Mini Hoopty = 100% AWESOME

So this morning I met a friend, Lance for coffee and then headed up to the Market Farm to test out my new Quick Tunnel bender from Johnny’s Seeds.  Siting for the Uber Hoopty (30×96) is still underway, but in the mean time I have spinach and lettuce to get going so I opted to go small or go go home.  There is a very strong economics argument for these little tunnels – they are between 5% and 10% of the cost of a typical High Tunnel of the same area with a trade off in significantly more work to harvest and maintain.  Here is the price break down for the 3 beds I am planning on building (3 beds 6’x80′).

Grand total for almost 1500 sq ft under plastic?  $400.  The bender and the conduit essentially last forever, the sandbags and plastic will be good for 2-4 years – perhaps more as the plastic is only out 5 months of the year.  The 20′ chunks left over will be used in the Small Hoopty, and at our home beds.  I am hooked on these things.

Why?  Well, for one the 80′ row went up in 3 hours of pick a little, talk a little paced work despite 5″ of frost that we had to pound through.  The next one will go up in half that.  Next there is the solar gain – interior temps on a 20 degree day were over 60 in 90 minutes and we were still futzing withe synching down the plastic tight.  Damn.  Finally there is the earning / produce potential.  These will net me spinach and lettuce sales at least a month sooner – well over $100 a bed, and will then get me into baby potatoes over a month earlier – again at least $100 each.  Those of you mathey types will have already determined that I am at positive cash flow without labor costs.   These will then make growing sweet potatoes possible in our climate by protecting the slips for May planting.

Here are some pics of our adventures today:

Tabula Rasa. Great soil, but not producing much ...yet!

We had 6″ of snow 2 days ago, but today was sunny and no wind at all – ideal conditions!  20 degrees, but thanks to the sun we worked in long sleeves all day.  The plot above is about 25′ wide and the plot is 90′ long.

Quick Tunnel Bender bolted to my trusty trailer. Simple. Effective.

Not bad for a bunch of first timers! This tool is SUPER easy to use.

The first 15 pipes bent in under 15 minutes.  Yep, under a minute each.  It is simply not possible to overstate how well designed the bender is, nor how easy it is to use on 1/2″ conduit.  Quick, easy to learn, and consistent: our first bend was as good as our 17th.  It is so pleasant when a tool works BETTER than billed.  So very impressed – can you tell? Next we needed to pound through the frost – I found a 3/4″ diameter steel stake laying around and, when slammed repeatedly with an 8lb sledge, made quick work of the job.  Funny thing about BFH’s – they get shit done!

5' (ish) spacing. Next time we may be more particular about evening out the heights of the hoops, but it works!

This went smoothly, but took longer than anything in the job except scrounging long heavy things to weight down the plastic.  Having Lance help was great, allowing one to set the hoop while the other beat out a tempo with the sledge.

Tufflite laid out - it i important to not have much wind or this part would be a nightmare.

Final adjustments prior to pulling the plastic taut. Our Jack Russell, Jersey, provided helpful advice throughout.

Laying the plastic was simple, but we had NO wind.  Sandbags would make the final tightening much easier, but our scrounge boards and blocks worked alright for now.  2.5 hours in, but we were taking it easy and enjoying the awesome day – its not even noon and, look Ma!  No Jacket!

Lance admiring his work. Fast, effective, and simple. Outstanding!

3 hours front to back and the results are impressive.  Will let this cook the frost out for a week or so and then plant with spinach.  The other two will get lettuce and romaine.  4″ of snow and 5″ of frost out in a week?

Snow @ 56 degrees? I told you things were effective!

This was just in the 45 minutes it took us to pull the plastic taut.  After 90 minutes it was 62 degrees – laying on bare snow reflecting much of the heat.  I see why the Tufflite is only used in the dead of winter!

Next week once the sand bags get here, I’ll put up the other two as well as one in the Small Hoopty, Though given these temps, that may only be to break germination and then I will need to switch to Agribon.




10 Responses

  1. Very nice!

    It might work even better if/when your system starts producing some biochar, to scatter around underneath the hoops.

    If the planting bed were elevated (and/or the paths between were trenched down) until the edge of the plastic reached hip level, might that reduce the amount of labor it is to work under them?

    I imagine staking down a thin piece of bamboo etc. along the edges and using clothespins to hold the cover down might also make things easier.

  2. Funny you mention that Joel, we had intended to put in the siftings from the potting mix that were too large to break up the Albedo Effect of the snow, but forgot in all the fun. Next Tuesday I will do so.

    There is no working under these – you roll back the plastic as needed to work on them – the beds are 100% prepped and seeded prior to putting the hoops in, then the plastic is removed for cultivating and harvest. We will have to do all this in a few weeks once the frost is out.


  3. I’ll be curious to follow the temp swings…will they get too hot? Will they hold temp at night?

    How ’bout a web-distributed electronic thermometer, with graphs, that we can follow realtime? 🙂

    • Emily, if you ship it to me I’ll get ‘r hooked up! Temps swings will definitely be a concern in a month. The Small hoopty (7′ tall) was 80 today at 2’ off the ground. But, in my experience, the temps in the 4″ above the soil change must less than even a foot up – the soil sucks up ALOT of heat / radiates it at night. Thermometer placement is very important and should be at the same height as you plants.

      Lee Valley has a Hi / Low / Current thermometer for $15 that doesn’t need batteries that I may buy soon. That said, money is flowing out of the coffers far too fast for my liking right now, but that is February on a farm…

  4. Did you just use Tufflite? I use Agribon-19 first and Tufflite III on top per coleman’s field tests. I’ll be interested to see what temperatures you get, as I’d prefer more light to penetrate.

    • Yep, just Tufflite. I was interpreting Coleman’s Agribon as a nod to convenience – the Agribon buys you frost protection in October / April (Zone 5), and in Nov-March you need the Tufflite for that extra protection and at that point it is just easier to put it on top as you will be taking it off later anywho. Buying 3 rolls of Tufflite AND 3 rolls of Agribon with no positive cash flow was a bit much since these mini hoopties are just to tide me over until the Uber Hoopty gets built. I needed the Tufflite now – and may buy the Agribon as needed in about 6 weeks. What would be really cool would be to run side by sides in Late Winter > Early Spring with a Double Tufflite and a Tufflite/Agribon.

      • That would be a really fascinating trial! So you’re running double Tufflite right now? There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of other people doing Quickhoops yet (the bender was new this season). I’m still a little worried about ripping the plastic when it gets frozen to the ground when I’m venting and winter harvesting. I’m planning on continuous harvesting of Claytonia, Mache, Fedco Winter Lettuce Mix, Carrots, and Parsley for next season. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for the info. Do you have any info about the difference between Tufflite III and Tufflite IV? Johnny’s only has Tufflite III and we don’t need a large roll for our small trial – we are putting up greenhouse walls on our small 4×8 balcony, which is the only place that gets winter sun. I’m guessing it might be the difference between large hoophouse (where 6mil infrared might be needed) nd small hoopty (where 4mil is probably sufficient). Any thoughts or experience?

  6. Instead of buying bags for sand, why not fill some used livestock feedbags with dirt or gravel? I was on a Permaculture web site were they are even used to make walls of buildings – moist subsoil goes in, stacked and formed and then a layer of cob or adobe stucco for an excellent look.

    Also, wood ashes can help melt the snow; same concept – it darkens the snow which will melt it sooner. It was what the old-timers would use on ice before modern ice melting products.

  7. […] for a year to see what I can do in them in a 12 month period – they also fit perfect under my Low Tunnels. Spinach->Beets -> Potatoes (with Lettuce growing until they pop up) -> Carrots sounds like […]

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