Line Level
  • 100′ foot tape measure (if building 100′ long get a 200′ tape measure)

Our instructions assume ground posts and bows every 4 feet. We sink the ground posts 2 feet into the ground, allowing for higher tunnels and stronger frames. 20-24ft houses in high wind areas should make deeper ground posts and secure the plastic lock channel with extra screws.

How To Build A Greenhouse available on PDF HereAny questions or comments please reach out to us or leave a comment below.

How to Build a DIY Row Cover to Extend Your Growing Season

* This article contains affiliate links. For more information, please read my Affiliate Disclosure.

A row cover is like a mini, mobile greenhouse for your outdoor garden. Extend your growing season with this easy DIY row cover tutorial!

* * *

Aside from our greenhouse, row covers are my favourite ways to protect our plants from the cold and extend our growing season here in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of a greenhouse that is typically quite large and stationary, large, row covers like these ones we’ve constructed are generally lighter and more portable, and making them yourself means you can customize them to fit over top of your existing outdoor garden rows or raised beds.

Instead of small cold frames that fit over individual plants or small clusters, these DIY row covers are large enough to fit over your entire garden bed (or at least large sections of it), sheltering all of your plants from the cold.

I’ve called these garden cloches and even mini hoop houses in the past, since all of them basically function the same way and row covers can also mean sheets of light cloth that protect plants from bugs in the summer.

(Plus, these are customizable, so you could build them small like a garden cloche, long like row covers or extra large like hop houses. That’s the beauty of doing it yourself;)

But no matter what you call them or how big or small you build them, their purpose is to help you extend your growing window and get more out of your garden at the beginning and the end of the season.

Update…

I originally wrote this post (and took the photos) three years ago. Since then we’ve rebuilt our row covers to fit our in-ground rows at our new house and redesigned them just slightly.

We recorded a simple how-to video to show you how we did it, which (if you’re a visual learner like me), may be easier to follow than reading the directions.

Here’s the full video tutorial if you’d rather watch how we built ours:)

Related: 15 Essential Tools for Every Home Toolkit

How we constructed our DIY row covers

When we first constructed our row covers/garden cloches/mini hoop houses, we were living at our old house where we had raised garden beds, so we constructed them to fit our raised beds and actually attached them to the raised beds with old door hinges so we could easily lift them open and closed. Now we’re in our new place and have in-ground garden beds, so we now use the skinnier of the two covers to protect our row of fall crops and it’s just wide enough to fit over one of our standard-width rows.

We also have an unheated greenhouse that helps to extend our growing season here as temperatures begin to plummet (we’ve been getting hard frosts overnight and snow is in the forecast for next week).

When we first built these row covers we were scrambling to get them put together after an unexpected snowfall hit us just two days after Halloween one year (even though we’d been out Trick-Or-Treating in short sleeves).

So my first piece of advice would be, don’t wait until your first hard frost or until the snow starts falling to get your row covers built. But, speaking from experience, as long as you’ve got cold-tolerant crops, you can still help protect them from the weight of a heavy snowfall or extended periods of hard frost by getting them covered ASAP, even if you’re a bit late (as we were when we first built ours).

Related: 10 Fall Gardening Tips for a Productive Garden Next Year

Always be prepared (but better late than never)

If there’s one lesson I continue to learn over and over on this homesteading journey, it’s that you should always be prepared for anything at any time.

There really is no such thing as being over-prepared or being prepared too far in advance when you’re striving to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle. You’ve gotta have your own back and protect your own livelihood, and that most certainly includes your food source!

When the first snowfall unexpectedly hit, I thought about trying to dig up our plants and re-planting them in the greenhouse. But the ground was already frozen solid. Plus, they wouldn’t all have enough space to grow to full size in our little greenhouse. There was really only one thing I could do: Send my husband out to the garage in a snowstorm and make him build us a couple garden cloches!

We spent a few minutes kicking ourselves and moaning about not having built these row covers sooner. But at the end of the day we knew that late is better than never! Besides, even if our plants didn’t make it through the winter, having these row covers ready to go in the spring can help you get a jumpstart on the growing season since the soil beneath them will warm up and be workable earlier in the season.

Related: 3 Ways to Protect Your Plants From the Cold

How to build a DIY row cover for garden rows or raised beds

Before you start building, you’ll need to gather up a few supplies. Here’s what you’ll need (sizes and lengths will depend on your individual measurements, so be sure to read through all the instructions before purchasing materials or making any cuts):

  • Lumber (we used pre-treated 2x4s. You can use any lumber that is long enough and wide enough to support the size of your frame).
  • ½-inch PVC piping
  • 6 mil plastic sheeting (or other plastic sheeting made for greenhouses and hoop houses)
  • Hardware (construction screws, staples, hinges*, adhesive*, Gorilla Tape*)
  • Tools (saw, drill, 1-inch spade bit or hole saw, staple gun)

*Starred items are optional or supplementary.

Next, you need to decide how long, wide and tall you want your row covers to be depending on the area you want to cover. Make sure to measure twice before you cut and start building. Read through the following directions first before you start building.

DIY row cover step-by-step instructions

  1. Measure the space that needs to be covered (including width and length) and write these measurements down
  2. Build your frame. You’ll need some 2x4s and ½-inch PVC piping.
  3. Cut your lumber to the size of your garden bed and screw together with construction screws. Add corner braces if you like to make the frame more rigid and sturdy.
  4. Use a 1-inch spade bit (or hole saw) to drill 1-inch diameter holes along the long sides of your frame directly across from one another, beginning at one end of your frame and again roughly every two feet until you reach the end of your frame. Drill each hole about 1 inch deep. These holes will serve as the mounting points for the PVC pipes that will make up the “spine” of the row cover.
  5. Decide how tall you want your row cover(s) to be.
  6. Cut your PVC pipe into equal lengths. Add the width of your row cover frame to 1.5 times the height you’d like your row cover to be to determine how long each piece of PVC pipe should be (Width + 1.5xHeight). You’ll need one piece of PVC pipe for approximately every 2 feet of length of your row cover.
  7. Fit one end of the first piece of PVC pipe into the first hole on one side of the frame and carefully bend the pipe in an arch to make up the “spine” of the frame, and fit the other end of the pipe into the hole directly opposite on the other side of the frame. Repeat this process until you reach the end of your frame.
  8. Secure PVC pipe by drilling a pilot hole through the lumber and the pipe in the side of the frame at each hole and driving in a 1-inch screw to secure the pipe in place. *Alternatively, fill the holes with adhesive before putting each pipe in place and allow time to cure before continuing.
  9. Cover your frame with 6 mil plastic sheeting (vapour barrier) or greenhouse plastic.You’ll need a sheet of plastic that’s slightly wider than your cut PVC pipes are long, and the length of your row cover plus the height of the row cover on each end. To cover, lay your frame on its side. Centre your plastic sheet along the length of the frame and staple it along the bottom edge. Then flip the frame over and stretch the plastic over the second side. Smooth out any wrinkles and staple this side.
  10. Cut off excess plastic along the bottom edge. Secure the ends by pulling the sheet from the centre point at the top of the frame and stretching it down to the centre on the base of the frame on each end and securing with a couple staples.
  11. Smooth out the plastic over the end and fold the corners like a present. Staple the bottom to the frame making sure to smooth out the plastic as you go.
  12. Cut off the excess plastic on the bottom edge and repeat on the other side. Once all of your ends are pulled tight, folded in, stapled together and the excess plastic has been cut off, your row cover is finished and ready to go in the garden!

You might want to tape down the folded ends to prevent any snow or rain from getting in and to help prevent warm air from escaping. I would recommend using Gorilla Tape to do this as it holds better than any other kind of industrial tape (yes, better than Duct Tape!)

From here you can either lift and carry your row cover to your garden and place it overtop of your garden row or bed (you’ll want an extra pair of hands to help with this). Or if you’re planning to add hinges for a raised bed, do so now and then screw into the wooden frame of your raised bed.

This is how our finished garden cloches looked once we screwed the hinges into the raised beds at our old place.

And there you have it! You can keep your row covers closed and your garden beds covered during the winter to help shelter plants from snow and extreme cold, and in the spring to help warm up the soil earlier.

Of course if you can, get your row covers built before the first snow!

But if you’re already too late, spring is just around the corner;)

Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂

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