PO Box 2458, Tijeras NM 87059

Mountain Gardens--finding success with plants for the high desert and East Mountains of New Mexico

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Sustainable Hoophouse

I suspect it would take all the fingers of one finger to count the number of dedicated gardeners I've known who didn't want a greenhouse (hothouse, cold house, hoophouse, high tunnel--cold frame please???). Mountain Gardens has seven, two heated in the winter, five cold for our dormant perennials. We're adding another in a couple of weeks to improve our success with fruit trees. Now you'd think we'd be fairly competent by now, but we have a lot of questions, the nuts & bolts kind of things that aren't usually addressed in the two page "manual" that comes with hoophouse kits. As luck would have it, CNM's Workforce Training Center (WTC) was offering a one day course on Sustainable Hoophouse Technology. Perfect!

Our class was taught by John Nelson of Mananica Farm in Algodones. John grows organic vegetables--you'll usually find him at the Los Ranchos farmers market. Not only does John have his own hoophouse, he's worked on a variety of other both private and university projects, garnering experience with different building techniques, and materials. John has a building background himself; he knows level.

Our presentation included the expected discussions--of materials--greenhouse poly, aluminum frame vs pvc, row covers--and how they're used in (or on) a hoophouse.  But it was John's sharing of tips and tricks like his home built jigs that really resonated for us. How do you drill through an aluminum (or pvc) pole, then repeat it in the next, and the next...at the same height, in the same plane so that the connecting pieces line up nice and straight!? Now we know. We know how to bend two twenty foot pieces of 2" pvc into a twelve foot arch. We know what a 'weazel clause' is (ask me later). And that the grey pvc cement stays pliable longer, and is stronger. And that a carborundum blade cuts pvc cleaner and faster.

John has worked with the folks at Las Poblanos, with Extension, with Del Jimenez (a true expert) of NMSU's research station in Alcalde. He helped put up houses at East Mountain Organics, and has corresponded with Dr. Reines at Ojo Sarco, and many others.  There is a host of ideas on the best size and materials for, and ways of operating a hoophouse.  Experimentation is a big part of the process.

We enjoyed the informal nature of the class; the small size let us be comfortable chiming in and asking questions. We all ate lunch together continuing the discussion. It's always a such pleasure to spend time with a group of like minded gardeners. Thank you John, and kudos to the WTC.

So what are we going to do? We have a trench wide enough and deep enough to hold 150 5 gallon pots. In coming days, we'll insulate the bottom and sides of the trench, lay in water pipe that's connected to a pump, a water reservoir, and solar panel. The pipes will get covered with several inches of soil before the pots are set in. We'll cover it all with plastic over hoops just wide enough to cover the trench. When the trees arrive, and are set in, we'll cover the pots with manure, sun warmed water will circulate under the pots, et voila, warm roots and cool tops. Experimentation. Perfect.

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