Monday, October 15, 2012

Low Tunnel Quick Hoops: Minimum expense, maximum efficiency

CLICK PICTURES TO ENLARGE AND ENJOY



Before the farm became a part of our reality, before we learned that carrots didn't grow in the back of supermarkets, farming was always something we believed was done in the summer. Nevertheless, it was a cold, snow-filled November morning in 2009 that we decided to set out on a simple task...if we want to learn about food, why not ask some farmers?  Although we believed the growing season must have been nearing its end, we were surprised to learn that this was far from the case.  This curiosity shifted our perception, the earth came alive and so did food.  It became individualized and we began to understand that not all food was the same.  To our surprise and enjoyment, it turns out there is a huge amount of food that can be grown all year round and some that even surpasses its summer counterpart.  Looks can be deceiving and while winter carrots may look like summer carrots, when you taste them you might think they are completely different vegetables.  Today we are going to look at the simple innovation and advantage of...


quick hoops aka low tunnels aka simple greenhouse-like structures that are cheap and easy to put together.  As the name states, Four Season Farm produces food for all four seasons and quick hoops protect plants against harsh winds as well as increasing warmth.  There are many different greenhouse structures here, some heated, some unheated, some large, some rolling, some modular.


We lower the plastic curtains, transforming our summer greenhouses into warm winter havens, preparing them to house winter salad greens, arugula, spinach and radishes.  We also begin construction on several different quick hoop structures for harvest extension on many of our fall crops.  




There are three sets of quick hoops that we install.  All will have the same basic structure; one bent hoop every 5' down a bed that has already been prepared and planted.  In a Zone 3 climate, fall and winter crops are given a head start by planting in the late summer and early fall while it is still warm and growth is relatively fast.  This allows the roots and true leaves to establish which can withstand the winter with minimal additional covering.  


Of the three varieties built, one is for fall using bent 3/4'' PVC pipe and a Reemay covering, one is for indoor winter production using 3/4'' PVC pipe that will be covered with Reemay and eventually by a larger rolling greenhouse and lastly, one is for outdoor winter production using 3/4'' electric conduit and is covered with both Reemay and polyethylene plastic cover.  The electric conduit has more structure to it, which prevents caving in during snowfall.  Additionally, end structures are installed to help maintain stability during winter precipitation.  Without this, the tendency is for the middle to cave in.


Even the city kid gets a chance to play with tools and build things, so I got to put this one together.  Incredibly gratifying to say the least.  Tape measures, Sawzalls, pipes, vices, all the good stuff.  In order to bend the pipe, we used the "Quick Hoop Bender," a great tool to have, that can drastically decrease the cost of building a greenhouse.  This summer I purchased a greenhouse for the roof at Eli Zabar's Vinegar Factory, but it was only later when I began working here at Four Season Farm that I realized how much money we could have saved by purchasing a pipe bender instead of the finished greenhouse product.  This simple tool is sold by Johnny's Selected Seeds.


For these 50' L x 30' W winter beds, filled with spring onions, we bent 10' lengths of electric conduit to cover the width of two full beds.  It's important to get the ends of the hoops about 9'' in the ground so that they don't get pulled up by harsh weather.


Each end has an additional pipe placed in-between the two beds in order to add extra structure.



These onion beds will not be covered by a greenhouse, but will have a top layer of polyethylene plastic covering which will be secured by this clamshell-like design using a 1/2'' pipe right under the front end hoop.  When the 1/2'' pipe is lowered to the ground (displayed below), it will tighten the polyethylene film.  This acts as a door that can be lifted for easy access to see into these low tunnels.



Once the structure is in place, we pull over the Reemay to cover them in the fall and eventually we will add the additional plastic covering for extra warmth and weather protection all winter.







Sandbags hold the Reemay using each hoop as a marker and will prevent ripping.


Now the first spring crop is planted and it's only October.  The organization and rhythm of Four Season Farm is admirable and something to aspire to.



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