NUTS & BOLTS & DREAMS: A beginner's guide to farming

Hoophouse dreams -- building a beginning
From baseboards to plastic sheeting, your greenhouse gets finished. Relax and celebrate this flying leap into your dream. There won’t be much time, later.

By Don DeVault

Finish'n her up: In just a few simple steps and with a few helpful, or at least willing, friends, your hoophouse will be complete. (Pictured here: Roll-up sides and baseboards at the corner of hoophouse.)






Editor's NOTE:

In his last installment, Don Devault got the framework of your new greenhouse up: 21 by 48 feet of steel and glory. Visit Part 1of the story if you haven't yet.


The Ultimate Hoophouse Handbook

Want a hoophouser’s bible? Drop a $15 check in the mail for a copy of Lynn Byczynski’s brand new Hoophouse Handbook: Growing produce and flowers in hoophouses and high tunnels. This 58-page how-to manual is THE BEST how-to manual on the market. The handbook is available from Growing for Market at:

Growing For Market
PO Box 3747
Lawrence, KS 66046

When life in the tunnel gets painfully dull, you’ll have some worthwhile reading material that will make your farm beginnings a lot more productive and enjoyable.


Lynn Byczynski has given us permission to reprint some helpful resources from Hoophouse Handbook:

For more information
This site is the result of a collaboration among Extension specialists and grower-cooperators in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. Funded in part by USDA, the high tunnel project is researching vegetable and cut flower production in the Midwest.
Penn State's Center for Plasticulture posts results of high tunnel vegetable research on this site.
John Biernbaum's research on winter vegetable production will be reported here. (Site currently under construction.)
The Noble Foundation continues to research hoophouse production for the South, and posts reports here periodically.

Hoophouse Manufacturers

Atlas Greenhouse Systems
Alapaha, GA

Ball Seed
West Chicago, IL

BFG Supply
Burton, OH

Conley's Greenhouse Manufacturing & Sales
Montclair, CA

DeCloet Greenhouse Mfg.
Simcoe, ON

Farm Wholesale Greenhouses
Salem, OR

Farm Tek's Growers Supply
Dyersville, IA

Frank Jonkman & Sons Ltd.
Bradford, ON

G & M Ag Supply
Payson, AZ

Harnois C.P.

Hummert International
Earth City, MO

Irmo, SC

Hartford, MI

Ledgewood Farm Greenhouse

Ludy's Greenhouse Manufacturing
New Madison, OH

Summer, WA

Midwest GROmaster
St. Charles, IL

Northglenn, CO

Oehmsen Midwest
George, IA

Paul Boers Total Growing Systems
Vineland, ON

Castle Rock, MN

Structures Unlimited
Sarasota, FL
(941) 541-8129

Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing
North Kansas City, MO

X.S. Smith
Red Bank, NJ

APRIL 9 , 2003, Emmaus, PA: There’s a steel skeleton rising like a science fiction Smithsonian exhibit in the middle of your field, generating all sorts of questions and speculation from the neighbors. Even your dog seems suspicious of the strange addition until he’s barked it into submission and christened the thing. But you know what you’re doing. With this framework in place you’re about a third of the way done with construction of your first hoophouse, a project you’ll easily see through to completion over the next two weekends. Of course, in taking this first step you’re setting yourself up for a job that will never be done.

But you know what you’re doing. (It’s called ‘job security’.)

So let’s get on with it.

Your next step is to level and bolt the baseboards and hipboards in place. You’ll need your level, your drill and a few new bits, and nuts, bolts and washers. You’ll also need a couple of six-inch C-clamps, which you don’t have. So drop everything, round up the dog, get him in the truck, and waste an hour of your day getting to the hardware store and back.

Baseboard bolted to the anchor pipes: Although a 2" x 6" baseboard wouldn't gap at the bottom, it would cast a monster shadow. Go with 2" x 4"s and raise the southern and northern beds level with the baseboards.

The baseboards bolt onto the anchor pipes along the outside lengths of the hoophouse (see photo at right). There are pre-drilled holes in the anchor pipes, and it looks like your best fit would be a 2”x6” or larger to avoid a gap under the bottom edge of the baseboards. But since you know what you’re doing, you’re going to use 2”x4”s. This is because the baseboard on the south side will cast a shadow, especially during the winter months. Even the 2”x4” you’re going to use will cast a shadow across half your southern bed in mid-winter.

So, what you’re going to do is frame-in and raise the whole southern bed to the level of the top of the baseboard. This will fill in any gaps along the bottom of the baseboards and eliminate the shadow cast in the winter. And you’ll do the same along the north side of the house, too, knowing rain and snow-melt will run off the house, seep in, and saturate and compact the soil along the lengths. In the winter, especially on the north side, this saturated soil will freeze solid and steal away workable space. Framing and raising beds along the inside of both lengths of the house will solve some problems for you before you have them.

Hipboard details : This hipboard, positioned just below the arch, has an eye bolt and rope to hold the roll-up sides flush against the bows.

Now, the hipboards. These are 2”x4”s which will serve as something like curtain rods for your roll-up sides. They run parallel to the baseboards in one of three marked (but not pre-drilled) positions just below where the bows begin to arch inward (see photo at right).

No aches and pains in this joint: When the joints of the base and hipboards fall between the bows, they can be secured with pieces of scrap lumber and bolts.

You want the joints of both the baseboards and hipboards to fall between the bows so you can secure them with a mending plate or short section of scrap lumber and a couple bolts (see photo at right). So, since the bows are spaced four feet apart, you’ll be using board lengths of 10’, 12’, 12’, 8’, and 6’ to cover the 48’ length of the house.

Once the baseboards and hipboards are in place, bolt the strips of channel lock onto the hipboards. It’s important to bolt on the channel lock because when the sides are rolled up and the wind gusts to 50 mph, a few screws in pine may not be able to hold a 1300 sq. ft. kite that wants to fly.

We’ll deal with channel lock, roll-up sides, and the interesting logistics of managing a huge sheet of plastic in the wind in detail. But right now why don’t you fire up that tiller you rented for the weekend and start off with a slow, fairly light till, slightly overlapping each pass, working your way progressively deeper over the course of a few successive runs covering the entire 21’x48’ area inside the framework. You’ll probably have to do this a few times, and it’s slow going, so be patient. And don’t run over the dog.

Putting on a good face: When piecing together your faceboard, eliminate any sharp corners to avoid ripping the plastic when stretched over the edges. (Note: the hipboard right below the arch extends back the length of the house.)

After you’ve got the area roughly tilled once-over, take a break to let the earth breathe, and begin framing out your ends. Start with the faceboards, (see photo at right) piecing together sections of board along the arch of the end bow. You want to try to cut down any board corners that project beyond the top of the pipe, or roofline edge of the end bow, because eventually you’ll be pulling and attaching plastic over this edge, and any sharp board corners may stress, stretch or tear holes in the plastic. This is where your 2”x6”s will really come in handy, as they offer more space to cut down to shape.

Once you have your faceboards bolted on the end bows, and your channel lock bolted onto the faceboards, take a minute while you make another run with the tiller to consider how you want to frame out the endwalls. Keep in mind your endwall isn’t load-bearing, so you don’t have to overdo it.

The best design for framing your endwalls is dependent on what sort of door (or doors) you want. Since you’re thinking of expanding next season, though, you really only need to hang one door at what will be the permanent end of the house. And since you’re not dealing with monstrous machinery, and you’ve got roll-up sides, you won’t need a monstrous barn door for access or better ventilation. You can reuse an old storm door. Or frame out your own door and cover it with plastic. As long as it hangs fairly straight and closes tight, you’re fine.

So, once you’ve found your door, just lay a plate, or baseboard, along the end width. Measure it out and run jack studs to a header, set king studs to each side, and hang your door. On a house with a 21’ width, all you really need beyond the door frame is another stud to each side. You can skip the header and jack studs on the other end. (See photo above for a view of door and studs.)

Take another spin with the tiller and head home to get yourself and the dog some dinner. The next step’s the last: The plastic.

Now, to get your hoophouse covered without catastrophe and casualties, you’re going to need a calm day, some rope, a few folding lawn chairs, a case of beer, two pounds of burger, a pack of hot dogs, buns, chips, and a grill. What I’m saying is you’re going to need friends. You’re dog’s not good enough. You’re going to need HELP.

Wiggle wire at work : Make sure you pull the plastic tight before securing it with wiggle wire in the the channel lock.

Unroll your plastic along the length of the house, and bunch it up and synch with about a 50 ft. length of rope at each corner and in the middle of the sheet. Tie the other end of each rope to about a foot-long piece of scrap lumber and toss it over the framework to the other side. Have your friends haul the plastic slowly and carefully over the skeletal structure of the house while you supervise. Square the sheet with a couple extra feet on all sides, pull it tight, and start securing it along the hipboards and faceboards with wiggle wire in the channel lock (see photo above).

Securing the endwalls : You can prevent ripping and tearing when covering the endwalls by stapling through a layer of irrigation tape.
Cut two sheets of plastic from what you have leftover from your 96’ roll to cover the endwalls, and attach them with staples through irrigation tape or batten tape (see photo at right).

Having already fit the pipes together for your roll-up sides and secured them with self-driving screws, place them at the end of the plastic overhanging the baseboards along the lengths of the house and roll them up into the plastic until they hang just off the ground against the baseboards. To keep them from riding-up when the wind blows, set eye-screws opposite each other in the baseboards and hipboards and tie a length of rope taught between them.

Right now, why don’t you fire up that grill and crack a beer with your friends. Maybe even pour some out for the dog. Wax philosophical. Enjoy your accomplishment. While it may seem a relatively small step for mankind, you just took a giant flying leap into a dream.