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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!

Grow Up!

I use vertical gardening as one of my methods for growing. This makes it super simple to grow many different plants in a very limited amount of space, such as that in an urban environment. Essentially, anything that produces vines, can be grown vertically, and even some things that don’t! The squash family falls into this category. This includes both summer and winter squash (pumpkins fall into the winter squash category). Zucchini, and similar non-vining squash, can also be grown vertically, however, doing so takes a little more work, but I think it is worth it. Cucumbers, of course, can easily be grown vertically, as can melons such as watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and etc. Pole beans and certain varieties of peas as well. And let’s not forget tomatoes of the indeterminate varieties.

That’s all well and good, but how do we grow vertically? Trellises, of course! There is no right way to make a trellis, nor is there a trellis that is right for everyone. I will talk about the method I went with, and why, however, I encourage everyone to explore the options (do an image search on Google for inspiration!) and find what works for you. 

The trellises I decided to make, and use, are very similar to the ones described in the Square Foot Gardening book. Namely I used 1/2″ EMT (AKA electrical conduit) to build the frame. These pipes are more commonly used to run electrical wires throughout structures. They are very sturdy and fairly inexpensive. These come in 10′ lengths, and cost about $2.25. They can be cut to any size needed, depending on your specific need. You will also need two 90 degree couplers to join the two legs with the top cross-bar. These will be almost as expensive as one of the 10′ poles. There are also a few ways the trellises can be attached to the raised beds. I purchased 2′ rebar for this purpose. I measured with the trellis to find out where the rebar would need to go. Then I hammered 1′ of the rebar into the ground. I slipped the ends of the trellis on the 1′ sticking out of the ground. The rebar provides a lot of stability for the trellis, yet allows for easy removal at the end of the season. The final element to complete the trellis is the netting. I prefer, and recommend, nylon. It is incredibly strong, yet very light and flexible.

Dalen Trellis Netting Last year I bought trellis netting, and it worked wonderfully. The spacing of the holes was perfect and adding it to the trellis frame was quick and easy. Some people thought the nylon would harm the developing fruit by possibly cutting through the stem. However, it has been my experience that Nature will adapt. 🙂 I had no issues with the nylon netting harming any of the fruits in any way. If a pumpkin or melon is getting that large, and you are concerned, you can use an old nylon stocking and make a “hammock” under the fruit to provide it a little extra support. I did not find that necessary last year, but then the fruit I had were not all that big. I will see if this is a necessity this year.

If you do not want to buy the netting (which is very reasonably priced), you can run nylon cord manually, and it really isn’t that hard. It is, however, quite a bit more time-consuming. Here is a video of a fellow gardener showing how to make a trellis the way I have, and how to manually add nylon netting:

Incidentally, Reaganite71, whose video that is, is a great channel to subscribe too. He has a lot of really helpful gardening videos. I recommend spending some time watching a few!

Last year I made all the trellises’ 5′ tall and 4′ wide. Garden Bed 2 07-03-2013In the picture, you can see how I arranged my trellises last year (2013). It worked well for some things, but not everything. There were many plants that did not get the amount of sun they needed, and, consequently, they did not do as well as they could. Also, as you can see in the picture, I was attempting to run the zucchini up the trellis as well. That, also, did not work. I happened upon this interesting article that explains how to stake and trim the zucchini plants as they grow. I will be attempting this technique in this year’s garden. This year I am also going to make some taller trellises as well. 7′ and 10′ high trellises will come in handy. If you make trellises higher than 6′, I would also recommend purchasing 4′ rebar and pounding 2′ in the ground. Yes, it is spendier, however, the extra height warrants the extra stability.

Simply put, there really is not many reasons to not grow vertically. The fruit is easier to find and pick. It does not sit on the ground and will be less susceptible to rot, bugs, and other undesirables. The fruit produced will also be more uniformly formed, and there will be less of a tendency for crooked and twisted produce. And of course, less space used in your yard, thus allowing you to get more use out of the area you have.

Until next time, 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!