Week 7

This week at Growing Hope I was able to learn a lot more about what goes into maintaining a garden bed outdoors versus one inside a hoop house. I wouldn’t want to give you my biased opinion about what I think works best…(hint, start with the letter h)…so here’s some information from what I have been able to gather on the subject.

Why are so many gardeners interested in having a hoop house in their backyard? A hoop house provides warmth, shelter from storms and heavy rains, and serves as a structure that can allow a gardener the  ability to start crops earlier in the season. It helps to allow produce to grow  that would not normally ripen during the cooler months. That’s why these plastic covered structures are called “season extenders”.

The plastic covering is actually a type of plastic called polyethylene film, something you’d find in water bottles, plastic bags, and other packaging supplies. Fun fact from Wikipedia on Polyethylene film:  Polyethylene can also be made from other feedstocks, including wheat grain and sugar beet.

A hoop house can extend the season of plants for 3-4 months, and for more time, another layer of plastic can be added with a small fan to keep the top layer elevated. It seems like a lot of investment for a garden, but farmers are known to use hoop house to grow their more expensive crops, and thus justify the cost of the produce (Source: The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation).  The “green-house quality” plastic is treated  to avoid accelerated degradation with the continuous exposure to ultra-violet light,  and to decrease the amount of heat loss that the hoop house potentially experiences during days and nights of fluctuating temperatures. Condensation usually develops on the underside of plastic when exposed to moisture and heat, so the plastic also is treated to avoid condensation, thus decreasing the possibly of plants developing diseases from the moisture.

A hoop house, depending on it’s size, can take from a couple days to a couple months to be fully constructed. I asked the program manager at Growing Hope  about the time it took to build their 30 x 96 feet hoop house that allows them year-around production. Although there isn’t a concise way to quantify the total time that it took to prep the ground, build the skeleton structure, cover and secure the plastic covering, and put in the raised beds, you could say that it took a long time. “And a lot of volunteers!”

Hoop houses help to regulate the environment that the plants are grown in. This staves off time and worry while the plants grow healthy, pretty much weed free, and abundant from the inside. Outdoor Gardens, however, require a lot more care because of the whims of nature. Farmers have adapted growing techniques based on experience in what is able to be grown successfully each season. Here in Michigan, plants have to be carefully attended to during the early spring (frost) and summer (heavy rains)…well, plants grown in any extreme weather state need to be carefully taking care of. Gardens have to be well watered in order to allow plants to grow fully, and the deep beds at Growing Hope (as well as at any larger farm) require large amounts of water. The moisture level depends on the weather also, as hotter days tend to dry out beds faster. Garden beds need constant attention so that pests do not eat up the crops, and need to be weeded consistently. It’s all lot of work, and with ground hogs and other burrowing animals around, organic garden beds don’t always live up to their full potential.

But outdoor gardening isn’t all bad, right? People have been gardening outdoors for thousands of years! Of course, as farmers grew more knowledgeable about the  types of crops they were growing, and learned about what types of deterrents (organic or chemical) they could use to gain more from their crops and sell larger quantities of produce to their local neighborhoods, and some eventually to the whole country. Gardening outdoors allows you to get more fresh air, and some exercise, and allows you to really learn more about how vulnerable plants are to the weather, and what type of nutrients the plants need to blossom.  It certainly eliminates the need to  purchasing equipment to make a good size hoop house, although many would argue that the price is very much worth it. Outdoor gardening is much more of a gamble in terms of the return on investment, weather and pests being main variables. At Growing Hope, it’s a mix of both, and and the combined indoor/outdoor experience allows you to appreciate the pros and cons of each method.

Week 7 conclusion? Indoor or outdoor, it’s really your choice!

Resources:

Excellent source of information about hoop houses.

http://www.noble.org/ag/Horticulture/HoopHouse/Index.htm

Want to know more about Polyethylene film?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyethylene

What exactly is “season extension“? Find out.

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/chatham/ag/SustAg/SeasonExtensionOctober2005a.pdf

Want to build a hoop house? Watch this video series on eHow Home.

http://www.ehow.com/video_4945928_planning-hoop-house.html

More hoop house information. See what a hoop house kit looks like.

http://www.hoophouse.com/why-hoop-house.html

Growing Hope’s hoop house! Check out the photo gallery.

http://www.growinghope.net/gh_center/about

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