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Winter garden protection: Quick hoops

Quick hoops in Eliot Coleman's gardenEliot Coleman's method of growing winter crops under row covers inside unheated greenhouses clearly works like a charm for the market gardener, but can those of us just growing for ourselves follow suit?  First of all, Coleman writes that true southerners (those in zones 8 and 9) can probably get away with growing winter crops under just row covers, and my father's experience in South Carolina bears that out.  And Coleman also presents a simpler alternative that may provide all the protection we would need here in zone 6 --- quick hoops.

Coleman makes his quick hoops by bending ten foot lengths of 1/2" electrical conduit into half circles, then sinking ten inches of each end into the ground so that the hoop covers an area about six feet wide.  After placing a hoop every five feet along the rows, he covers them with ten foot wide sections of row cover which are weighed down on the edges with sandbags.  Once very cold weather threatens, he adds a sheet of plastic on top (primarily to shed snow?) 

Drawing of quick hoopsIn effect, Coleman's quick hoops are a combination of a floating row cover and a hoop house.  He notes that a quick hoop costs only 5% as much as the same square footage of greenhouse and protects low-growing overwintering crops like onions, spinach, and lettuce so that they can be harvested very early in the spring on his farm in Maine.

I'm tempted by his quick hoop concept much more than by his larger scale greenhouses, but I have a few reservations.  First of all, I'm not thrilled by the recurring cost of buying row cover fabric --- under heavy use, it tends to last only a year or two.  On the other hand, I could cover most of the mule garden with row cover fabric for only $40, which would probably be about equivalent to the cost of cooling that amount of summer produce over the winter in the freezer.  The sticking point would be whether our cats and dog love jumping on the quick hoops and tearing them to pieces as much as they love ruining my cold frames --- if so, buying row cover fabric multiple times a year just wouldn't be worth it.

The other question is --- are quick hoops enough to protect a winter harvest here in chilly zone 6?  Coleman didn't seem to think so, but he also advocated using the lowest tech solution first to try it out before moving up to more expensive solutions, so I think he would approve of us trying quick hoops on our farm.

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This post is part of our Winter Harvest Handbook lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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