Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hoop House Update

We all know we should eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Here in June, we are relishing the fresh salads, strawberries, asparagus, and peas from the garden. It is easy to forget the long cold days of winter when fresh vegetables were only available in our dreams or shipped from sunnier lands. Maybe I'm odd, but it really bugs me to purchase lettuce that grew thousands of miles away and was harvested by an unknown person a unknown number of days ago. I try not to be paraniod but when reports of salmonella in spinach reaches the news, it has me cringing when I add greens to my shopping cart.

I know that year round tomatoes are out of my reach without a heated greenhouse. But maybe I could grow salad greens for much of the year. If you have been reading here long, you may remember my Valentine's gift last year? I thought it was past time for an update, even if we are into the summer growing season.

Ed built me a raised bed beside our garage. He designed it "square foot gardening" style and put up some hoops to support some row cover. The folks at VeggiCare gave us a piece of their row cover fabric called GrowCover (formally named Mikroclima) to test.

Except for the hottest months of summer, this little hoop house has been in constant use this past year. We grew lettuce, spinach, kale, and broccoli last spring. In the fall, I planted kale, spinach, and several types of lettuce. I really expected the plants to die in the coldest part of the winter. The spinach and kale grew very slowly in the cold weather, but the lettuce flourished. Between Christmas and New Years, we enjoyed a fresh salad from the hoop house.

In early January, the weather turned colder. The lettuce plants went mushy and I figured that would be the end of them. A foot of snow buckled the hoops. We would need stronger supports. We had much more snow then normal through January and February.
When the snow finally melted, I cleared off the hoop house and Ed put in some stronger hoops. I was amazed to see those once frozen mushy lettuce plants were pushing out new leaves. In the first week of March we picked our first spring salad! Spring eating had begun!

What we have learned:
Colder weather and shorter days severely slows down plant growth. To compensate, I need to plant a larger number of plants. Also, I need to make sure that the plants get established well before the colder weather sets in and slow the growth.

Snow has an amazingly insulative effect. Next year I want to borrow and idea from Four-Season Garden and use a double cover, one right over the plants and one over the hoops.

We continue to be amazed at the strength and durability of the GrowCover. Even with a foot of snow and over a year of use in the garden and hoop house, it appears to show no wear. We have had other brands of row covers who have torn in the first month of garden use. We had considered replacing the GrowCover with plastic but did not. Plastic would have certainly torn with the weight of snow. Plus we would have had to ventilate on hot days and opened it to water. The GrowCover allows air and water to pass through while still providing protection for the plants.

If this past year we had fresh salads for all but two months of the winter, this coming winter I want to aim for fresh salads for all but one month! I know this is an odd thing to talk about now, in the summer, but fall/winter garden depends upon early planning.

Have any of you had experience in winter gardening?


  1. Sadly, no, we haven't grown much during the winter. We till the garden under and do a cover crop, and then admire the seed catalogs that are coming earlier and earlier each year. The hoop house looks like a great idea, and your success with the lettuce is very encouraging. We also spend the winter cracking black walnuts which we harvest, if you can call that "gardening"!

  2. Great information. I have not grown anything in the winter yet but have been wanting to do something for salads. Like you I have a time buying greens in the winter. My goal is to get something started for this fall. What did you end up using for your hoops?

  3. Looking through your linked posts has me really eager to get our garden plans in gear -- We are building a new house, so the gardening is low priority for my husband this year - and difficult to pursue when the dirt-moving isn't finished yet for landscaping. But next year... ! I'll have him look this over and hopefully order some of that wonderful cover material.

    I am wondering how far south you are, but don't see a location on your profile. (We are in central Iowa)

  4. Gina-
    I just discovered your blog today, and WOW...we have a lot in common! I also am a member of paperbackswap (love reading!), I have a square foot garden, really enjoy home cooked meals, and love the Lord! If you have a minute, check out my food blog that I just started a couple months ago.

    God Bless,


  5. Cheryl-
    My husband found some thicker tubing that has worked very well. I think it is 1 inch and we use it for hoops for our strawberries as well.

    Melanie -
    We are in southern PA. I'm guessing our climate is similar to Iowa.


  6. Oh, I love this!! What a neat idea-a hoop house! I've never seen one before. This would work great here in SC where our winters are mild.

  7. I love it that you are talking about it now because it helps me make plans to do that as well. I would LOVE to have fresh greens almost all year long. Thank you for sharing this update.

  8. Thanks for sharing. I am hoping to get some hoops and fabric this summer so I can extend our growing season in the fall.

  9. Do you think this setup would be ideal for a winter where snow is extremely rare? Here in Johannesburg we hardly dip below the 20s F.

    It's probably too late for me to do it this year but I'm tempted for next year.... If I can talk my husband into it.


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