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Garden Improvement – Hoop Houses – Update 2

At the end of the previous Hoop House Update, I had the 3/4″ EMT bent and attached to the two 12′ long beds. Since then, I have also attached hoops to two 4’x4′ beds. One is a bed I built this year specifically for my 5 year-old daughter to have her own garden. Jordyns Box, Grid Done, Hoops On 03-05-2014The other is for a dedicated herb bed. You can see both my daughter’s bed in the foreground, and the unfinished (at the time) herb bed (as well as the two uncovered 12′ beds 🙂 ). Next step was to cover them with plastic. I am using 6 mil thick greenhouse plastic that I purchased from greenhousemegastore.com. You do pay a little more for the thick plastic, however, it will last a few years before it needs replacing.Hoop House Putting Plastic On 03-05-2014 The thinner (4 mil and lower) plastics generally do not last longer than a single season before the sun deteriorates the plastic to the point of disintegration. Once the plastic was over the hoops, I had to cut pieces to cover the ends, and I temporarily held everything in place using spring clamps that I purchased from a hardware store. Hoop House Covered 03-05-2014However, I do not intend to use those clamps on a permanent basis, at least not for holding everything in place. Nope! For that, I am using snap clamps purchased from the same store as the plastic. These are nice and handy for holding the plastic to the EMT. They snap in place and securely attach the plastic in place. Hoop House End Completed 03-30-2014 Removing them isn’t very difficult, it just involves prying them off.

Once that was complete on all 4 beds, I trimmed the plastic so it is a little more manageable. I, currently, simply raise the sides and semi-neatly fold it at the top. I am still using the spring clamps to hold the plastic in place, one at either end (so 4 per bed). It is effective, for now, to do it this way. Once I have a little more time, and with less pressing tasks to do, I intend to attach each side to a 2×2. I want to do this for two primary reasons. One, it will add a little weight to each side, which will help keep the plastic down and secure. Two, it will allow the sides to be rolled up much easier and quicker. I do not think I will do an update when I finish that, but I may.

I think the hoop houses are a good investment, and I definitely see them being valuable next fall, and into winter. I think, perhaps. next spring I will attach them to the other 12′ beds, and possibly to the upcoming 24′ x 3′ bed. I haven’t decided.

Until then, Happy Gardening!

Garden Improvement – Hoop Houses – Update 1

One of the first garden improvements I am doing this year is adding hoop houses to four of the beds (1 existing, 3 new). I am constructing low hoop houses, specifically. Why? It is one of the best ways for extending the growing season. I do not have the space or money for an actual greenhouse (one day!), and with hoop houses, I don’t really need one. With these on some beds, it allows me to get plants in the ground about a month earlier than without. It will also allow me to grow plants far longer into the fall, and for some crops such as the lettuces, spinaches, kales, etc., I will be able to winter them over and be able to harvest fresh veggies very early the following spring. I had intended to have this completed around the 1st of March, but Mother Nature thought otherwise this year, as I posted about previously, however, that is not a complaint. It just means I have to really haul butt to get them done ASAP.

As in most things, there are many ways to build hoop houses. A very common, and inexpensive, method is to use 1/2″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe. I, originally, was going to go this route. Then I learned that PVC was very bad for the environment. Further, PVC can leach toxins into the ground, which would mean into the garden and into the plants. And, lastly, unless a protective paint is applied, the PVC will deteriorate quickly in the sun. All three of these factors where big negatives for me. I do not want to use something bad for the environment, I definitely do not want chemicals and toxins leaching into the garden, and I do not want to have to replace the pipes every couple of years. I would rather use a solution that would last a long time, and that would not cause harm to its environs.

The other option I looked at was using electrical conduit (EMT) similar to what I used for the trellises. I eventually settled on 3/4″ EMT as opposed to 1/2″. This was for added support and strength. It can get rather windy at times, and I would rather spend a little extra money (still very reasonable, however) for more support. The next issues was, how do I bend the EMT into 4′ wide hoops? Thanks to the Internet and Google, I was able to find a site that sells an appropriate bender to do what I was trying to do. Now that I have explained what and why, allow me to show you how.

Hoop Bender 03-08-2014 Here is the bender attached to the corner of my deck. It is really easy to use, and it allows for both 1/2″ and 3/4″ EMT. Make sure you have plenty of room. The EMT is 10′  long, and it is all used. I had to reposition the bender three times before I was able to bend without difficulty. EMT Being Bent 03-08-2014

For the 12′ long beds, I am using 5 hoops, one every 3′. For the 4′ beds, I am only using 2, one on each end. I have extra EMT in case I need to add extra hoops for stability. Once I had all the hoops bent, I began attaching them to the sides of the garden beds.

Hoop Attachment 03-15-2014

I am using two conduit straps for each hoop, again for extra stability. Soil covers the lower strap, so I did not tighten the screws completely. I want to slip the hoops off easily (or extend them by adding additional EMT) when the plants are large enough without having to disturb the surrounding soil (and plants).

Here is one of the 12′ beds with all 5 hoops attached. Both of the 12′ beds are at this point, and the 4′ beds’ hoops will be very soon.

Hoops Attached to Bed 03-15-2014

Next steps:

  1.  Add greenhouse plastic
  2.  Add an easy way to raise the sides
  3.  Add vents in the ends to prevent over heating
  4.  Monitor daily temperatures

I will make an update post once the hoop houses are completely finished, which really must be soon. The peas are not going to wait much longer!

Until then, Happy Gardening!

Planting For The First Time

As a reminder, or for anyone reading these out-of-order sometime in the future, this entry references the 2013 garden.

The beds were ready. The weather was ready. I was almost ready. I still was not exactly sure in what way I was going to actually plant. While I was looking for ideas or inspiration, I happened upon an image such as this one.SFG Diagram And the light bulb went off. This is how I would plant! It was genius, and it made perfect sense. At least to me. I had stumbled upon a method of gardening called Square Foot Gardening that was “invented” by a man named Mel Bartholomew back in the 70’s. He has a book that talks about it in some detail. I bought it, and I read it. If you are at all interested in learning about this method, I would recommend it. There is a lot of great information, and it really does make sense why it works so well. I will add a caveat, however. It is most certainly not necessary to do everything the way he describes. For instance, he has a specific soil “recipe” that he recommends, it is 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 compost, and while I am sure it works wonderfully, for the amount I would need to fill my beds, the cost would have been too much. Luckily, I already had the soil situation well in hand. Also, because of the lack of space, I decided to grow as much as I could vertically. Pumpkins, watermelons, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash. Anything that could go up a trellis, was going too. At least if I had my way.

Progress was being made! Next step: figure out what to plant, and get the seeds and starts. So we made a list. We wanted:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Zucchini
  • Acorn Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Yellow Crooked Neck Squash
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cucumber
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Corn
  • Onions
  • Swiss Chard
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Okra
  • Edamame
  • Cabbage

Phew! I purchased several packets of seeds from local stores, and my wife purchased several starts from a local greenhouse. Now, I feel it is important that I state, or reiterate, that I was very green last year. I had no idea what I was doing. I was going off intuition for most of this. I have no idea what variety of any of those plants I was growing. I just wanted seeds and plants in the ground before the season slipped by again. A little foreshadowing, this year I know exactly what varieties I am planting.

Awesome! Now I could get planting! I had decided that I was going to place the corn and tomatoes in the southern most beds. All of the trellis-able items were going to go in the middle bed, and everything else would go in the northern bed. I was gifted 10 additional tomato starts (YAY!), which brought my total number of tomato plants to 16. I placed the overflow into the other beds. I would also place a few marigold plants in each bed to attract beneficial insects, and discourage problematic ones.

After one month, specifically, June 23rd, the beds looked like this:

The northern bed:Garden Bed 1 06-23-2013 The middle bed (eventually almost every row would have a trellis):Garden Bed 2 06-23-2013 The southern bed:

Garden Bed 3 06-23-2013

There you have it! This was the fruition of a dream/goal of mine. The garden was in, and growing!

I will write-up how I did my trellis’ in the next entry, and I will definitely do an entry all about Square Foot Gardening. I am a huge advocate of it, as you will see. Also, a lesson since learned: putting all the vertical items in the same bed, and arranging the trellis’ the way I did, turned out to be a mistake. I will touch on that at a later time, however.

Until then, Happy Gardening!

Why Don’t We Start at the Start

What better place to start, then the beginning? I figure the best way to know how I got where I am, is to see where I came from. Discussing improvements to the garden won’t mean much if there is nothing to base the improvement on. So let’s all get into the Way Back Machine, and we will get started!

We moved into our current home almost 6 years ago, and it was 3 years later that I started to throw around the idea of having a garden. At the time, it was just a vague idea. I wasn’t quite sure how to get a garden going, or even how I wanted the garden to be, if that makes sense.

So we talked about it a bit, and I thought about it a lot. The yard has a large amount of rocks just lurking under the surface. We live on a very old river bed. So tilling up the soil did not seem very feasible. Not only that, the “traditional” gardening motif, you know, long rows with a few feet between the rows , just simply would not work. We live in the city and the lot is normal size. Perhaps if I lived in the country and had an acre or more of land that would be doable. We simply did not have the space for that type of garden.

So 2011 passed without a garden. I continued thinking about it, talking to fellow gardeners, and doing some research on the Internet. During this process is when I realized raised beds was the way we were probably going to have to go. It remedied the difficulty of the rocky ground. There was still the concern of space, however. Even with raised beds, I would still need to have long rows for plants. That is just how gardens are done! That meant large raised beds, because I have a hard time doing things like this small. Also, the idea of starting small and building it up over time is a difficult thing for me to carry out. When I try, things usually end up being large in the end anyway. That meant monetary expenditure for lumber since I did not have very much scrap lumber lying around then. I would also need good soil, and other expenses. Expenses I could not really afford.

This is how 2012 passed without the garden coming to fruition. I made it a goal to make a garden in 2013. So, when March rolled around I started getting antsy. There were still some pieces that had not come together yet. One of my co-workers has a very nice garden. He also uses raised beds, and he is a great source of information and inspiration. I was talking to him about the problem of space. How was I going to fit a garden that produced enough food for my family and I into the backyard and still leave room for the dogs? He patiently explained that long row planting was not necessary. A gardener could fit more plants in less space by staggering smaller rows. Aha! Genius! That sealed the deal for me. And so I began to work in earnest to get a garden up. I had finally accumulated enough spare lumber to build a couple of 4’x4′ raised beds, but that was not enough. I found that untreated lumber isn’t really that expensive. I scraped together enough money to buy some 2x12x12′ and a 2x6x8′ pieces of lumber. The 2x12s I made into two 12’x4′ beds, and the 2×6 I used to tie my two existing 4’x4′ beds together. This gave me a total of three 12’x4′ raised beds. I could do something with this! Next step was to buy some good soil. I do not own a truck, so I figured it would be easier to order some and have it delivered.  I asked around and got a recommendation for a local landscaping company with good organic (this was important) garden soil at a fairly reasonable price. In order to have it delivered, I had to order 6 cu. yards of soil. That was way more than we needed, however, we figured any left over would be used. During the spring and summer we can always use some good garden soil around the yard.

To prepare the beds for planting, these are the steps I took:

  • In the 6″ tall bed, I dug down an extra 6″ and removed the grass and dirt (and rocks). I did not do this for the 12″ beds.
  • I put down a layer of cardboard and watered it well.
  • On top of the cardboard I placed a thick layer of straw, which I also watered well.
  • Once that was complete, I filled the beds with the garden soil.
  • Once I had the raised beds filled with the soil, I added some bags of organic steer manure and turned it in to the top several inches.

Ready to Plant 05-12-2013This is what we had at this point. As you can see, it did not take long for one of the cats, this one is Xanax, to make his way onto the fresh dirt. I had a fun time trying to keep them from using the beds as their new, large, kitty boxes. I am well aware that cat feces is not good for gardens. Needless to say, it is easier said then done. Regardless, the beds were ready to plant. I took this picture on May 12th, which is right around the average last frost day for my area, and I was anxious to get to it! However, I am going to save that for the next entry.

Until then, Happy Gardening!