Clair Keene, a researcher at The Pennsylvania State University, and her colleagues wanted to find the perfect time to crimp-kill a cover crop: grown long enough to make biomass adequate to suppress weeds, but not far enough along to make seeds.
Season Extension Hits the Skids
Last month’s hoop house workshop looked at a variety of season extension structures. One of them came about almost by accident, but is proving to be one of the most versatile and popular on the ranch.
When a tornado hit the ranch in 2011, it tore up a Hanley-style hoop house, twisting several of the hoops. Trying to recover whatever could be salvaged, we welded up a pipe frame to hold several of the hoops.
The pipe frame isn’t nearly as large as the full hoop house design – only 14′ x 23′, as opposed to 17′ x 100′. However, it is rigid, and the bottom members of the pipe frame can act as skids, making the entire structure portable.
That smaller size also turns out to be an advantage in many situations – such as for people who don’t have the space for a full 1,700 square-foot structure. The space is more than adequate for supplying a household’s worth of fresh produce.
The skid-frame also has versatility in its favor. It can be used to get crops started earlier in spring, extend harvests through the first frosts of fall, and keep cool-season greens going all winter. It can also be used for starting and hardening off transplants, as well as providing crucial summer shade for both crops and livestock.
At the time of the workshop, the ranch’s skid-frame was being used to provide shade for starting fall vegetables. To cut weed pressure, the entire floor of the hoop house had been covered with landscape fabric. A propane torch can be used to make holes in the fabric for transplanting, either by heating a knife for cutting, or by melting holes directly in the fabric.
For ventilation, the hoop house has two parallel strips of wiggle wire channel running along the bottom of both the long sides, allowing a panel of plastic to be opened and closed to regulate the temperature inside.
The door at one end allows ventilation from that side, and a recently developed endwall panel, made of plastic stretched over a PVC frame, and held in place with common hardware, completes the ventilation options.
Further developments on the drawing board include a set of wheels, to enable an ATV or even a pair of people on foot to move the structure. The horticulture program is also looking at the possibility of linking two or more of the structures together to create a modular design.