Backyard Hoop House Tour — Part II (2010)
A bed of lettuce that looks like this even after several twenty-degree nights, that’s the goal. So despite the fact I once again didn’t get a fall garden in, I’m still determined. The mythical “Next year! Yes!” is whispering in my ear. So I’m touring local winter gardens that are the stuff of my dreams to torture myself… No really, to inspire myself and others to leap into season extension just like the winter-garden god Eliot Coleman of Maine has been telling us for years we could do if, heck, he was doing it in Maine!
So today’s tour stop is my garden-guru Jen’s backyard(s). Jen and friends have three adjoining backyards they have blended into quite a farm right in the city. They’ve even done an urban CSA from these backyards! They have enviable deep, rich soil totally unlike the ozark hillside gravel here at Larrapin….don’t get me started. But every gardener has to cope with the challenges of their site and their moist soil (complete with the occasional crawdad tunnel) requires raised beds and careful attention to drainage. Jen tells me this, in a kinda comforting voice. She’s seen the soil we start with at Larrapin!
Starting in the fall, they put several hoophouses in service. Built from salvaged or inexpensive materials, they produce a gorgeous winter harvest. The hoophouses are also used in spring for early starts and in summer by removing the plastic, adding trellis, and growing squash or pole beans over the whole structure. Picking beans in the shade of a vine-covered hoophouse in July sounds really smart to me! Note the raised beds along each side above and the wire set up to hold up a second layer of winter protection in the photo below.
Inside another hoophouse (above), you can see the second layer ready to go on at night. One of Eliot Coleman’s main points is that each layer of protection moves your garden bed about one zone south. So Jen’s tall hoophouse is the first layer, and the additional blanket of plastic or row-cover placed low over the beds is the second. Heck, does that put us in Cuba?? Anyway, it works.
As mentioned last week, daytime heat can be more of a threat than consistent cold (so see Eliot, we’ve got challenges down here too…) and daytime venting such as open doors and removing the row covers in the day can be required. Hence the reason even modern urban farmers remain obsessed with weather forecasts just like their forebearers. (I have a theory you can judge how connected-to-the-land a person is by the amount of weather discussion in casual conversation…)
In this hoophouse-still-being-built, you can see the low tunnels in use before the outer covering has been added. I’ll spare you the shots of the gorgeous plants underneath in case you didn’t get your falls greens either this year… These low tunnels are held up with sections of concrete reinforcing wire (see below). Which seems sturdier than the little wire hoops yet you can still reach through the big squares to harvest those gorgeous clumps of winter produce. After several years on a tall tunnel even the fancy greenhouse plastic wears out but you can then use it a couple more years as low-tunnel cover inside the hoophouse.
In this final pic below, you can see the support wire as well as the generous spacing of transplants that gives such lovely bunches of greens. The tray shown is ready with more transplants, which they start under lights indoors. This both gets the plants to a stage they can grow on in winter. This also saves time and space in the beds while they are in the fragile seedling stage they are safe indoors.
There’s still more to see at this cool urban farm so stay tuned next time. There are clever vertical growing ideas and trellis designs for summer as well as one of my favorite things, an artistic garden gate to add to my photo collection. Are you doing a fall garden? Tell us about by leaving a comment below!
—A Larrapin Garden. Where posts may be boom or bust depending on the season, but if you subscribe by you’ll get one weekly email—usually on Wednesdays—to let you know what’s new. You are also invited to join me over at the brand new Facebook page or on Twitter. If you enjoy winter gardening, check out the part 1 post and the part 3 post.