Pimpin the Hoopty

So I now have 3 Hoopty’s: my mini, the small one (11×25), and I am using the farmers “workshop” hoop house (26×72) for starts and compost.  Living the gangsta life!  Still, there are ways to add functionality even to these uber cool structures.

Vole Hotels

This might not be the sexiest item you ever add to your Hoopty, but wait 6 weeks for your spinach to sprout, only to have it mown down that night by a vole and you will see their beauty.  Simply put, voles are the bane of the winter farmer (and many a summer one).  Hoop Houses are IDEAL environments from a voles point of view – their are predator free, warm, and in the case of my winter composting of restaurant waste, FULL of food.  The small Hoop House was invested by January (one round of breeding) with a record 6 seperate sightings in a 10 minutes period – that is in only 250 sq ft, mind you.  Voles are tricky to catch as they are very finicky about what they eat.   Fresh greens and seeds are strongly preferred, with the voles ignoring cheese and peanut butter in my experience.  They can be so bothersome that Eliot Coleman spends more ink on vole control in Winter Harvest than he does on growing his Candy Carrots.  Here is my interpretation on his solution:

Voles check in...

Here is why they work – voles get that they are rock bottom on the mammal food chain.  Hell, if a chicken can eat you, you’ve got issues.  Knowing that, voles hug walls and burrow for all they’re worth.  Running along a wall in a hoop house and hitting the side of one of these, the vole will gladly duck into the hole (1″ hole saw) as its nice and dark in there (keep them covered).  By placing a trap immediately inside the hole, one can capitalize on this tendency.  Its not my favorite thing, but its effective and necessary.  In the field one can over plant and take 30% losses from bugs.  In a hoop house or germination area, its easy to feel that EVERY plant is important.  These are 1′ x1′, making very good use of lumber with only about 5″ of waste in a 8′ 1×4.  With such small lumber – pre drill all your nail holes to avoid splitting.

Germination Table

I direct seeded some spinach in the Small Hoopty about 6 weeks ago… and they just now sprouted.  Why?  Soil temps are about 43 degrees.  Once up, they are growing fine.  To max out winter season growing, transplants are the way to go – the key is to get them to pop out of their seeds.   And that takes heat.  In my compost germination table I got lettuce to sprout in 5 days.  FIVE DAYS! All thanks to soil temps in the 80’s.  We have a big compost pile, but still only about 5 flats fit on it.  I have 2000 onions to start so, for this year at least, I need more space.  Enter the farmer’s Germination Table.  He has 4 2×4′ heating mats that we cover with a double layer of old greenhouse plastic to keep them dry, and thusly we can start 15 flats.  Once the seeds germinate the flats are moved off the mats and start another 15. Slick.

600 shallots, 1000 onions, and 1200 lettuces. Here come the BOOM!

The heating mats are on the left side of the table – the table will hold two small flats deep (4′) and 16′ across under the plastic.  During the day the front of the plastic is raised with a simple pulley system to allow the plants to breathe, and this also helps to harden them off a bit.  At night, or on cold, cloudy days, the cover of a double layer of greenhouse poly is kept lowered.  The mats are set to 75 degrees.  From left to right: 600 shallots soil blocked 3/block in 4 flats, 1000 onions soil blocked 3/block in 6 flats, and 1200 lettuce plants in 6 traditional flats.  The Alisa Craig onions could net as much as 1500#’s of harvest.  Awesome.

All tucked in for the night. The short sides will get folded and weighted down with a block of wood.

A 14′ 2×4 on top of 2 cinder blocks provides a tent that will span the flats.  All told 64 sq ft of flats can be kept climate controlled, or at least frost protected, and half that is on heating mats.  this system is simple and effective, having been in use for over 15 years.  Improvments could be made in the covering – light must go through 4 layers of poly to hit the plants – that is about a 40% reduction in strength which I would like to avoid, but insulation is the name of the game in Febuary.  Next would be to ditch the heat mats as they suck up alot of energy.  The Hoopty Compost is directly to the north (thawing the bins of soil in the background) and in Fall 2010 I would like to work up a heat exchanger of some kind between the compost and the table.  Whether that means moving the table over the compost, or using water to move the heat remains to be seen.

With over 2500 plants on the table the season is well under way!


6 Responses

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing what you’re doing. It’s very informative and inspiring to read. You’re giving me lots of ideas to implement here.

  2. These look great Rob.

    Given the shortish lifespan and oil-price related cost of the plastic hoopty covering in the sun do you have any thoughts/plans/alternatives thereto?

    • Tai Haku,

      Good points, and not ones I take lightly. I see them as a transitional tool that buys time and builds skills and capacity on the local level. As we try to squeeze through the sustainability funnel, every pound of produce I grow and sell in county is a palpable step in the right direction. If we get to a place where plastic is unattainable, the glass from the mega outlet mall near my house can be repurposed easy enough (assuming it survives the riots🙂 ) Glass is the alternative, but a better one is root cellaring.

      For now, I can make more *net* on hoopty produce even without growing micro greens and other garnishes than I can on rutabagas. That money, and the skills in planning and executing a 12 season farm, are critical to my getting my family and community where I need them to be in the next 5-10 years.

      The plastic lasts 5-7 years structurally, but clouds after 3 so most commercial growers swap them every third season. The plastic in the hoop in this post is 5-6 years old, and the germination tent is even older, both are working fine at the rate of return I am looking for.

      Much like no one may be making PV cells in 50 years, both they and Hoopty’s are still critical transitional technologies for today and should be used to ease us down our Long Descent.

  3. I may need one of those vole traps very soon. When you say you put a trap in there, do you mean just a normal mouse trap, or something else?

  4. I’ve caught a ton of voles with “The Better Mousetrap” baited with peanut butter. I put the front of the trap right against a wall or cold frame and I think they run right over it. I’ve caught a lot by back legs, suggesting they weren’t even really going for the bait.

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