Beginner's Guide to Hoop House Growing

Beginner's Guide to Hoop House Growing

Growing vegetables in a hoop house is an excellent way to extend the season and have fresh produce all year-round. If you have a hoop house, or are thinking of getting one, here's what you need to know about growing vegetables through the seasons.

What is a Hoop House?

Also commonly called high tunnels or cold frames, hoop houses are a type of greenhouse. A hoop house is a semi-circle enclosed structure with a steel or PVC frame covered with heavy clear plastic. These greenhouses operate with passive solar from the sun, shelter plants from the elements, and provide a safe growing environment. Hoop houses are inexpensive to buy, easy to set-up, and don't require any expensive equipment to operate. They don't have lighting or temperature controls, so they do need regular attention, just like any outdoor garden.

Hoop house building is often DIY, or they may be purchased. Options vary from long stand-alone structures to small ones that can be attached to raised beds. 

Hoop House Uses

  • Year-Round garden
  • Starting seedlings in spring
  • Extending fall growing season
  • Growing tender plants
  • Protecting plants from elements and pests
  • Over-wintering potted plants
  • Semi-portable structure – not difficult to move or take down

The Best Vegetables to Grow in a Winter Hoop House

The exact best vegetable options will vary depending on the climate where you live. In general, though, because outdoor temperatures and conditions are vastly different in winter, you shouldn't plant it like your summer garden.

Kale – A naturally cold-hardy vegetable, kale survives in temperatures below freezing. Winter kale is sweeter than summer kale; this is a must in any winter garden.
Spinach – Growth will fluctuate based on temperature, but it is a quick grower when the climate is right. Do several plantings throughout the winter to enjoy spinach year-round.
Broccoli – Cold-tolerant broccoli does well with temperatures between 50-70F during the day and 45-55F at night. Keeping broccoli growing during serious cold spells requires insulating and protecting the plants. Broccoli plants do great started in the greenhouse in late winter, with cool spring weather to mature in.
Cabbage – same as broccoli
Lettuce and Greens – Choose cold-hardy varieties and plant abundantly for fresh salad greens all winter season.

Top 5 Tips for a Successful Hoop House Winter Garden

  1. Due to limited sun, and therefore limited heat, winter garden vegetables grow slower than summer vegetables. Some may even take twice as long to grow. Always choose cold-hardy or tolerant seed varieties when possible. Seeds with shorter growing seasons are more likely to have time to reach full maturity. 
  2. During extremely cold spells, insulate the plants with row covers or straw bales.
  3. Make sure there is water nearby. Winter vegetables still need regular watering, though not as often as a summer garden. In some climates, you may have to fight frozen hoses and water sources. Figure this out in advance to save yourself a huge headache later!
  4. Make a plan of what you are growing in advance. Since it is difficult to regulate the temperature and light, you'll need to plant vegetables that enjoy the same hoop house conditions.
  5. Pay attention to internal temperatures each day. Heat from the sun can turn the hoop house into an oven, even in the middle of winter. Pull aside the plastic for ventilation.

Hoop houses are incredible and inexpensive growing resources for home gardeners. You don't have to make a large investment, and the pay-off is fresh vegetables in the chill of winter.

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