March 30, 2017

Shade Cloth & Thoughts on the Hoop House

With our recent bout of spring-like weather I switched the hoop house to shade cloth.

The setting sun comes in this side so I'll need one more piece to shade it.

Our chances of frost decrease to less than 50% by mid-April, so soon it will be time to plant warm weather veggies.

I've never used shade cloth before so this is something of an experiment for me.

Shade cloth is knitted (or woven) polyethylene fabric.
This one by Agfabric gives 60% blockage of the sun.

Because of that I didn't choose a particularly expensive brand. It's a 60% cloth with grommets to tie it to the structure. Of course I had help.

Meowy, log wrestling.


Hopefully I can extend the life of our salad garden so that we can enjoy fresh green salads for longer into the summer than we're usually able.

While I worked I reflected on the hoop house and it's usefulness. In the eight winters we've been here we've had two that were terribly cold and garden unfriendly. Then we've had a few that were extremely mild so that the winter garden was highly productive. Mostly the temperatures fluctuate from below freezing at night to above freezing during the day. This is tolerable for most cool weather vegetables, so a protected growing area is only occasionally necessary. It's just that I never know beforehand if any particular winter will need it.

This winter was unusual in that it was either mild or cold with less daily fluctuation than usual. The poly cover protected from frost but not freezing temperatures, although everything growing in the hoop house bounced back nicely. When we had our warm spells, however, the hoop house trapped the heat and was too hot to keep cool weather plants happy. I had to roll up the plastic and open the door to vent it. Even so, my arugula bolted in February!

My other concern was how quickly the raised beds dried out. Of course the poly cover kept out the rain, but with warm days and drying winds, it seemed like I had to water every day. I suppose the extra work ought to be worth all those salads we've gotten, but still, it's got me wondering if this was the best option and the best set-up for us.

No conclusions have been reached; I'm just recording my thoughts and observations. And I'm curious about your experiences with growing in a hoop house or poly tunnel. Has it gone well? Have you had problems? How have you solved them? What are your best tips? Care to share?

26 comments:

Kev Alviti said...

A polytunnel is really high on my list of wants! We can have frost up until June on a bad year so it's good protection for warm weather plants. Things like tomatoes do so much better in them than outside as well.

Leigh said...

June frosts would certainly put a damper on all warm weather veggies. I found mine protected against frost but not hard freezes (green peppers). But also I didn't have an actual greenhouse thermal cloth. I think that would do much better than the builders poly that I used.

Dani said...

Leigh - I swear by my shadecloth veggie patch. Have converted all three veggie beds to covered with shadecloth.

We have had a terribly hot summer - with too many days with temps in the late 30's / early 40's. To help protect against the hot, drying winds I have totally enclosed the area (veg beds) in shadecloth - entering via a shadecloth door. Auto irrigation (9 volt battery operated) is set to go off every morning for 15 minutes per area. I have had an excellent harvest of tomatoes, swiss chard, pumpkins and butternut, sunflowers, rocket, carrots, jewel sweet potatoes, and beans.

Honestly, lettuce I also battle with. The heat is too much - even in the shadecloth veggie patch. Perhaps I need to try growing them in 100% shade - with light reflected off north facing walls?

Leigh said...

Dani, it was from your blog that I first learned about shade cloth. :) I only wish I'd implemented it sooner.

Interesting about the 9-volt battery operated auto irrigation. Keeping things watered in a hot climate is a huge job! I confess that I long ago gave up on the idea of lettuce and tomato in the same salad or sandwich. I just have to enjoy them in different seasons.

Renee Nefe said...

Last year I attempted to put all my garden in the lower garden area to protect it from the squirrels that have discovered my yard thanks to my dumb neighbor (the one with all the cars) feeding the birds & squirrels. Well while that kept the squirrels from eating all my produce, the lack of light meant I didn't get as many tomatoes, beans & peppers as I would have liked. So this year those will be moved back out to the retaining wall in pots. I'll just have to develop a new ft knox to keep the squirrels from stealing the tomatoes. Squash, carrots, & greens do well in the lower garden so they can go there. I don't think that potatoes are worth the work for the low yields that I'll get, so I'm not going to bother with them. This year on the advice of our local garden center, I'm going to give peas a chance. ;)

Ed said...

Our winters are too cold I think for even a hoop house most years, this one being an exception. Our garden is essentially over in late fall. We do have a greenhouse though for starting the warm weather plants for the garden and those were planted in the greenhouse about a month ago.

Dani said...

Leigh - It is called a Hunter irrigation controller. We have a four station unit but you can have more, or less, as required.

Laura said...

I've used shade cloth in the past (in San Diego, where it gets really, really hot) for the same reason. It helped, but I also found that a mist system in mid-late afternoon helped cool the air, as well. The combo really worked.

PeteForester1 said...

What did you use for the frame; looks like rebar?

It was so hot last summer, I had to water the CACTUS to keep it from dying. The garden? Forget about it, unless you liked stewed... everything... I'm looking to use greenscreen this year as well.

Leigh said...

Dani, thanks. I looked it up on Amazon and saw that they have a pretty good variety to choose from. I'll have to take a closer look at them. Below, Laura mentioned a misting system. That sounds like another good option.

Leigh said...

Hurrah for peas! We love them raw in salads. Sounds like you're pretty acquainted with your garden options and how to work with them. Squirrels are a problem though. I've thought about growing things deer like in the hoop house and then fencing off both ends so they can't get in!

Leigh said...

I was impressed with how well Eliot Coleman does up north with his hoop houses, but I have zero experience gardening in colder climes to be able to confirm what he says. Gardening is a challenge wherever we live!

Leigh said...

Thanks for that tidbit, Laura! Every little bit helps!

Leigh said...

Yikes, that's pretty bad!

We used a cattle panel (3 of them actually,) bent to make the hoop structure. I did have to add some posts for support in the middle area of the hoop house, because one winter snow kinda caved it in a bit. That's unusual for us, however. I think incorporating a watering system like the ones suggested above with the shade cloth hold a lot of promise.

Rain said...

Hi Leigh, firstly Meowy is adorable :)
I've been reading Eliot Coleman's book, and I just got another one called "The Year Round Vegetable Gardener" by Niki Jabbour. Hers is easier to read than Eliot's. I don't think that hoop houses would work for me, it gets way too cold and snowy here, but at the end of the summer I'll be making cold frames and my first attempt at winter gardening. I'll be posting every step of the way. I'm curious about your shade cloth and what everyone above ^ has written about the shade and lettuce though. We usually have 25 degree summers (75F-ish), sunny and low wind. We definitely have 40 degree days too (over 100F). May I ask, is that too hot for lettuce? And what other crops do you find are sensitive to such hot weather? I admit I'm a beginner, but I really thought that "summer" crops could handle heat and sun like that. I'm wondering if I should be looking into some shade cloth for the more fragile crops, like the lettuce, because my garden gets FULL sun.

Leigh said...

Rain, I have found that unprotected from the sun, the heat-tolerant varieties of lettuce usually become bitter and bolt in May or June. Seed catalogs will usually tell you if they are heat or cold tolerant, so I'm plant cold tolerant in autumn and heat tolerant in spring. Almost all greens prefer cooler weather, so for me, they are all winter and spring crops. Swiss chard is about the only green that does well for me in summer (as long as it gets enough water). Now that I have the shade cloth, I'm going to give New Zealand spinach another try as well.

I would suggest getting a variety of seeds and just experimenting! That's the best way to discover what does best for you in your own garden and growing conditions. I did that this year with Eliot's suggestions for cold weather greens and we really enjoyed the variety and it was a fun experiment. We're still eating all but the arugula, and with temps warming up, I'll gather more valuable experience on all of these as well.

Rain said...

Thanks Leigh :) My pack of Buttercrunch says "will tolerate summer heat" but it also suggests to keep it "moist and cool" until you can see the growth. I'll have to keep notes on all the different crops and how they do. I have to remember this is my first year doing a full garden and give myself a little break! :)

Leigh said...

I agree! Giving oneself permission to experiment and make mistakes is truly very freeing. Oftentimes it depends on factors we can't control, but the more you grow the more you learn. I only give up on things after several years-worth of trying. So gradually I've learned what grows best here and what needs to be coddled. The cold weather crops are new for me, and I'm so glad I gave them a go.

Rain said...

That's great Leigh. It's a healthy attitude. And good for you regarding the cold weather crops, I'm really excited about preparing mine and hopefully having a nice harvest next winter! If the books are right, I should be successful, mind you, our winters are long and snowy, but we do have the sun, so the cold frames should work out as long as I vent them on really sunny days. This is fun isn't it? :)

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

Gardening is a guessing game when it comes to weather. I have never bought the shade cloth but the one bed we bought with the cover that I thought was a cold frame I think is more like the shade cloth. Not sure if that will work out well enough for me. Good luck on deciding what you should do. Nancy

Chris said...

Perhaps it's best to plant only fast growing crops? I found when I temporarily turned my shaded chicken run, into a vegetable area, it was the fast producing crops like radishes and mizuna, that thrived the most. Because they weren't around long enough to experience too many extremes.

I don't think this hoop house is a lost cause, but like so many things we try, they just need a few MORE support structures to get the most out of them. Like if wind is your problem, grow some fast growing, hardy natives, in a position to block the wind, but not block out the sun.

You could also dig some logs and branches, into your beds, like hugelkultur. Then to keep them moist in a dry spell, erect a small, gravity fed water barrel/bottle (raised) and let it trickle into the beds. That way you're only carting water once - to your barrel.

You could try planting fast growing annuals only, with perennial vegetables, which can handle a longer season of not so great weather. Don't plant all annuals, in other words. That way, no matter which way the weather turns, you should get something from your garden.

But it will always be somewhat of a guessing game. I like your hoop house, and think it could become an awesome growing area, with a few extra strategies.

Leigh said...

It's definitely a full-time guessing game! What I'd like, I think, is an insulated cover that let the rain in too, but I don't know if they make such a thing!

Leigh said...

Chris, I agree it's useful, I suppose it's like everything else, learning for what and when. Dan really wants to build a few more, so he's been surprised by my mental meanderings as well. Having some things in the hoop house but rows in the garden as well, for the goats may be one answer. That way we'll still get a harvest for us if we have another bitter winter.

I'm going to plant New Zealand spinach in it today in hopes it will do better with the shade. Temperature-wise, we usually have a very short spring and go from cold to hot pretty quickly. I'm really hoping the shade cloth will extend our salad season!

icebear said...

i'm still mystified by Mr Coleman's hoop house success and i live up here. i have that particular book- i forget the exact title- about 4 season gardening or winter gardening, something or other. guess i need to read it again.

Leigh said...

icebear! Good to hear from you. I have that book too, and one other of his that I can't recall the title of. I need to reread them too, although our winters are so much milder than yours, so it seems like I ought to be able to make a go of it!

M.K. said...

I have a hoop house/greenhouse that's about the size of yours, I guess. I think of it more as a plant nursery. We didn't try to overwinter anything in it. I did overwinter some items on our front porch, which we enclosed in a good plastic. It never got under 40 degrees on the porch over the winter, so there were quite a few things I could keep there, IF I had put them in pots.
I think because the porch is under roof, and one wall is the house wall, that keeps it warmer. Soon I'll be done with the hoop house for the summer, I guess. It's WAY too hot in there during the summer to keep anything there. We are a good bit hotter than you, I think.