by Susan Berry.
In the winter, the part of homesteading that I miss most is the fresh-picked veggies. Growing from March-October is wonderful for fresh eating and for putting up the abundance for winter, like green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers that have been turned into pickles as well as berries that have become jams. We can savor all of these throughout the winter months, but what about the leafy greens? Oh how I crave a salad when the wind is howling and there is a foot of snow on the ground. With all the attention to contaminated salad greens in stores lately I feel safer growing my own.
My solution to this problem: Grow a hoop house salad!
Most leafy greens prefer cooler temperatures to grow and growing these beneficial vegetables all winter is easily accomplished within a hoop house.
A hoop house (also called a hoop greenhouse or hoophouse) is a greenhouse with a plastic roof wrapped over flexible piping. The interior heats up because incoming solar radiation from the sun warms plants, soil, and other things inside the building faster than heat can escape the structure.
Since I homestead on a ¼ acre and it is only my husband and I that are being fed, we only need one or two hoop houses to grow enough greens to carry us over till spring. The majority of my raised beds are 4 x 8 feet and so one of these for greens is plenty for us. I may make a second one to grow a few carrots, beets and peas for fresh eating during the winter.
If you already garden in raised beds the creating of a hoop house is even simpler. If you do not garden in raised beds as I do, you can either build one or make your hoop house over any garden spot that has full sun in winter. The process is identical whichever you choose.
In the fall after your bed has been cleaned of the summer plants, you will want to amend your soil to invigorate it again for the new veggies that will be growing. I add two inches of aged manure mixed with my own compost from my plant residue and kitchen scraps. My compost is usually loaded with lots of worms that are beneficial to the bed. I mix two parts manure with one part compost and turn this into the bed to about 4-6 inches deep, this makes it’s value accessible to the roots of your plants. I find there is no need for additional fertilizer, since the manure and compost typically have everything the plants need to do well and grow organically.
Now that the soil is ready, let’s make the hoop house.
You will need (these are the supplies for a 4 x 8 foot bed. Adjust accordingly to the size of your bed.):
3-8 foot lengths of ¼ inch PVC water pipe
6 mil clear plastic sheeting.
6-18 inch pieces of ½ inch PVC water pipe
Battery operated thermometer with portable sensor.
On the outside of the raised beds, working on the 8 foot sides, hammer into the ground three of the 18 inch lengths of pipe, evenly spaced on each side. Do not bury the pipes, leave about 1-2 inches sticking up out of the ground. Now take your 8 foot lengths of PVC and stick one end into the three buried pipes on one side of the box. Then carefully bend the pipe so that you can put the other ends in the buried pipes on opposite side of bed. There, you have your frame.
Now it is time to sow your seeds.
Lettuces of all kinds, spinach, kale, Swiss chard, micro greens all do well in a hoop house. Plant according to the instructions on seed packets. Water lightly and cover with one layer of plastic sheeting. Hold down edges with rocks, sand bags or anything that cannot be moved by critters or wind. On days in early Winter or late Winter when the sun may make the hoop house too hot simply open one end and secure plastic to prevent tearing. This will help moderate temps. Also on exceptionally cold nights in deep Winter I may add an electric drop light inside the house with a 75 watt bulb just to keep the plants from freezing. But mostly the house can maintain itself with solar energy.
Water occasionally, maintain temperatures of 70 degrees daytime and 45 degrees nighttime. This is when the thermometer is vital. I keep the unit in my house and the sensor in the hoop house in a dry spot, like on the edge of the box. This will tell you the temperatures inside the hoop at all times.
Hoop houses are a great way to stretch the growing season and provide healthy safe vegetables that you grow yourself. There is not much better then putting on hat, coat, mittens and boots, trudging through knee high snow in bitter cold temperatures to arrive at your hoop house, open the end and get a whiff of warm soil and see your lush greens inside waiting to be harvested and enjoyed. Who says you can’t garden in winter?
Susan Berry is a Horticulturist/ Farmer and Homesteader. She and her husband Don live on a ¼ acre aptly named Itzy Bitzy Farm with their two dogs and twelve hens. Susan raises organically grown heirloom asparagus crowns till established at three years old and raspberry plants to sell to home gardeners. You can follow Itzy Bitzy Farm’s blog by signing up at www.itzybitzyfarm.com