We built a hoop house with a raised bed next the the house at the end of last November. Meant to do it all summer long, but my sweetheart and I were just hating our jobs and putting it off. So, we finally got it up before the first snow. We quit the crappy jobs too, and have much more reasonable ones now, which is lucky.
The Thursday before xmas 2011, old friends came into town. We had planned to drive south out of the cold as is the wonder of AZ living, but we ended up just hanging out in the hoop house all day. I planted half the 8×15 foot space while my buddies knitted and schemed, all in summer clothes. Onions, garlic, parsley, red russian kale, spinach and bok choy.
Over New Year’s weekend I planted most of the rest of the space over a few days. Carrots, beets, cilantro, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel’s sprouts, swiss chard, and more garlic. Then, in the middle of January, I soaked and planted the pea seeds. Borage too! (can’t wait to candy the flowers, like I am always intending!) A few days later I got two 55 gallon plastic barrels from a person I know who works at the pepsi bottling plant in town, to use as thermal mass. I think they had something sugary in them, so it took some rinsing. They warm up in the sun of the day and radiate heat out during cold nights.
The plants getting going:
There were moments of strife since we built the hoophouse; big winds dislodged the side and snow got in, and it sometimes makes a major thwapping sound when the winds gust. The leaves of all the plants have been solid with frost, and I imagine that its been down in 0 degrees F in there a time or two, but we’ve had no plants die at all. I’ve never tested the cruiferous and other cool-season crops to this extreme before, but they totally perform! There’s hardly been a brown or cripsy leaf edge. It survived two feet of snow. Our friend came over the swept it off because we were out of town for that storm. It was a little nerve racking to be away from all the big green guys during the true test of the pvc pipe construction.
The plants now. I tried to get the snow outside in the frame:
Now at the end of March, some of the bok choy is flowering and the spinach is getting ready to as well. We plan to save seed. The broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are just beginning to transform from just leafy into their mature and eventually delicious shapes. And, the beets are carrots have pretty substantial, if still baby, roots. We have been harvesting loads of veggies, having a huge salad or stir fry every day, and using fresh herbs in everything. I’m no longer a regular member of our local CSA that gets winter veggies from farms around the Phoenix area, because i have so much here at the house. ( they have a super storefront, that it do visit – regional asparagus and citrus!! – along with the health food store, since I love young coconuts and cashews and cacao other luxuries) The intense high desert sun has made the hoophouse a topical paradise in the day time. I spend weekend days in there with the sarong on.
I’m getting ready to start tomato and peppers from seed in paper to-go coffee cups. I’ve been having friends save theirs for me. The hoophouse has proven to be my favorite way to garden in this extreme environment, so far. We’ll see how it continues to amaze as the seasons continue on. Seasons in Northern Arizona are different than what I experienced growing up in the northern plains. All winter its “winter-spring” back and forth. Then, we have “something weird with dry wind” where spring should go. Then, a hot and dry summer period, then “monsoons” that start after July 4th which feel like hot humid summer everyday until noon then heavy rains and then spring at night. Then rains continue into fall, and we do have a nice, but pretty warm fall after the rains quit. I can freeze during any of these seasons and the growing season tends to be very short. right when you are trying to get little seedlings to grow the dry winds are persisting. And we have gophers! But we made a chicken wire basket that we built the raised bend into. No one should be getting into this part of the garden from below!
I have a message with all of this sharing. If you can, figure out a way to make a hoophouse of your own. An internet search will yield better instructions than I can write, so surf on!