Archive for the ‘hoophouse’ Category

Hoophouse seedlings

April 13, 2013

IMG_2896Two weeks from sowing, and despite snow, sleet and freezing rain yesterday, I have seedlings in the hoophouse.  On March 29 I sowed a mix of cold-hardy greens and some carrots and radishes.  Of those, the Spinach, Arugula, Mache, Radishes, Broccoli, and Tatsoi have all germinated.

I know I run the risk of the broccoli buttoning up if it gets stressed, but I’m hoping it will be cool enough this early to avoid the heat stress that can bring that on — we’ll see!

Last weekend, Dan set up the seed starting area in the laundry room, and I got my peppers and tomatoes sowed.  Spring is here, snow, sleet and freezing rain be damned!

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A lovely day for a spot of gardening

March 29, 2013

IMG_2835Today, the last day of spring break after a very busy first half of the semester, I took a much needed IMG_2840vacation day today.  Ahhh…  I had a big to do list — clean the bathroom, vacuum, laundry, more laundry, some more painting in the bathroom… and planting a few seeds in the hoophouse.

Well, it is now 3 pm and I weeded, and picked stones, and weeded, and raked in some Plant Tone fertilizer, and weeded, and then seeded quite a few cold-hardy crops.  (Note there is no vacuuming, etc. on that list.)  The ever-present quackgrass had crawled yet again under the sill of the hoophouse and made itself at home.  Unfortunately, it has invaded my sage plant, which I cut way back IMG_2838and tried unsuccessfully to weed.  I think I’ll have to yank the whole plant since it is riddled with quackgrass roots.  A few more clumps of quackgrass remain in the path near the door, ready for tomorrow’s weeding session.

It was a balmy 65 in the hoophouse, IMG_2839and the soil was perfect for working; it was pretty warm to the touch considering the time of year.  Unfortunately, my thermometer is not working so I couldn’t check the temperature. I’ve planted about 50% of the space.  We’ll see what works and what doesn’t –either way; it felt so good to be outside gardening, I can overlook my dusty house.

Planting List

Spinach — Olympia
Arugula — Roquette
Mache — Verte de Cambrai
Carrots — Mokum
Radishes — Easter Egg
Broccoli — Bay Meadow and Marathon
Cauliflower — Snow Crown
Tatsoi
Cimi di Rapa — Quaratina
Cilantro — Caribe
Lettuce — Pine Tree Mix

I’ll sow more lettuce and spinach for sure in 2 weeks, and perhaps some other items depending on what comes up.  Right now we don’t have water back there, so I don’t want to go to crazy with seeds until we have the waterline connected.  Even with my bonus roof vents to let in the rainwater, the top inch or two of soil was quite dry.

The rest of the gardens need some raking and I’m sure will also need quite a bit of weeding and other work, too, after our absence last summer.  Still, it was worth it.

Hoophouse gardening

March 18, 2013

IMG_2799March is being fickle here at Henbogle.  The big snows of February are mostly gone, and there are tulips peeking above ground near the foundation of the house on the sunny and IMG_2800protected southwestern side.  It’s good sap running weather, with cold nights and clear sunny days, but Sunday was windy and chilly from the wind, and (sob) there is 3-7 inches of snow in the forecast for Tuesday.   What’s a gardener to do?  Head for the hoophouse, of course!

Even with large holes in the plastic cover, the hoophouse was pleasantly warm, and the soil inside unfrozen and workable.  It needed some a lot of weeding and the large culinary sage in there needed cutting way, way back.  I didn’t think to take before pictures, but at the end of an hour or so, it looked much better, and more IMG_2804importantly, is ready for seeding with some cold-hardy plants.  Next weekend I’ll plant IMG_2806_2some brassicas, lettuce, spinach and other greens, and maybe even a few carrots and see what happens.  With luck, we’ll be eating home-grown salad by May 1.

The hoophouse

December 2, 2012

IMG_2058Shortly after constructing the hoophouse in the summer of 2008, I read that the off gassing of PVC conduit would hasten the degrading of the greenhouse cover.  It was too late to change it, but I wondered how long my cover would last.  The answer is 4 years.  Earlier this year I noticed that the cover looked like it was fraying over the ribs, especially at the very top where the two piece of pipe meet in a pvc connector, but couldn’t do much about so went on with life.

IMG_2059Upon arriving home from our summer adventures, I discovered that the hoophouse cover had torn, probably in a big storm we had in late July.  Climbing up on a stepladder to look at it, it was clear it was just a matter of time before the plastic over every rib would fail.  Over every rib the plastic had degraded.

IMG_2088

What to do?  I love the hoop house.  It makes a huge difference in season extension, and with it I can eat from my own garden from 3 or more additional months every year. Clearly, we will have a hoophouse — but do I repair this one, or build a new larger one?  That is the question that has me stumped.

I have enough greenhouse plastic left to completely cover a similar or even slightly larger hoophouse.  Do I completely dismantle this one, replace the ribs and make a larger hoophouse?  Or stick with what I’ve got, recover this frame, and plan on a bigger more deluxe model in 4 years?  What to do?

In the end, a long succession of rainy weekends and indecision became inaction, and the hoophouse sits, unloved and forlorn, with no greens planted for the spring.  Instead, Dan and I began the bathroom renovation and since then at Henbogle it has been all bathroom, all the time.  Between work, the rain, and the weeds, I did not even get garlic planted!  I am thinking in the end, we will recover this frame this spring on a warm day, and in 4 years I will be enjoying a bigger, better hoophouse.  But you never know.

 

 

 

Spring chickens

March 13, 2012

The hens are enjoying the spring weather.  Their run is muddy, but their hendome is nice and dry.  The layer of hay and straw is about a foot or more thick, although in some places they have scratched down to the bare soil.  We will leave the hendome up until late spring has dried the muddy ground.  The dome has served very well over the winter as a warm, snug run for the girls.  We will in future years use heavier plastic is this plastic tore easily, but it worked well enough this year.  When we remove the dome, the thick layer of bedding will feed the compost piles and will serve to really get the compost cooking.  The dome itself could be used in the garden to cover heat loving plants or as a nice warm place to raise baby chicks.

The hens are now brave enough to venture across the diminished snow pack to find bare ground and look for bugs.  Any stray plant or weed is quickly devoured, and green treats from the house are relished this time of year. Sunday, while partaking of the fabulous weather, I noticed we had lots of chickweed in the garden.  This is one weed I don’t mind.  It goes dormant in the hot weather, but greens up early in the spring and late in the fall providing an excellent source of greens for the hens, who love it.

Another early spring green is sorrel.  The hens love it and it is one of the earliest spring greens.  Last year I planted some in the hoophouse, hoping for some early green Dan and I could enjoy and share with the hens.  It is coming along nicely and might even provide enough leaves by the weekend for some soup, and a few leaves for the girls.

Spring is on the way.  The nights are still cold but the days have been warm and what little snow we had is rapidly disappearing.  I’ve started some sweet pepper and chile seeds, and will be starting some tomato seeds later in the month.  Winter is on its way out, and I’m ready.  I have a lot to do before summer arrives!

 

Winter gardening

February 21, 2012

Taking advantage of a few vacation days and some sunshine, today I did a bit of winter gardening in the hoophouse.  Outside there was a slight breeze and the temps were in the mid 30s in the sun.  Inside the hoophouse, it was a balmy 70°F.  I did a bit of weeding, sharing some delicious chickweed with the hens, and sowed some cold hardy greens.

I raked in some compost, pulled some thriving, very cold hardy weeds, and generally tidied up a bit.  I finally managed to pull out the roots of some of the giant peppers I had in the hoophouse last fall.  The roots were so well developed I couldn’t pull them out earlier, I had to wait for some of the roots to decompose to make it easier.   Once that was done, I moved on to seeding.

Using my seeding jigs, I sowed Pac Choy, Tatsoi, Hon Tsai Tai, Mache, and more spinach.  I’m still new enough at this hoophouse thing that I can’t really guarantee these plants will succeed, but based on past years I’m sure something will come of today’s efforts.  Later this week I’ll add lettuce, which I’ve sowed this way successfully before.  I am also going to sow some cilantro.  I don’t know how well that will work, but I love it and figure it can’t hurt to try, right?

I need to get some floating row cover out from storage and cover that bed.  The entire right side of the hoophouse is now planted.  Lettuce and cilantro will go across the aisle.

securing the Winter Palace cover

December 22, 2011

A couple of people have asked me how we secured the plastic to the pvc frame of the hoophouse.  We used 2 methods.  In some places, we pinched the plastic between the base or a purlin with a piece of old wood lathe and used our brad nailer to nail them together.  This works best where the plastic won’t be removed because it leaves holes in the plastic cover.

For the open end of the Winter Palace, or on low hoops used in the garden, we used plastic clips which fit tightly over the conduit, pinching the cover in place.  When I purchased a second shade cloth from Lee Valley, I also the white clips seen holding the shade cover on, but they were expensive and I was concerned the UV would make the plastic brittle over time.

Nonetheless, we had them, so we used them.  I didn’t like the squared edges, feeling they were more likely to tear the plastic, so we cut up an old microfiber cleaning rag to put between the clip and the plastic cover, adding some cushion and making the fit a bit more snug.

We needed a few more clips to securely fasten the  cover on the Winter Palace and the tractor cover.  Dan came up with the perfect solution (of course).  Using a piece of 1″ (outside diameter) black pvc pipe procured from our local transfer station (aka dump) he fashioned a clip by cutting the pipe into short lengths, then cutting them lengthwise to open the pipe.  He actually cut out about 1/4″ of the pipe, then rounded the ends slightly to minimize risk of tearing.  Perfect!

I don’t know how long this clip will last given UV exposure, but it is cheap enough that being short-lived won’t be a problem.  Plus, we have more pvc pipe, and I’m sure we’ll be able to find more in the future, recyclers that we are.

 

 

Wiggle wire is genius!

October 11, 2011

This weekend, Dan and I added wiggle wire to the hoophouse to fix the roll-up sides into place for the winter.  It is such a simple idea, yet the perfect method for fastening the plastic cover.  Whoever invented this deserves every penny of patent royalties they get.

I purchased the wiggle wire from Griffins Greenhouse & Nursery Supply in Gray, ME.  The base was actually much heavier gauge than I expected.  It was quite a job to cut it to length with a hacksaw and drill holes for screws through it.  This is good, as I hope I will be re-using it for years to come.  The wire is some kind of spring-tensioned steel I imagine, fairly light in gauge.  I suspect this might be something I will need to replace, but time will tell.

The first step was to determine how to attach the wiggle wire base.  If you look at the hoophouse construction page, you will see the single biggest mistake we made when constructing the hoophouse –we attached the hoops to the outside of the wooden base frame.  We realized it was a mistake later, when we put the plastic on, but I don’t think we really understood how challenging this would prove until now, when installing the wiggle wire.  The wiggle wire needs a straight plane for attachment.  We decided to simply attach a length of 1″x3″  strapping on the outside of the hoops, supporting it with blocking made from more strapping.

Once this was completed, we measured and then cut the base to length.  Dan cut each piece of the heavy aluminum with a hacksaw, then filed the cut ends to reduce the likelihood of the plastic tearing on the sharp ends.  While Dan cut, I drilled holes for the screws.  Next, we screwed the base to the hoophouse frame with galvanized flat-headed screws.  This part went pretty quickly, and soon we were ready to fasten the poly down.

This part was actually more complex than it would appear to be, perhaps because of our flawed design.  We added additional framing to the sides of the hoophouse last spring when we made the roll-up sides.  In retrospect, we should have made the vertical framing pieces flush with the outside of the base frame, but we did not.  This meant that when securing the poly with the wiggle wire, it is slightly contorted.  It works, and in a perfect world it would not look like this, but, as I frequently try to remind myself, perfect is the enemy of good, and the hoophouse works.

The impact of this was most apparent when attempting to fasten the cover.  I first fastened the side shown above, then the long bottom edge.  When I went to attach the entry end side, the plastic was to taught to allow me to push it into the base track.  I needed to remove the wire from the bottom edge, and then I was able to fasten the side down.  The final step was to fasten the bottom edge.  As I inserted the wiggle wire, which is indeed accomplished by wiggling the wire into the base channel, up, then down, I tried to pull the poly as taut as possible without tearing.

When I removed the wiggle wire from the bottom edge, I did notice some tearing in the plastic.  I’m not sure whether this is a standard result of inserting the wiggle wire, or because of the age of my poly or the fact that the bottom of the plastic has abraded over the years.  I did not even attempt to repair these small tears, I can only hope the covering will be firmly enough in place to reduce friction wear and that it will last another couple of seasons.  I did patch with repair tape one other larger hole that was just above the base framing on the side wall.

One thing I noticed, which in retrospect doesn’t surprise me, is the wiggle wire expands in length as when inserted.  This is no doubt due to the pressure on the beds from the channel, but it caught me by surprise and on the side verticals, I cut the wire too long and had to trim it at the end.  I’m sure the wire could readily be cut with a hacksaw, but we have some nice bolt cutters which worked great.  Heavy wire cutters just didn’t cut it in this instance.

It is a huge relief to have this project completed, and I feel much less intimidated by the idea of constructing a larger hoophouse at some future point now that I’ve used the wiggle wire.  We have a few more items on the list to button up the hoophouse for the winter and then we can move on to planting garlic and shallots and putting the garden to bed.

 

Frost

October 8, 2011

We’ve had frost 2 nights in a row.  It got down to 29°F Wednesday evening, and 28°F Thursday night.  That marks the end of most of the garden.  Some of the hoophouse plants were damaged, probably because we don’t have the sides securely attached yet.  I picked all the remaining peppers yesterday and over this weekend will pull all the warm season plants, then sow spinach to overwinter.

Also on the agenda this weekend is closing up the hoophouse.  Earlier this season we finally made roll-up sides for the hoophouse, making it cooler in there for summer crops.  End result?  I got a nice crop of peppers, and my first ever melons, and the earliest cucumbers I’ve ever grown. 

I finally bought some wiggle wire yesterday, and we will install that over the long weekend.  The wiggle wire will allow us to securely close the sides for the winter, but then easily open them again in the spring.  We also need to repair the plastic that blew out during Hurricane Irene.  This was not UV stable greenhouse plastic, but rather some bits and pieces left over from other projects such as the hens’ snowdome.  This time we’ll use greenhouse plastic, or maybe some plexiglass.  I have an idea…. haven’t got it completely figured out yet, though.

The wiggle wire was expensive!  Fortunately, I expect it will have a long life and be reuseable, but eight 6 ft. pieces came to over $80 bucks.  That pushes the cost of the hoophouse up considerably.  At least I was able to drive to the supplier and pick it up, as the shipping cost was astronomical.  The weather forecast calls for warm sunny days this weekend, perfect for installing the wigglewire.  The heat will make the plastic more flexible and I hope easier to work with during the install.  We’ll see.

While driving to the greenhouse supplier, I came across a gorgeous farm, Intervale Farm, with a beautiful display of pumpkins and squash.  I had to stop.  They had a huge selection of squases and pumpkins, beautifully displayed, including some on my list of squashes to try: Tetsubuko, Lady Godiva, Confection, and Burgess Buttercup.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hae much cash on me, so only those four and a pumpkin came home with me.  But I could have brought home a carload!

This year I grew Johnny’s Honey Bear, so a squash smackdown is in the future. Stay tuned….

 

Irene damage

August 29, 2011

I’m sure things could have been worse, and I know others suffered more, but we are very sad here at Henbogle with significant damage to two mature trees, our beloved sugar maple, and the magnificent flowering crab that blooms reliably and beautifully every spring.

The sugar maple is a very old tree, with several trunks grown together, as sugar maples are wont to do.  Years ago, we had a local arborist cable the maple tree, and he has pruned it since, to keep it healthy and happy.  Unfortunately, Irene caused a large crack in the trunk, leaving the section closest to our barn at risk of falling into the barn, and we fear it will have to come down.

The flowering crab lost a major branch.  This will probably just require removal of that limb, but it is certain evidence that the tree is in decline.  We will have that tree thoroughly pruned again as well, and hope for the best.

The rest of the garden and yard fared reasonably well.  There were lots of small branches down littering the lawn.  The flowers in the deck garden were pretty much flattened.  If they don’t respond to being propped up I can just cut them back.

The vegetable garden came through pretty well.  The hoophouse did just fine, with the exception of a couple of end wall sections covered in non-greenhouse plastic.  The plastic just disintegrated in the wind, no doubt brittle from the UV exposure.  I will just need to replace that with greenhouse plastic, or even recover with regular heavy weight poly.

The primary damage in the veggie garden resulted from the sunflowers collapsing on the broccoli and squash plants.  I hope once I remove the sunflowers, the other plants will rebound, time will tell.

The hens were cranky from their imprisonment, but once freed this morning, happy with the fallen sunflowers and various tomatoes that fell off the vines into beak reach.

Some of the peppers in the hoophouse toppled over, but I will stake them and hope for the best.  All told, the veggie garden came through remarkably well.  I would have gladly traded even the hoophouse if it would have spared damage to my two lovely trees.  The hoophouse can be replaced; those trees are priceless.

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