Hoop House 12/8 Update

Fall is going out with a vengeance this year. With 8″ of snow on the ground from 3 2″+ snow events since Thanksgiving on top of some bittery cold nights (Wed AM was -4 F), this is proving to be a fantastic year for learning’s for the aspiring Four Season Gardener. At least that is how I am choosing to categorize my demolished radishes.

2 weeks ago I had added about 150 gallons of water buckets to the hoop house. I had two solid reasons for this. First the water line running from the owner’s farm house would not be open forever and I wanted some water on hand, and second I was hoping to add a degree of thermal mass to the interior of the Hoop House to help mitigate the temperature swings. Saturday morning was not warm-only 4 degrees, but it was partly sunny for the first two hours after sunrise, before descending into the more typical overcast. I had not been to the house for 10 days and the fact that the door was frozen shut did not help my trepidation of what I would find.

Good news-the spinach, mache, and claytonia are all virtually unscathed. The Black Radish , which I was gambling to get to harvest size before the bitter cold, are a complete loss, and the bok choy is wounded, but may recover. Despite exterior temps at 3 degrees, interior was a balmy 28. To better illustrate the weather that had done in the radishes, the 5 gallon buckets of water were frozen solid. Now my thermal mass was working in reverse… But even here I incurred a learning. In addition to the dozen buckets, I also had a large black plastic garbage can I had also filled with water. It too was frozen, but only an inch or so thick. I just need more mass in my thermal mass, and the black helped with solar gain. This bucket was also full of a bushel of Comfrey Cuttings that I was letting stew into a slow brewed compost tea (make that iced tea), once it thaws I will have a nice shot of nutrients for my seedlings. This is my first attempt at compost brewing, and I am looking forward to it!

Everything has its first set of true leaves, and the spinach and bok choy are going on #2. And a huge win is that the Deep Freeze has leveled the weeds that I had missed so it looks decent. This may be small comfort when I look up at the 1/16th inch coating of ice on the inside of the plastic, but I knew I would harvest more experience than greens this year anyhow.

Tomorrow I will bring out two of my home fab “cloches” from last years season extension attempt, and I will attempt to source 2 trailer loads of fresh manure to build a compost windrow over the deceased radish. The thought is that the hot compost will add a significant amount of nighttime Btu’s to give the bok choy a chance.

I had hoped for a slower start to winter, but the wonderland that the kids get to play in makes up for it. This year is a great counterbalance to last years non-winter (06/07 didn’t get cold until mid January-I took root cuttings on 12/28/06) that provides a good dose of reality to the unpredictability of nature that we are aggravating with Global Warming. My hope now has switched form fresh greens on Christmas to the First Salads of Spring as I seek to overwinter the mache and spinach!



2 Responses

  1. That idea of adding thermal mass to the hoophouse is a good one, and a friend of mine is trialling it in Wales also. How has it worked out for you? We’re also preparing a book at the moment – to be released here in the UK in spring 2009 although I’m not sure when the US version is going to come out – specifically about hoophouses. Would you be willing to fill out a short questionnaire? The results are to be included in the book and you can fill it out anonymously if you prefer. Drop me a line on my blog http://www.hedgewizardsdiary.blogspot.com, or e-mail me on cantburp-singleuse at yahoo dot co dot uk.

  2. The thermal mass WILL work, but I need more of it and better insulation. With the small 5 gallon buckets they lose the heat too soon and end up acting in reverse.

    In my application, better solar gain by moving the house, supplemental heat from hot manure piles, and larger water barrels should be the combo needed. Though we have seen almost a week with lows in the -2 to -11 range and that will do almost anything in without major heat/insulation.

    I’ll drop you an email off line about the hoop house survey.

    Good luck on the book!

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