Category Archives: Garden Advice

Easy, Affordable Hoop House Options

Garage Frame Hoop House

Hoop houses or high tunnels are excellent season extenders. They can keep you family in fresh greens all year round or give you the earliest tomatoes in the neighborhood. Unfortunately they can be pricey. Here’s a few simple options for creating affordable hoop houses.

Garage Frame High Tunnel

One of the easiest options is to use an old garage or storage building frame. If you see one for cheap or free on craigslist or your local classifieds, scoop it up! These are perfect for making small high tunnels with the little effort it takes to frame in the ends and add a door and plastic. The example pictured above was picked up for free, has a free used door, scrap lumber was used to frame in the ends, and the plastic was clamped to the piping using small sections of PVC pipe with slits cut in them.

Conduit High Tunnel

If you like the idea of the storage building hoop house but can’t find a used one you might consider making your own from conduit. Conduit is relatively inexpensive and can be bent at home using a homemade frame.

Cattle Panel High Tunnel

Another option is to use cattle or hog panels as the main frame. The panels are bent over and staked at each end. Like the other hoops you’ll still want to frame up the end and add a door. These are also a nice option because they’re easy to dismantle and move even if you’re a one person garden operation.

Low Tunnels

If you find none of these options work for you or you just don’t need a high tunnel, try a low tunnel! For low tunnels all you need is some hoops to bend over a garden bed and plastic. The hoops can be made from conduit, PVC, or even flexible wood from your property (just make sure to shave/sand off any spots that might tear the plastic). If you have a traditional garden the hoops can just be shoved into the ground on either side of the bed. Alternatively for raised beds you can add holders like slightly larger sections of PVC to the side of the bed to slide the hoops in and out of for easy set up and removal. Those holders could also be be driven into the ground for the same purpose. These low tunnel hoops also double as a way to cover crops with shade cloth to keep them cool or protect them from insects.

Purchasing Plastic

There’s a few considerations to keep in mind whatever frame you choose. First even though the rest of your hoop may be cheap or free you do want to invest in good quality plastic. Cheap plastic will only cost you more in the long run when it needs frequent replacing. To find good plastic look for plastic that has a good UV rating (won’t deteriorate in the sun) and is fairly thick. If you live in a northern climate you’ll need to keep in mind that your plastic will have to stand up under snow loads. Most likely you’ll find good quality plastic must be sourced from an actual green house supplier. 

You’ll also want to make sure you purchase enough plastic for your project. Note that even though some large hoop houses have solid ends, your hoop house will be more effective with plastic or another type of clear material on the ends. So don’t forget to take the ends into consideration when purchasing plastic. You should also be sure to order a bit extra to leave room for error.

Ventilation

Another feature you’ll want to consider on any type of greenhouse is a way to vent it. High and low tunnels will get hotter faster than you’d think. Being able to allow cool air in as needed is vital to prevent damage to plants. Good air circulation is also important to preventing fungus and disease. For high tunnels you may want to add doors and windows on each end or fashion sides that roll or fold up. On smaller hoop houses you can just make the lower part of the plastic sides easily detachable and fold it up and inward (if you fold it outward it will fill with rainwater). Obviously for low tunnels venting them is very easy because you can simply fold back the plastic but it is even more important.

Choosing a Site

Lastly it’s you’ll need to decided where you want to place your hoop house. It can be especially handy to have them close to the house in springtime when you’ll be spending a lot of time checking on and caring for seedlings. You’ll also want to ensure that one of the longer sides is facing south allowing the high tunnel as much sun as possible especially in the winter months.

Hoop houses do not have to be just for big farms! With a little effort you can create an affordable backyard hoop house even on a tiny property. Growing food in a high tunnel can help increase your year round self sufficiency and help you grow varieties that really like it hot and humid. Up your gardening game and start building!

11 Ways to Make Your Garden More Eco-Friendly This Year

Of course growing your own food is in itself environmentally friendly. Food from a backyard garden uses significantly less fossil fuels than produce from the grocery store. It’s not kept refrigerated for days or shipped halfway around the world.

Backyard gardens still have there own impact though. Through growing food humans are impacting the environment. It doesn’t have to be a bad impact though. You can make your garden a benefit for the environment and species around you.

Install a rain barrel.

If you live somewhere that they’re legal a rain barrel can be a great addition to your garden. You can use water that would otherwise run into the ground.

Grow a pollinator garden.

Pollinator’s numbers are dwindling. They’re losing habitat and being killed by pesticides. You can help make life a little easier on them and encourage them to pollinate your plants by planting a pollinator garden with our handy guide.

Make compost.

Composting is easy and not as smelly as you’d think. You also don’t have to purchase a fancy bin. You can do something simple like a bin made of pallets or even no bin at all. Mother Earth News has a great article on composting here.

Use natural garden amendments.

Even certified organic chemical fertilizers and amendments are far from perfect. Using them can lead to excessive nutrient run-off causing algae blooms in nearby creeks.  Natural fertilizers like compost, plant materials, and wood ash are better alternatives. Check out more options here.

Use grey water.

Grey water is water thats been used in your sink or shower. In some places it’s legal to route this water to your garden rather than your septic tank and use this water to water fruit trees and bushes.

Grow cover crops.

Cover crops add nutrients to the soil without the risk of over fertilizing. They also add habitat for beneficial insects and microbes and prevent soil erosion.

Make your garden water efficient.

There’s a variety of methods to do this including adding swales, berms, and terraces to hold water. It’s also good to use drip irrigation rather than overhead which can evaporate.

Go no-till.

Gardens don’t actually need to be tilled if they’re managed properly. No-till gardening is actually better for soil health and uses no fuel like running a rototiller would!

Add mulch.

I talk about mulch all the time but it’s super important. As far as keeping your garden as eco-friendly as possible, mulch helps to hold in moisture, lessening the need for watering and helps prevent soil erosion. It also adds habitat for beneficial insects.

 

Add habitats for pollinators and beneficial insects.

The addition of pollinator and beneficial insect habitats can be great for your garden and them. You can find a lot of free plans on the internet for houses for beneficial creatures like birds, bats, toads, and insects. Many birds also appreciate a variety of different height plants to land on in the garden while birds and beneficial insects will utilize plant material left standing through the winter.

Utilize permaculture principles.

An entire book would be needed to explain permaculture but many of its principles can be used to help design a garden that works with nature to produce harvests without the need for large water or nutrient inputs. If you want an eco-friendly garden researching permaculture can help get you there.

 

All of our actions impact the world around us. Backyard gardens minimize some of the negative impacts that are found in our current food system but as growers we can choose to take that a step further and make our gardens as eco-friendly as possible.

8 Tips to Help Your Garlic Thrive

Garlic is one of my favorite crops. First there are few dishes cooked in this house that don’t include at least one clove. Second it’s super easy to grow. It generally has very few pest and disease issues. It also does well in storage. Absolutely perfect for backyard gardeners and farmers alike.

However just because garlic is an easy keeper doesn’t mean you can just throw it in the ground and ignore it. Read on for tips to help you get the best harvest.

Prepare the bed before planting.

Garlic can actually handle a range of soil conditions but does best in well-drained, loose soil. If you can, work in some organic matter like compost, aged manure, or well rotted sawdust and your garlic will do better. You may also want to consider using a garden fork or broad fork to lift the soil adding more air space.

Plant at the proper depth and spacing.

A proper depth and spacing will allow the bulbs to form well so you get nice size cloves and more uniform bulbs.

Keep it weeded.

Unless you live in a place with a lot of winter snowfall and consistent freezing temperatures you’ll probably need to do a bit of weeding throughout the fall, winter, and spring. It won’t be as bad as your regular season crops but it’s still important. Weeds compete for water, nutrients and if they get ahead of your garlic, light and space.

Keep it watered.

Especially if you live in a dry area it’s important to remember to water garlic while it’s actively growing. Garlic has shallow roots so for good bulb development it needs moist soils.

Use mulch.

Keeping you garlic properly mulched is essential for a healthy harvest. Mulch is important to keeping your garlic protected from frosts before it gets established. It also holds moisture, blocks weeds, and decomposes to add nutrients. It may be necessary to add more mulch in the spring depending on how much your mulch decomposes. You can also add a little compost mixed in with the mulch to give the garlic a little nutrient boost.

If you’re growing hardneck garlic, harvest the scapes.

Scapes are the flowering part of the garlic. If you clip them off while they’re still fairly small the plant will put more energy into the bulb instead of flowering. Garlic scapes have the added bonus of being delicious!

Let your garlic dry out before harvest.

About two weeks before you harvest you’re garlic you should remove the mulch and stop watering. This allows the garlic to begin drying for curing and storage.

Lastly read the Southern Exposure Garlic and Perennial Onion Growing Guide.

It has tons of good information for planting, growing, harvesting, curing, and storing garlic.