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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!