Throughout the world, high-value horticultural crops have long been grown in low-tech hoophouses to extend the season and to improve quality. In the past decade, these structures have been popping up on farms throughout North America as farmers here discover how extremely profitable protected crops can be.
The structures in question are known variously as high tunnels or hoophouses; in this book the two words are used interchangeably. They also are sometimes called cold frames, particularly by the greenhouse industry, which manufactures them as overwintering shelters for container plants. In general, a hoophouse consists of a single layer of poly stretched over hoops of metal or PVC. Most hoophouses rely on passive ventilation through roll-up sides and big doors or removable endwalls. They are erected right in the field, and crops are grown in ground beds rather than in containers. Many crops can be grown with no heat, and an even wider range of crops can be grown with minimal heat.
After a decade of growing vegetables and cut flowers in the field, we added hoophouses to our farm, and we are now convinced that they are an essential tool for the market gardener. Their benefits are numerous: we are able to grow earlier and later in the season; we are able to grow delicate crops that wouldn't survive our windy climate outside; we are able to get much higher quality in most crops because we control the water through drip irrigation; and we are able to start making money in spring even when it's too wet to get into the field. We even have been able to grow our own food during the dead of winter in our Zone 5 climate.
For all these reasons, we have become advocates of hoophouse production. We have written this booklet to help you understand your options for crops and structures. Part 1 contains articles about crop production, both vegetables and cut flowers, to give you ideas about the many ways growers are profiting from hoophouses. You also will learn about research, both official university research and anecdotal on-farm trials, that shows what kinds of crops do well in hoophouses so that you can figure out how best to use this precious space. Part 2 is about building a hoophouse. You will learn where to buy the structures, how to determine which structure is best for you, and tips for erecting it. You also will learn the down side of hoophouse production (you knew there had to be some drawbacks, didn't you?) and strategies for overcoming those obstacles.
Hoophouse production in North America is an evolving science and that there are still many unanswered questions. Unlike the Mediterranean, where hoophouses have been used for decades, climate in the United States and Canada is extemely variable. What works in New Hampshire may not work in Oklahoma. The benefits an Oregon farmer gets from a hoophouse may be quite different from those experienced by a Texas farmer. Even so, some generalizations can be made based on research and experiences to date, and this book will explain them.
As you get into hoophouse production, we recommend that you keep careful records of planting dates, varieties, harvest and yields. Over time, those records will allow you to refine your production so that you can make the most of these amazing structures. -- Lynn Byczynski and Dan Nagengast, Growing for Market
Part 1: The most profitable crops
Using the hoophouse year-round
Part 2: Building a hoophouse
Sidewalls and endwalls
A moveable hoophouse
Part 3: Resources
The Hoophouse Handbook:
Growing Produce and Flowers in Hoophouses and High Tunnels (or Greenhouses and Cold Frames)