Hoop House Finished! (Almost!)

I have gardened in many regions around the country: Nevada, Wyoming, Wisconsin and now western South Dakota- not to mention participating in my family’s garden as a child on the east coast.

I’ve found that western South Dakota is actually one of the more gardening-friendly climates (except for the hail!)

Although we do get occasional cold blasts from the north in the winter- these usually are only for a few days at the most.

We do not have the relentless wind of Wyoming, the weeks of dreary gray dark days without sun  and also not the fungus growing humidity of the Great Lakes region and the north east. Our summers are arid but not quite as dry as Nevada.

Indeed, some call the Black Hills of South Dakota the “Banana Belt” of the Midwest.

Don’t laugh.

We may not have any bananas growing anywhere near here but we do have peach trees and a number of other plants that one normally would not find unless one traveled hundreds of miles to the south.

The Black Hills blocks the cold winter temperatures and wind only a few miles away. Our microclimate is more similar to the Front Range of Colorado than it is to most other places in South Dakota. There is quite a difference in our microclimate where we live compared to other locations in the Black Hills.

When Lead/Deadwood is getting feet of snow, we might get only an inch or two.

The one thing we are do get here in the winter is sunlight. It is difficult to describe the bright beautiful winter days with clear brilliant blue skies to those who have never experienced them.

In many places, winter is a time of cold, dark gray days…it can be depressing!!!

Here, as in most of the west, even if we get a day or two of cloudy weather, we can take heart in knowing that we will see the sun in a day or two. I cannot recall ever going more than two days in a row without seeing the sun.

A drizzly foggy rainy day is rare, we look forward to such days when we have them.

When we were in Wyoming we built cold frames and subsequently a greenhouse (thanks Pop!)  in which we could grow salads in the winter.

It was fun than to have guests for dinner in January and ask, “Would you like fresh salad with dinner?”

When their answer was “Yes!” To their incredulity, I would invite them outside to trudge outside through the wind and snow.

Their initial look of skepticism became a smile when I opened the door to our green-warm salad-growing paradise.

Some people go on vacation in the mid-winter to southern sunny places-  we would just walk into our greenhouse to get an early taste of spring.

In the summer, we would grow warm weather crops such as tomatoes and eggplant that never did well in the high altitude cool nights of a Wyoming summer.

After we had left Wyoming and relocated to Wisconsin, I dreamed of having another greenhouse. I did not get a chance to build one however before relocating to western South Dakota.

After reading Elliot Coleman’s bible on cold weather gardening, Four Season Harvest, I was inspired to build a hoop house to grow salad greens in the fall and winter and warm weather crops in the summer.

Besides adding a few weeks of warm weather gardening each end of the season, I also wanted protection from the inevitable hail we have a few times every season which decimates our crops. Rather than glass or polycarbonate, my hope is that the hail will simply bounce off of the double wall cushion of polyethelene.

If not, then at least such a covering will be much less expensive to replace that polycarbonate or glass.

I started building our hoop house a couple of years ago. First I built the 12 x 20 ft base, then got a pipe bender to bend the chain link posts into hoops.

We have already been growing our tomatoes, peppers and eggplants there for two summers now- even before I had much else completed other than the base. Our rocky soil is not very conducive to growing vegetables, so I put in about 10 inches of compost and well-rotted manure for the vegetables to grow in.

Later, I constructed the end walls complete with a door and windows. Finally I added a ventilation fan with the ends covered with double poly-carbonate.

Every time I got close to finishing this project, something came up: a new writing project, another ultramarathon to train for, a new series of lecture to prepare for and so on.

After giving up most of my weekends this summer on a few writing and other work-related projects I was working on, I decided “Enough!” I took a few weekends off from doing much else other than catching up on work in our vegetable garden and finishing up the hoop house.

I purchased 6 mil greenhouse-grade UV-protected film from Johnnys Selected Seeds. I used two layers: to better conserve heat and (I hope) better withstand our inevitable hail.

I have a small fan that blows in air to keep the two layers separate. It’s basically a smaller version of the much larger commercial scale hoop greenhouses. The covering is supposed to last at least 4 years before needing to be replaced. We shall see.

Nathan and I got the covering placed last weekend- just in time for the first real snow of this winter. Inside the unheated snow covered structure it is 45 degrees right now- and today is cloudy and cold, in the low 30s. I still need to trim off the excess but I am waiting until the warm weather of spring so I can pull it tight (its easier to hold on the excess material when stretching the covering).

My only regret is that I didn’t get this covered sooner- if I had gotten it done in September I would have been able to plant it with cold resistant vegetables to harvest all winter.

Now, I will be able to plant, but may have to wait until the lengthening days of February and March before I see much growth.

Oh well, I look forward to  salad early next spring and winter salads all winter long in future years.

Some of the greens that I will plant for winter harvesting include: spinach, mache, chicory, winter lettuce, claytonia, arugula and various types of Asian greens including Tat tsoi, Pak choi, Hon Tsai Tai, and Vitamin Green and others.

It is not yet completely finished.

I need to add  a humidstat and misting system along with a plug in thermostat for the fan to keep it cool in the summer, seal the cracks with silicone caulk, plus add permanent electricity and bury the wire in a trench.

But at least now it is complete enough to begin dreaming of future planting…

I ordered some seeds today and will plant them as soon as they arrive.  More to come in the future…

Happy winter gardening!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s