When the forecast calls for frost, I do not cover my plants with sheets or blankets. I keep the cloth for myself and shout into the cold garden from my warm home, “It’s Nevada, plants, we’re the Battle-Born state for a reason!”
A warm house of their own, like a hoop house, would help my plants survive northern Nevada’s early and late-season frosts. A hoop house, sometimes called a crop or high tunnel, is like a plastic greenhouse. It is unheated and less durable than a greenhouse, but less expensive too. Like greenhouses, hoop houses help people control the growing environment their plants experience.
Putting one up takes planning. The first choice to make is how to grow. Most people plant directly in the soil, but some place hoop houses over raised beds. In-ground growers should amend the soil before building begins.
Any old place to build will not do. Look for a flat, sunny area with good drainage and good soil. A nearby water source is essential, and a close source of electricity would be nice.
To figure out how large the spot should be, consider what you want in a hoop house. I enjoy the ability to stand fully upright inside, and I want to be able to bring a wheelbarrow in with me. Also think about what you want to grow.
Once you find a place that might work, imagine your hoop house there. Try to position the house in a north-south direction for the best airflow and sunlight. Make sure there is enough light there for your plants and that the house is not at a right angle to the wind. Think about how you could use windbreaks to protect the house.
Also think about providing airflow and shade to the hoop house in summer and row covers to protect sensitive crops in winter. Prepare for snow removal too; the plastic will not withstand the weight of snow, and you will need a path to and from.
Plans and materials are the next thing to consider. Find free plans online and use them to shop for materials. Or, purchase a kit.
Most hoop houses have a rigid pipe frame. The frame holds up a cover made out of 6-mil thick ultraviolet stabilized plastic greenhouse film. This cover lasts a few years, and latex paint can increase the lifespan of PVC or wood components.
There is a lot to think about when building a hoop house. Once it is installed, though, you will be able to plant earlier in spring and try varieties that take longer to grow. You will gain a month or more of freeze protection in fall and may even be able to grow crops like lettuce and spinach all winter long.
To learn more, attend Cooperative Extension’s Growing in Greenhouses and Hoop Houses class Oct. 3. The class is part of Grow Your Own, Nevada!, a series of twice-weekly gardening classes held Sept. 19 – Oct. 12. Learn more at www.growyourownnevada.com.
Ashley Andrews is the horticulture communications assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Horticulture questions? Contact a Master Gardener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-336-0265. Or, visit www.growyourownnevada.com.