By: Liz Baessler
A lot of gardeners believe that the growing season ends as soon as autumn rolls around. While it may be harder to grow certain summer vegetables, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Hoop house gardening is a fantastic and economical way to extend your growing season by weeks or, if you’re really committed, all the way through the winter. Keep reading to learn about hoop house gardening and how to build a hoop greenhouse.
What is a hoop house? Basically, it’s a structure that uses the rays of the sun to warm the plants inside it. Unlike a greenhouse, its warming action is completely passive and doesn’t rely on heaters or fans. This means it’s a lot cheaper to operate (once you’ve built it, you’re done spending money on it) but it also means it’s more labor-intensive.
On sunny days, even if outside temperatures are cool, the air inside can heat up so much as to be damaging to plants. To avoid this, give your hoop house flaps that can be opened daily to allow cooler, drier air to flow through.
When building hoop houses, you need to take a few things into consideration. Are you planning on leaving your structure up through the winter? If so, are you expecting considerable wind and snowfall? Building hoop houses that can withstand snow and wind requires a sloping roof and a firm foundation of pipes driven up to two feet (0.5 m.) into the ground.
At their heart, however, hoop houses for vegetables are comprised of a frame made of wood or piping that forms an arc above the garden. Stretched across this frame is transparent or translucent greenhouse quality plastic that can be easily folded back in at least two places to allow for airflow.
The equipment isn’t expensive, and the payoff is great, so why not try your hand at building a hoop house this autumn?
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Read more about Greenhouses
You can get more growing days—if not weeks—by building a hoop house! You’ll extend the season into those shoulder months in early spring and late fall. (Can’t you smell those vine tomatoes now?) Here’s one farmer’s experience—plus, help on building your own.
I live on a 5-acre truck farm with my family in mid-Michigan and have been selling produce— including heirloom and uncommon varieties—at farmers’ markets since I was a child.
We have had a greenhouse heated with kerosene since the early 1980s. It shares a wall with the front barn, is close to the water pump, and is very much a part of the barnyard. There we start all of the seedlings that get transplanted into the market and household gardens, from early spring lettuce to winter squash. We love our work, but we like our winters off, free from the pressure to grow produce for sale.
We have always canned, frozen, dehydrated, fermented, and root-cellared much of the household garden harvest for our winter food. However, we realized about 7 years ago that we could significantly expand our food options in the dark winter months with a hoop house. Imagine: luscious, fresh, live greens every winter day! Our greenhouse had already taught us some of the benefits and challenges of growing plants under a protective covering, but its usefulness is limited to March through May, when we are starting our garden transplants that are grown outside.
Photo: Leah Smith
Our hoop house is completely different. At 14 feet wide by 20 feet long, it is like a giant row cover that you can walk into. We followed Eliot Coleman’s design from his book Four-Season Harvest (Chelsea Green Publishing, 1999). From a local growers’ supply store, we bought six 10-foot-tall metal hoops these are attached to the hoop house frame on the long sides.
The house is covered in polyethylene plastic. The long sides have skid bases that rest on 2x8-foot pine boards that act as rails. These are placed on the ground on their narrow edges and attached to metal pipes driven into the ground with a sledgehammer (be sure to protect the boards’ ends from the hammer blows).
This skid/rail design allows the hoop house to be moved forward and back over a 14x40-foot garden plot, covering one of two 14x20-foot plots at any one time.
Unlike a stationary hoop house, a mobile one increases the flexibility and variety of your planting schedule, and it puts more land into production. In an ambitious home plot, a smaller-scale hoop house would boost winter fare.
Add Cold Frames
We further increased our production and cold weather immunity with cold frames inside the hoop house. (Any cold frame model will work.) See how to make a cold frame step-by-step.
In September, when Michigan gardeners think about putting the garden to bed, we are direct-seeding and putting month-old transplants into the cold frames in the open (uncovered) plot. When the seeds have germinated and put on good growth, we push the hoop house over the cold frames. With the end doors closed, the hoop house and cold frames together protect our plants from October through March, even in the coldest weather.
As it gets warmer, the cold frames are moved to the uncovered plot. There the first lettuce crop of the year can be planted in the ground in March instead of May, with the protection of the cold frames. The hoop house remains in place. This way, while you are still harvesting lettuce from one plot, you can be growing more lettuce in the other plot, avoiding any gap in your lettuce supply.
Through the summer we allow our hoop house to rest, as we don’t want to have to supply it with water. This does not have to be the case for your hoop house. The soil under a hoop house can be used for food production in summer and be very productive, as long as you water it.
Our cold frames are stored during the summer, when they are not needed, to protect them from the elements. The end doors of the hoop house are removed and stored as well.
As we don’t use our hoop house during the summer months, we cover it with tarps protection from the sun and other elements helps to prolong the life of the plastic (hoop house plastic may have to be replaced if it becomes damaged or degraded).
Photo: Leah Smith
Our hoop house has been a dietary and culinary joy.
A hoop house/cold frames system requires investment, yes, but also organization and planning you have to reset the planting calendar and think of planting times in a completely different way. Simply built, passively solar-powered, and reliant on only natural rain (thanks to its mobility), our hoop house has required minimal work—yet its returns have been plentiful. With no cold weather allowed!
(Credit: University of Rhode Island)
With a hoop house, “you are essentially putting up a miniature greenhouse over a garden plot,” says Andy Radin, a Research Associate and Ag Extension Agent for the Plant Science and Entomology department. You can buy a kit, or you can head to your nearest home improvement store to get most of the materials.
Voila! Private greenhouse for $75 and an hour of your time.
Read more about hoop houses in our article, “Is There a Greenhouse in Your Future?”
by Beverly Clark, El Paso Master Gardener
Credit: Raised Bed Hoop House, by Beverly Clark, El Paso Master Gardener
We extended our growing season – and you can, too! We have built our own raised bed hoop houses to grow cool weather crops at the El Paso Master Gardeners’ Texas A&M AgriLife Vegetable Demonstration Gardens . Our raised bed hoop houses, like row covers and cold frames, function like a small greenhouse as they give some winter weather climate control, protect against hungry insects, allow a longer growing and harvest season, and provide a safe place to start new seeds and to set out transplants.
In the fall of 2019, and on through the winter and spring of 2020, we brought our El Paso Master Gardeners Facebook viewers along with our Raised Bed Hoop House Journal providing them with updates on a new gardening adventure for us: growing cool weather crops in raised bed hoop houses. Through the updates, they got a close look at the hoop houses, what we were growing, issues we encountered, fixes, and the many amazing vegetables we harvested. Because we used 6 mil greenhouse plastic for the covering, the raised bed hoop houses in this installation were for fall, winter, and early spring use. We had a blast growing all those great salad greens and kale in the raised bed hoop houses. We learned a lot and consider them a great success! We hope that we will be able to put these multi-functional gardening structures into use every fall.
Some of our Facebook followers expressed interest in plans for the raised bed hoop houses, so detailed instructional building plans were created. You’ll find them in our new category created on our Learn » Garden Topics-Links page on our El Paso County Master Gardener website . The category is called Gardening with Hoop Houses, Row Covers, a nd Cold Frames and is found under the Fruits and Vegetables subheading. We will be adding more information on hoop house, row covers, and cold frames to this category over the next few weeks and months.
Credit: Lid Up on Raised Bed Hoop House, by Beverly Clark, El Paso Master Gardener
As a teaching document for our raised bed hoop house plans, we have a detailed 21-photo instructional web page with a slideshow called The Raised Bed Hoop House–El Paso, TX (slideshow). These photos and instructions are also in a 12-page downloadable and printable document of the building plans called The Raised Bed Hoop House-El Paso, TX_printable PDF . In the main body of the hoop house building plans, there is information on the tools and materials needed. Assembly tutorials for each phase of the construction are also included.
The building plans for this raised bed hoop house are meant to provide enough information and guidance for even those with minimal skills to accomplish the construction. It must be noted that no lengths for cuts are listed in these building plans, as those will be determined by the size of hoop house that you choose to build. The construction plans and instructions you will see in this raised bed hoop house building tutorial are based on those used by volunteer members of the El Paso County Master Gardener Association to build the raised bed hoop houses now in use at our Texas A&M AgriLife Vegetable Demonstration Gardens .
Please read and understand fully all steps in the building plans before selecting materials and starting construction. How you choose to build your own raised bed hoop house is, ultimately, up to you. Always practice care and safety as you go through the construction process. Once a hoop house is completed, it should provide you with several years of use without maintenance, as long as it is stored in a level, protected area when not in use, and barring any damage sustained by storms, hail, or misuse.
For more articles on hoop houses and other small greenhouse-type structures, see the category Gardening with Hoop Houses, Row Covers, and Cold Frames under the Fruits and Vegetables subheading on our Learn » Garden Topics-Links page.
Fit one end of a 12-foot PVC pipe onto the end of the rebar and push all the way into the gravel. Bend the PVC pipe carefully and insert the other end into the rebar, on the opposite side of the greenhouse, and push all the way into the gravel. Repeat with the other PVC pipes. These are the hoop house supports.
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.
A hoophouse is a greenhouse that uses plastic sheeting in place of glass to trap and hold heat.
The frame is made up of a series of hoops created from either plastic, metal or wood. This type of skeletal framing is inexpensive to create, and easy to set up and take down.
Hoophouses can have their frames constructed of plastic, metal, or even wood.
The hoops are anchored to the ground, or in some cases, to raised beds. They are then covered with a layer of clear plastic sheeting clipped into place.
The plastic covering works by absorbing the sun’s rays during the day to heat the interior. It then traps the warmer air inside during cool nights allowing plants to continue growing.
In addition to thermal protection, a hoophouse provides additional protection to plants as well.
These mini-hoophouse frames are placed on raised beds.
The plastic covering aids in retaining moisture, requiring gardeners to save on watering chores. They also protect crops from damage due to high winds and heavy rain. And if that wasn’t enough, the covered mini-greenhouse can also be a big help in keeping away insects and pests from stealing a harvest.
That can actually be a big plus in the early spring or late fall. It’s a time when many animals are searching for any food source, and fresh vegetables are an easy target!
One of the best things about a hoophouse is they can be inexpensive to purchase as a kit, and even cheaper for those willing and able to build their own.
These mini versions are perfect for placing over single or double rows in the garden
They come in a variety of sizes. From from 8′, 10′ and 12’+ full-height kits, to smaller 2 to 4′ row-cover styles that are perfect for growing greens. They can also be attached easily to raised beds to create an instant mini-greenhouse right in the garden.
Here are a few styles below that can fit almost any home gardener’s need.
Floating row covers with support hoops that are great for frost protection and seed germination.
This mini hoop house kit has an arch height that can be adjusted from 27″ to 40″. This kit is perfect for growing cool-loving greens deep into the season.
It would also work well for attaching to raised beds.
This 15′ walk-in style hoop / greenhouse is great for those looking to get a little more serious with cool weather growing.
The heavy zippered door helps to keep heat in and the 7′ height is perfect for standing up and working.
For more cool-weather growing, check out our article on cold frames : Growing With Cold Frames. This Is My Garden is a garden website created by gardeners – for gardeners!
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By Jennifer Poindexter
Having fresh vegetables on hand, year-round is an amazing benefit to owning a greenhouse.
Whether you have a beautiful walk-in greenhouse or a smaller pop-up greenhouse, you can still grow a variety of crops inside it.
If you’re wondering which vegetables are the easiest to grow in a greenhouse, you’ve come to the right place.
I’m providing a list of the vegetables which deserve your attention for greenhouse growing. They’re easy and taste delicious.
Take them all or pick the ones you’re most interested in. Either way, here are the easiest vegetables to grow inside a greenhouse.
Onions are a crop which can handle cooler temperatures. They make an excellent crop for growing in early spring, fall, or overwinter (in some planting zones) inside a greenhouse.
These vegetables are great for a variety of greenhouse set-ups. They can be grown in containers, raised beds, or in ground beds inside a walk-in greenhouse or high tunnel.
Microgreens are all the rage with gardeners today. Some people have even made entire businesses selling them to local restaurants.
If you aren’t aware, microgreens are basically seedlings of vegetables and herbs. They’re easily grown in shallow containers and are perfect for any style of greenhouse. They can even be grown indoors.
I use my greenhouse to grow leaf lettuce during spring, fall, and winter. Leaf lettuce is a great choice for greenhouses because of how quickly it grows.
Plus, it can be grown in containers and raised beds. This type of lettuce will typically be ready for harvest in 30 days and if you practice succession planting, you should have lettuce consistently.
Carrots are another favorite of mine. I rarely ever grow carrots outside of my greenhouse because they’re so easy to produce in my greenhouse set-up.
In my case, I plant carrots in five-gallon buckets. With sunlight, water, and phosphate rich fertilizer, they produce a quality harvest in two to three months.
My first greenhouse was a hoop cold frame. We were on a budget and decided to build an inexpensive greenhouse option that would allow us to produce cold hardy vegetables over the winter months.
Spinach was the first plant I ever grew in a greenhouse. Now, I love it even more because you can grow spinach in containers or raised beds. It’s a great option for most styles of greenhouses.
One of the best crops I’ve produced in a greenhouse is tomatoes. They love the heat and seem to grow better under these conditions, in my opinion.
Tomatoes can be easily grown in typical garden beds within a high tunnel set-up. They’re also great for raised beds, or containers, in walk-in or pop-up style greenhouses.
Along with tomatoes, eggplant does well in greenhouses, too. These are heat loving plants, and greenhouses obviously raise the temperatures around them.
Not to mention, when planting eggplant inside a greenhouse, it’s easy to control the conditions surrounding them. You don’t have as many weather events or pests which impact the plants while growing under shelter.
Do you love salsa Verde? We enjoy making Mexican cuisine around my house which is why we not only grow a lot of tomatoes, but we produce tomatillos, too!
These plants are slightly different from tomatoes because they produce fragile pockets first. These pockets eventually grow the tomatillos within them. When the pockets split, you know your produce is ready for harvest. They’re wonderful for a variety of gardening methods.
If you want to produce an amazing pepper harvest, begin growing them in a greenhouse. My first year of growing tomatoes and peppers in a greenhouse was astonishing.
My pepper plants did better in the greenhouse than in my garden. The difference is the heat. If you’d like an abundance of peppers, try growing them in a container or raised bed inside your greenhouse.
Depending upon your planting zone, you might grow cabbage in the spring or fall. I usually grow it in the fall as I have fewer pest problems.
However, you can even grow it over winter, in some planting zones, if you have a greenhouse. This protects it from extreme cold and will prolong your growing season.
I’ll be truthful with you all. I love broccoli, but I struggle justifying growing it because it takes many plants to get enough of a harvest for long-term storage.
However, if you’d like to try your hand at growing this vegetable, for your enjoyment, consider raising it in a greenhouse. It will allow you to grow it in earlier spring or later fall.
Snow peas are my kind of pea. If you’ve ever planted peas, you know they’re difficult to shell. The gardener puts in a great deal of work to get to their harvest.
This variety of pea is the exception. You can pick them and enjoy the shell along with the pea. You can plant them in the ground in your greenhouse, in a raised bed, or even a container.
Asparagus is a perennial plant. When planting it in your greenhouse, it’s best to have a bed for it to grow in year after year.
However, if you have a place for the plant to return each year, it’s a great investment. One asparagus plant can produce for up to 20 years!
It doesn’t take much to grow squash and zucchini. Growing it in a greenhouse is a wise choice because you have more control over the elements.
You can plant in a raised bed, in a bed in the ground, or a container. Be sure the plants receive water and nutrients, and you should have fewer problems getting them to produce in a greenhouse.
Okra is a plant which can grow to great heights. Keep this in consideration when choosing to grow it inside your greenhouse.
It can be grown in containers or raised beds. However, if you’re using a pop-up greenhouse, this plant might be overwhelming for such a small space.
If you love pickles or fresh cucumbers on your salad, you should consider raising them inside your greenhouse. Cucumbers are easy plants to grow but be intentional about which varieties you grow based upon your greenhouse set-up.
The “bush” varieties usually have the term bush in their name which would be good for smaller greenhouses. If you have a larger greenhouse, you might be able to grow a vining variety which could grow up a trellis.
I grow kale regularly in my greenhouse. It’s another plant I grow all winter long because it’s easy and provides fresh greens right at my back door.
Kale is cold hardy and would be a great choice for cold frame greenhouses. It’s also a great crop for both beds and containers.
Turnips are one of my favorite plants to grow. The reason being is you get a two-for-one product. You can allow the turnips to develop under the soil while harvesting the greens growing above.
This vegetable is a good choice for large containers and raised beds. You could potentially grow them over winter, depending upon your planting zone, in a cold frame greenhouse. If you practice succession planting, you could have a consistent harvest throughout the winter months.
I love green beans. We grow quite a few plants in our garden during the summer and fall months due to our planting zone.
However, you can plant green beans earlier and later if you have a greenhouse. The bush varieties might be a good fit for raised beds or containers. If you have an area for a trellis, you could grow running varieties as well.
This concludes our list of the easiest vegetables to grow in a greenhouse. Use this as a guide but also think about your set-up.
Obviously, smaller, and bush varieties of vegetables will do better in smaller greenhouses. If you have a larger walk-in greenhouse, you might have more options. Plant for your greenhouse area, and you should have a variety of vegetables producing around your home throughout the year.