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Sunday, January 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Hoop house gets year-round use

This portable hoop house was used for growing warm-season crops during the summer and will soon house cold-tolerant crops during the fall and winter. (Susan Mulvihill)
This portable hoop house was used for growing warm-season crops during the summer and will soon house cold-tolerant crops during the fall and winter. (Susan Mulvihill)

Last fall, my husband and I built a small hoop house, which is a plastic-covered greenhouse. Its primary purpose was for growing cold-tolerant vegetable crops through the winter months.

Since winters in the Inland Northwest can be bitterly cold, that hasn’t been the easiest task, but I’ve learned a lot and am excited to see how successful I’ll be this winter.

However, as last winter was dying down, we realized the hoop house – which measures 9 feet by 10 feet and covers two raised beds – could pull double-duty. Why not use it to grow some warm-season crops that could benefit from a little extra heat during the summer months?

Just like my winter garden experiences, it’s been a learning process.

For starters, I certainly didn’t realize we’d have a scorcher of a summer. It created very challenging circumstances for the plants.

In early May, I planted cucumber, melon and tomato seedlings in the hoop house. Each year, when planting these crops, I cover their beds with red plastic mulch to increase the soil temperature and productivity. But would this be necessary inside a hoop house? Would it make the soil so hot that the plants would fry?

I finally decided at the last minute to put the mulch down and discovered that it didn’t adversely affect the plants. It saved me from weeding duties, too.

The hoop house originally had one door. However, we soon realized that putting in a second door on the opposite end would allow for better cross-ventilation.

Even with that completed, I was concerned bees weren’t going inside the structure and pollinating the blossoms. I needn’t have worried, as there were soon young cucumbers, melons and tomatoes growing.

I grew the cucumbers on a slanted piece of heavy-duty fencing which worked really well. Once I pointed the young plants in the correct direction, they were happy to climb away. The melons, which were planted on the other half of the bed, sprawled all over the place and were very productive.

The tomatoes were a different story. As usual, I grew them alongside a 4-foot by 8-foot panel of concrete-reinforcing wire, held upright with metal fence posts. The plants did well and set a lot of fruit, but soon it seemed like we just couldn’t get enough water to them. I believe the heat inside the hoop house – even with the two doors open – was too much for them. Next spring, I’ll just plant cucumbers, melons and perhaps eggplants in the hoop house and keep the tomato plants outdoors.

So what’s next for the hoop house? Once the tomatoes are done producing, we’ll move it to a new spot for this winter’s garden. We designed the hoop house to be lightweight and portable, thus allowing for crop rotation.

I started Vates kale and Minutina – both cold-tolerant greens – indoors from seed a few weeks ago. After preparing the two winter beds in late August, I transplanted the seedlings into one of the beds. The other crops I’m growing – Claytonia (miner’s lettuce) and Bordeaux spinach – do best when sowed directly in the garden so I planted them in the other bed two weeks later.

As a member of the cabbage family, kale is susceptible to both cabbage loopers and aphids. I’ve covered their bed with floating row cover to keep the bugs out until it’s time to move the hoop house into place.

Look for winter garden updates on my blog at susansinthegarden.blogspot.com throughout the fall and winter.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at inthegarden@live.com.

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